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‘Keeping BJP out’ isn’t a winning strategy, and the opposition parties seem to have learnt nothing from history

So why does the opposition stick to the ‘keep BJP out’ strategy? Haven’t they learned that it doesn’t work? What was the fate of the Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh recently? No lessons learnt?

And yet again, “everyone” gets together to keep BJP out, this time in Maharashtra. For what it’s worth, here are the three highest scores by any political party in Maharashtra in the last 25 years (since 1995)

#1 BJP (2014) : 122 seats

# 2 BJP (2019): 105 seats

# 3 Congress (2009) : 82 seats.

Indeed, the BJP is the only party to have crossed 100 seats in Maharashtra since 1991. Nobody else has even come close. And yet the party finds itself in the opposition benches.

For BJP supporters across several generations, this is a familiar pang.

In 1996, Atalji had to resign after just 13 days as Prime Minister.  In 1999, Atalji lost his government by 1 vote.

The strategy of “keep BJP out” has played out in state after state and at the Center. For decades. It mattered little whether BJP was a major player or a minor player. Even when the BJP had just 3 seats in the West Bengal Assembly, the Congress, the CPIM and Trinamool were conniving with just one objective: keep BJP out.

This strategy might bring temporary reprieve to ‘secular forces’ and their liberal cheerleaders every now and then. But what does history really show?

Read: Maharashtra: Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress MLAs made to swear pledge of loyalty for Sonia Gandhi, Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray

How did things shape out in Indian politics since the day Atalji lost his government by one vote?

Has anybody actually been able to stop the BJP? There were supposed to be all sorts of barriers to BJP’s growth. Language barriers, caste barriers, North-South divide,  urban-rural divide, everything.

Every last one of these has been smashed. The BJP is now the largest party representing South India in the Lok Sabha. The BJP controls the entire North East. The BJP has touched 50% vote share in Uttar Pradesh. Hindi speaking states, non-Hindi speaking states, tribal states, rural states, urban states: BJP smashed all these barriers.

If ‘keeping BJP out’ is a strategy, it must be the worst one ever.

Read: All 17 ‘rebel’ MLAs who were disqualified will join BJP: Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa

What does the opposition hope to achieve by keeping the single largest party in opposition benches? When has that ever worked out well for anyone?

They know exactly what is going to happen. The khichdi government will collapse in a heap. And the public will be extremely severe in punishing them. BJP is finally on course to winning its full majority in Maharashtra.

BJP used to have similar problems in Karnataka, remember? Strong player, but away from the majority. The party got its first big upgrade when Cong & JDS tied up after 2004 to keep single largest BJP out of power. This brought BJP to ~100 seats, just shy of a majority. They still had a problem because they were absent in the Old Mysore region, which accounts for 60 seats. Well, that problem was solved when Congress and JDS tied up in 2018.

In short, two betrayals of the popular mandate by Congress & JDS and BJP finally had no problems sweeping Karnataka.

How do you think Maharashtra is going to go? The BJP is a 100 seat player in the state but has last-mile problems in getting a majority. This betrayal should get them across the finishing line.

So why does the opposition stick to the ‘keep BJP out’ strategy? Haven’t they learned that it doesn’t work? What was the fate of the Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh recently? No lessons learned?

Because, the opposition quite simply has lost the drive, the will and energy to go to the people. Staying in power through contacts and management skills can be very useful, but it has its limits.

Read: BJP has shown ruthlessness in the game of power politics, and it is good for ideology too

Congress did master this skill during the UPA years. With a mere 145 seats, Sonia Gandhi managed to run the government for a full five-year term. It is indeed quite spectacular. In Maharashtra, Congress has been pushed to a pathetic fourth position but manages to get a toehold on power thanks to negotiation skills. This is really all that Congress politics has been since 2004: managing people, moving pawns on the chessboard, whether before the scenes or behind them.

But look what it did to them. The Congress got so involved in manipulating pawns on the Lutyens chessboard that it forgot elections happen among the people. It tried to win the 2019 elections not through campaigning but through subterfuge. Planting stories, conspiracy theories, calling in favours, activating old contacts in India and abroad and the like. Reaching out to every duck with a quack who had an axe to grind in caste politics, student politics, legal activism, stand up comedy, anything. Before they knew it, the tail was wagging the dog. And they went nowhere.

Congress probably hasn’t noticed that they got ten years in power, but couldn’t use the time to revive the party in a single state. Not in Uttar Pradesh, nor Bihar, nor Bengal. Not even to build themselves up in Maharashtra, where they had their Chief Minister. And they managed to reduce themselves to dust in Andhra Pradesh.

And so it goes on in Maharashtra. So-called ‘secular forces’ manage to stay in power. But how long? Is there a Plan B for when things fall apart, as they will shortly?

As for BJP, it is back to the drawing board in Maharashtra. 100 seats aren’t enough. The majority mark is 145, not 100. No discounts for BJP it seems and no lucky breaks. Which might be the best thing ever. Because the only way to get to that 145 figure is to assess every weakness, address every shortcoming and win the confidence of one and all. Full speed ahead.


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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author.  

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