Viewing the current ‘Mahagathbandhan’ through a 2 decade-old speech

On the day HD Kumaraswamy was sworn in as the CM of Karnataka at the mercy of Rahul Gandhi, many of the BJP’s staunchest supporters’ nightmares came true in the form of Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sitaram Yechury, etc. joining hands to display a show of “Opposition Unity” that wants to take on the Modi-lead NDA government. While some say that the “Mahagathbandhan” is similar to the Janata government that was formed right after the Emergency, it is also reminiscent of another, rather forgotten coalition, the coalition of the United Front government in 1996.

It is against this backdrop that one views Sushma Swaraj’s speech in Parliament. Around this time, 22 years back, a Confidence-motion for the then HD Deve Gowda led government was being discussed. Swaraj’s speech relating to this debate was not just historic but it was also prophetic. Prophetic because the signs, the times and conditions are very much similar to the ones that relate to the much-touted “Mahagathbandhan.”

At the time, even though the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the single largest party, the BJP failed to prove its majority and Vajpayee eventually resigned after 13 days. The subsequent government was that of the United Front with Janata Dal’s HD Deve Gowda as Prime Minister. The Congress which was the second largest party supported this government. Similar scenes were seen in Karnataka where the JDS’ HD Kumaraswamy was made CM with the Congress supporting him.

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At the beginning of the speech itself, Swaraj picked out the statement given by PM Gowda that the mandate was for the coalition. She asked a rather pointed and unanswered question about whether the coalition was one in which the Congress was a part of. This is a question that is relevant even in today’s time when in Karnataka, the JDS and Congress have formed a coalition government. The question here too, arises: Was the mandate in Karnataka for a coalition with the Congress?

This is followed by another statement: “Earlier, it was seen that the Government was united while the Opposition was scattered. But today, we see that the Government is scattered, while the Opposition is united.” This makes one wonder if Swaraj had predicted today’s situation more than two decades back. For example, in Karnataka, while the Opposition (the BJP) is a united, 104-seat strong, the government is a flimsy, unholy alliance between the Congress and the JDS, where even the swearing-in of the cabinet ministers took 11 days after the floor-test was conducted due to fissures in the alliance.

Swaraj then proceeds to say: “Those who do the greatest injustice (the coalition) never accept it. Instead, to hide their selfishness they act like they are doing the greatest justice.” Again, we see this in today’s time. Even though it is common knowledge that the coming together of old enemies is done with no other intention other than coming to power, the stake-holders of the Mahagatbandhan or any anti-BJP Opposition is done under the garb of “maintaining secularism”, “protecting democracy” and of course, #SaveConstitution. If the then United Front had accused the BJP of being communal, the now Opposition alleges that the NDA is responsible for rising “intolerance.”

Later, Mrs Swaraj effectively deflates the Congress narrative of secularism itself. The Congress version of secularism begins with abusing Hindus and Hinduism, she says. Considering the bogey of “Hindu” terror, not much has changed in the entire Congress psyche.

To someone like me, who was distressed to watch TV discussions on whether or not “Vande Mataram” must be sung, it is interesting to note that debates about nation, nationality and nationalism occurred even then. These find mentions in the speech and one is shocked to note that these debates took place in the Parliament of India, no less.

What follows next is what runs on the minds of the average political observer even today. The example of how Mamata Banerjee, then a Congressi who was injured in the 1993 Kolkata firing under the Communist regime in Bengal, joined hands with the CPI(M) to come to power is given. Cut to 2018, the visuals of Mamata Banerjee now belonging to the TMC, shaking hands with Sitaram Yechury, is strikingly similar. One major difference is that earlier, there was Red Terror prevalent in Bengal of which Ms Banerjee herself was a victim, while now TMC goons run havoc in West Bengal, as seen in the recent Panchayat elections.

The differences are further elaborated by citing how the Minimum Programme then, included a plan to privatise the insurance sector by the government. The same government that included Communists. The same Communists who today slam the Modi government for promoting “crony capitalism.”

The picture is clear, both then and now. The anti-BJP Opposition is nothing more than a “kicchdi”. All those parties that have been kept out of power by the BJP are now ganging up to take on the BJP even though they are ideologically dissimilar, and have in the past have little on which they have agreed upon. The situation is summed up by Sushma Swaraj in a rather poetic fashion:

“This political orchestra will disperse even before the show begins because they’re so used to singing their own tunes.”

Sure, the SP-BSP-Congress alliance might have won Kairana and other by-poll elections. But it is undeniable that the anti-BJP alliance is riddled with internal inconsistencies as seen in Bihar and more recently in Karnataka. Also, while Rahul Gandhi says that he’s ready to become the PM in 2019. Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati have also thrown their hat into the ring. These inner disputes are bound to arise, if and only if the Mahatgathbandhan manages to turn the tide in the 2019 and this would definitely be inimical to the interests of the nation. The question is will the Mahagathbandhan crumble to dust before the election or after 2019. And will the citizens of this country get to hear a speech similar to that of Mrs Swaraj once again?

These are questions that only time can answer.


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