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February 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       February 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:January' 2018

OPPOSITION UNITY

None to challenge Modi

Mamata Banerjee, HD Kumaraswamy, Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal, Satish Chandra Mishra, Farooq Abdullah and other opposition leaders join hands at the opposition rally in Kolkata.

Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao

The political history of independent India seems to be repeating after a gap of 50 years with the entire political spectrum joining hands to fight against one individual. Their Kolkata rally slogan of ‘Modi Hatao’ is reminding the early seventies fight of then opposition with Indira Gandhi and entry of new word ‘Grand alliance’ in to the political lexicon of this country.

2019 is billed as the year of Mahagatabandhan, the Hindi version of Grand Alliance which was first conceived in 1969 though the electoral debut of that alliance was made in 1971. The term Grand Alliance was heard first in Indian politics after the split of Congress party engineered by then all powerful Prime Minister Indira Gandhi but that great dream of opposition unity faded away in less than a decade as the Janata experiment which was born out of that dream ended in a fiasco.

Since then people forgot the term ‘grand alliance’ as it was subsequently taken over by post poll ‘Fronts’. After three decades and the ‘United Front’, ‘National Fronts’ and UPA all post poll fronts has not given the desired results except that the UPA ruled for a decade while the other two ‘Fronts’ ended in disaster. So the Grand Alliance as a pre poll arrangement is staging a comeback with ‘desi’ term ‘Mahagatabandhan’. The talk of need for Grand Alliance in 2019 undoubtedly can be attributed to the emergence of a strong leader in Narendra Modi after 2014 elections.

It was in 1967 that the hegemony of Congress was challenged by the regional parties and coalition governments were formed in many states in the north and east India. Indira Gandhi’s leadership and her ability to lead the party were questioned by the party seniors. Indira Gandhi, left with no choice took the radical step of splitting the Congress party and announcing the pro poor agenda for electoral campaign. The anti Indira group in Congress was labelled as ‘syndicate’ and was attacked relentlessly on ideology.

Hurt and waiting to hit back the Old Congress proposed the Grand Alliance came into picture for the first time supported by the then two national parties, Jana Sangh and Swatantra party and many other socialist groups. Using the victory in the war against Pakistan, splitting that country to create Bangladesh through military strategy and campaigning on the slogan of Garibi Hatao Indira Gandhi single handily decimated the Grand Alliance in 1971 elections.

The victory went to the head of Indira Gandhi who felt she can do anything and get away with it including the imposition of emergency and putting the entire opposition behind the bars and threatening anyone who fought for the civil rights. So the need to challenge Indira Gandhi made the entire opposition to join hands under the direction of Jayaprakash Narayana. Thus came the second Grand Alliance in Indian politics in the form of Janata Party and that ended with the internal bickering not to the liking of voters and at the given first opportunity people rejected that alliance brought back strong Indira.

Thus ended the pre poll Grand Alliances and the opposition changed its strategy to the post poll alliance and thus came the National Front in 1989. V.P. Singh a member in the Rajiv Gandhi lead government came out forged a post poll alliance and became Prime Minister. His attempt to consolidate his position through Mandal commission recommendations and reservation offers to youth lead to the fall of his government. Again the Grand Alliance is short lived and power went back to Congress in 1991.

Just as Indira was the undisputed leader of the Congress in 1969 Narendra Modi is now the unchallenged leader of BJP. Indira Gandhi always used to warn voters about the imminent anarchy under hotchpotch opposition coalition. Modi’s theme is no different now. Indira used to challenge the Opposition to name Prime Ministerial candidate to replace her and then opposition never presented a name. After 50 years the same question from Narendra Modi and no answer from the Mahagatabandhan.

1996 saw the emergence of another front this time named United Front whose fate is no different from earlier attempts. The emergence of BJP as an alternative to Congress at the national level lead to the formation of NDA and alternatively Congress lead UPA came into existence. While the grand alliances were a failure, the coalition governments survived their full terms.

The emergence of Narendra Modi at the national level and his successful campaign against corruption under UPA and evidence of top Congress and other UPA leaders in scams gave BJP a huge victory in 2014. The consolidation of power by BJP as it captured state after state including the mini red citadel of Tripura and its attempt to challenge Mamata Benarjee in Bengal has alarmed the non BJP parties including the Congress. As their survival is at stake desperation lead to desperate attempt of opposition unity. So now we see the Magagatabandhan rallies in state after state with a single point agenda of Modi Hatao. All those Mahagatabandhan friends are basically leaders of anti Congress platform but joining hands with Congress as they knew that they will be decimated by BJP if they fight on their own. Left with no option they are moving under the Congress umbrella.

So the political scenario is repeating after 50 years. The leaders changed but the mode of fight is the same. Then it was Indira Gandhi verses the entire opposition and now it is Narendra Modi, the strong Prime Minister verses opposition. Despite 50 years elapsed the basic political thinking has not changed. There is no ideological cohesion then and it is the same in 2019. One leader verses the rest because that leader, either Indira or Modi, are strong, stubborn, effective administrators, good communicators, quick to grab the opportunity, understand the pulse of voter better than others. In such strong personality lead politics it is natural for those leaders to rub feathers of some on the wrong side.

During Indira time also there was a small section of dissident leaders in Congress who waited for an opportune time to hit her politically. The role of Jagjivan Ram and H.N. Bahuguna in post emergency is well known. Even now such dissident leaders are there in BJP. Ashwant Sinha, Satrugna Sinha, Arun Shorie are all there, though their capacity to damage Modi’s chances are not that great.

Just as Indira was the undisputed leader of the Congress in 1969. Narendra Modi is now the unchallenged leader of BJP. Indira Gandhi always used to warn voters about the imminent anarchy under hotchpotch Opposition coalition. Modi’s theme is no different now. Indira used to challenge the Opposition to name Prime Ministerial candidate to replace her and then opposition never presented a name.

After 50 years the same question from Narendra Modi and no answer from the Mahagatabandhan. Just as there were many aspirants for Prime Minister post in then Grand Alliance, at present Mahagatabandhan has no dearth of leaders who not only wish to be the PM but also think that he/she alone has the capability to lead the Nation from their side.

The Grand Alliance of seventies used to collapse once the election results are out as many smaller parties are easily lured by Indira Gandhi and Congress party with all the money power and its ability to offer ministerial positions. BJP now is ready with huge money and is in position offer sops of power. The last day of Lok Sabha in which Mulayam Singh Yadav dramatically called for Modi for PM again summarises the confusion in Mahagatabandhan camp. By the time election campaign peaks some more murmurs may come out in Mahagatabandhan giving advantage to Narendra Modi since Mahagatabandhan is based primarily on maths while the chemistry which is needed for good show is yet to develop.

Fifty years back, Indian voter didn’t like the Grand Alliance and now the voter is more mature and may not support a hotchpotch Mahagatabandhan lead by many selfish, parochial regional leaders. If that happens it will be a perfect repetition of history.