The “United India” rally in Calcutta, where 20 political parties stood on one stage on January 19, has understandably sent BJP and its bhakts, bots, trolls, media lapdogs, and trojan horses into an almighty tizzy. Coming as it did exactly a week after the SP and BSP announced an alliance in Uttar Pradesh, 2019 doesn’t look quite as settled or promising as 2014 did.
With various back-of-the-envelope calculations showing that the BJP, which got 71 seats out of 80 in UP in 2014, could end up with anywhere between 20 and 37 seats as a result of the SP-BSP alliance—and overall ending up with around 100 fewer than the 283 it had got—there is a desperate attempt to demolish the alliance and what it portends.
So, in much the same manner as they attack Rahul Gandhi while terming him irrelevant, prime minister Narendra Modi and his ministers are attacking the grand alliance with an identical set of talking points while claiming it is a write-off.
Here are seven key claims Modi & Co are making to demolish the so-called ‘Mahagatbandhan‘—and the counter to them.
“Who is the leader of the ‘mahagatbandhan’?”
India is (still) a parliamentary form of democracy. You, the voter, do not elect a prime minister in a general election—you elect your representative (MP). A party or a combination of parties which has 273 or more MPs elects its leader after the election, whom the President of India then appoints as PM. This is as it should be.
You are, of course, free to elect your representative on the basis of her party or her leader, or other parameters, but it is immaterial in the overall parliamentary scheme of things. At least on paper. At least so far.
BJP, under Narendra Modi, has sought to turn elections into a US-style, head-to-head, presidential form of contest, urging voters to elect a “strong and decisive leader”. In fact, in some state elections, Modi has campaigned as if he is the chief ministerial candidate. In the absence of a second line of leadership, this ploy suits the BJP currently, but what if a pre-designated “leader” loses in an election? And will BJP go in for a presidential form of leadership after Modi?
“This is an unholy alliance. It’s a strange ‘mewa'”
In geopolitics, an “unholy alliance” is defined as a grouping of unnatural, unusual, even undesirable and seemingly antagonistic parties. By the yardstick, the sight of 24 pairs of hands going up in Calcutta may fit the BJP bill. But is this any more unholy than 1977 when the Jan Sangh, an earlier avatar of the BJP, joined hands with the Socialists and Marxists after Emergency in the Janata Party government of Morarji Desai?
When the BJP joined hands with PDP after a fractured mandate in Jammu & Kashmir in 2015, former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed described as the “coming together of North Pole and South Pole”. If a BJP-PDP alliance is OK, surely the alliance of parties ideologically opposed to each other should also be OK, mahagatbandhan or not?
In Karnataka, the “Hindu, nationalist” BJP tied up with Janata Dal (Secular) in 2004. Can there be anything more unholy than that?
More importantly, these are the seeds. Who is to know what the future holds? Who, for example, could have predicted with certainty a year ago that the Congress and TDP would be together in Andhra Pradesh, or the Congress and JDS in Karnataka?
“‘Mahagatbandhan’ has no agenda but to dislodge Modi”
Removing a leader or a party from office is a legitimate objective in power politics. In 1977, in the aftermath of the Emergency, the Opposition parties—which included the BJP’s predecessor Jan Sangh—sank their ideological differences and came together with the sole objective of removing Indira Gandhi.
So, why not now? Just because the BJP is in power?
Also, there is no pre-requirement that any alliance should reveal their agenda or announce their programme and policies prior to an election, or 75 days before it.
When the Congress-led UPA formed the government in 2004, the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) was drawn up by Jairam Ramesh of the Congress and Sitaram Yechury of the CPM, after the Left parties had lent support to the alliance.
Similarly, in Jammu & Kashmir in 2015, Ram Madhav of the BJP and Haseeb Drabu of the PDP sat down to draft the CMP after the election results threw up a fractured mandate, necessitating an alliance between the two ideologically opposed parties.
“Mahagathbandhan is an alliance of corruption…. They have ‘dhanshakti’ (money power)”
BJP was four times richer than Congress in 2016-17. BJP had a total income of Rs 1,027 crore in 2017-18; Rs 487 crore coming in from anonymous sources. The Congress, in contrast, saw a 62% decline in its income which stood at Rs 225.36 crore. BSP’s income was Rs 51.7 crore, NCP Rs 8.15 crore.
BJP was the biggest beneficiary of the dubious electoral bonds scheme, bagging 94.5% of all bonds sold in the maiden tranche. In other words, the 35 other parties which won seats in the last Lok Sabha together received 5.5% of all electoral bonds sold.
Trinamool Congress, which hosted the ‘United India’ rally, has not declared any income from electoral bonds.
In the recent assembly elections to Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, BJP was a bigger advertiser than FMCG brands.
And in the Karnataka elections in May 2018, BJP spent three times the amount Congress did: Rs 122 crore versus Rs 34 crore.
“We have made an alliance with 125 crore people of India. We have janshakti (people’s power)”
Although it won 283 seats on its own in 2014 becoming the first party to win a majority on its own after 30 years, BJP secured a mere 31 per cent of the votes. When a Hindu nationalist party can bag less than one-third of Hindu votes in a 80% Hindu nation it tells its own story, of the party and the religion.
This voteshare for the BJP for the single-largest party was way lower than the lowest—40.8%—Congress had got 47 years earlier. So, BJP did not have an alliance with 125 crore people, which anyway is a misnomer because the size of the electorate in India is roughly half that: 67 crore.
It had it with about 20.77 crore people.
On the other hand, 14 of the 20 Opposition parties who were on stage in Calcutta had a combined voteshare in 2014 of 55.99 %, a full 25% more than what the BJP secured (see above).
“Mahagatbandhan has internal contradictions”
Of course, it does and thank God for that. The “United India” rally in Calcutta unabashedly showcased the inherent and blazingly obvious contradictions among the representative parties. Congress and AAP were on stage together when they won’t ally in Delhi. SP and BSP were seen with Congress, whom they couldn’t include in the UP alliance.
But far from being being a problem, these are welcome contradictions. India is a sum of its parts and, after 56 months of unipolar, road-roller, majoritarian politics, is in dire need of forces opposed to each other coming together, standing together, and engaging each other—even if they oppose each other. Unity in diversity is a lousy cliche but it is a step up from manufactured consent—and crushed dissent.
Don’t forget that in 2004, SP and BSP extended support to Congress from outside to form the government.
“There will be anarchy if it is not Modi”
Asked about the difficulties that would befall France after him, King Louis XVI is supposed to have said ‘Apres moi le deluge’ (after me, the deluge). BJP claims that there will be problems if it is not Modi fall squarely in that category. This is usually seen from the standpoint of the economy and the stock markets.
Those who make that claim ignore the fact that P. Chidambaram’s so-called “dream budget” came during the H.D. Deve Gowda-led government in 1997, a 13-party coalition which comprised Janata Dal, SP, DMK, TDP, AGP, TMC, Congress (Tiwari), NC, MGP, and four Left parties.
More importantly, Sensex returns from one election to the next under the three BJP governments have been a miserable -1%, -4% and 13% respectively (see above).
Then again, what is the coming anarchy when you can be beaten to pulp for keeping meat your neighbour doesn’t like in the fridge; for loving or marrying as you please; for going to pray as allowed by the Supreme Court….