There has been much talk lately of opposition parties uniting to face the BJP juggernaut in the next Lok Sabha elections. It stands to reason that they should do so since there is no other way of unseating the present government. Together, they have a reasonable chance of putting up a better fight. But a cacophony of voices from the opposition camp is creating confusion. Some leaders are of the view that no alliance is possible before the elections and whatever has to happen will happen only after the Lok Sabha polls; some are suggesting that regional parties should come together and form a federal front without the Congress party. Still others are suggesting that there should be a Grand Alliance or Maha-gathbandhan of all parties, including the Congress, in opposition to the NDA, and there must be only one candidate from the opposition against the BJP/NDA candidate in the next election. These views, in a way, represent the totality of options available.
Of all the alternatives on the table, the first is not much of an option. It will produce results in favour of the opposition only if there is such extreme degree of popular anger that the people will themselves choose to throw out the present regime without caring for who wins and forms the next government. This is a highly unlikely scenario. If the NDA has to be unseated, then opposition parties will have to do better than just depend on luck.
The second option is for all the parties including the Congress to come together and form a pre-poll Maha-gathbandhan to face the NDA. This is the ideal option even if it is without a declared candidate for the Prime Minister's post. The BJP will try its best to make the elections presidential and pose the question "Modi vs who?" The opposition should not fall in this trap. Modi should not be the issue in the next election; issues should be the issue, of which there are plenty. The opposition must have an alternative program; mererly criticizing the present regime without offering an alternative agenda is unlikely to impress the people. Thus, while a leader is not a must, an alternative agenda is a must for such an alliance.
The third option is for regional parties to come together and form some kind of a federal front. They may accommodate other parties including the Congress in their alliance on the basis of their regional needs. The federal front, however, would also need to have an agenda of governance.
Technically, there is a fourth option also. This consists of leaving the question of alliances to the dominant party or parties in each state. Even this is a better option than doing nothing at all. In a way, this has already happened in five major states: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Karnataka, which together account for 210 Lok Sabha seats. In the 2014, the BJP had won 145 Lok Sabha seats in these states. In the recent by-elections, an alliance has already emerged in UP consisting of the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal. These parties have contested the recent Lok Sabha and assembly by-elections together with stunning results. The Congress party however is not yet a part of this combination. In Bihar, the RJD and the Congress have already formed an alliance, again with impressive results in the assembly and the Lok Sabha by-elections held in recent months. In Jharkhand, opposition parties including the Congress have also come together and contested the recent assembly by-polls together with 100% results in their favour. Similarly, in Karnataka, the Congress and the JD(S) have formed an alliance and are in government together. The strength of this alliance was tested recently in the assembly elections held in Jayanagar where they defeated the BJP which had held the seat since 2008. If these alliances hold together during the Lok Sabha polls, the results will be very different from the 2014 elections, and if the trends in the by-elections are any indication, the BJP may end up with massive losses.
In the second category, I would put those states where the BJP and the Congress are in a straight contest. These states are Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana,Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. These states account for 110 Lok Sabha seats. In the 2014 election, the BJP had won an impressive number of 104 seats in these states. In Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat, the BJP score was 100 percent. It is unlikely that this performance will be repeated in the next election. In the third category are those states where there is a strong presence of some other parties like the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and Punjab and the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam. These three states account for 34 Lok Sabha seats of which the BJP had won 16 seats including all seven seats in Delhi.There is no indication yet that these parties will form an alliance with the Congress in these states for the Lok Sabha elections.
Then we have the fourth category where regional parties rule the roost like the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Biju Janta Dal in Orissa, the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, the TRS in Telangana, the DMK in Tamil Nadu and Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front led by the Congress in Kerala. These states together have 164 Lok Sabha seats of which the BJP had won only eight seats in the last Lok Sabha elections. The BJP has indeed improved its position in some of these states but it is unlikely that it will improve its tally significantly in the next election. But the regional parties will have to be careful.
The broad picture which emerges from the above analysis therefore, is that in the first five states, the opposition parties have already come together to take on the BJP. In the second category of states, where the BJP and Congress are pitted against each other, it is entirely on the Congress to hold back the BJP. The results of the by-elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have been encouraging, but much will depend on the results of the forthcoming assembly elections unless the Lok Sabha elections are also held simultaneously - a possibility which cannot be ruled out. In the third category are states where regional parties are major players and where they have to hold their own to keep the BJP in check.
Even if a Grand Alliance is not formed at the national level and there are only state level alliances as in UP etc., the chances of the BJP decisively losing the elections are fairly bright - but there is one danger which we must keep in mind. Even in the worst case scenario, the BJP is likely to emerge as the single-largest party. There is a strong convention at the centre for the President to invite the single-largest party to form the government. If the BJP gets this invite, then with the resources at its command, it may be able to secure the support of a number of regional parties and independents to contrive a majority. Opposition parties must keep this possibility in mind and plan their strategy accordingly. A pre-poll alliance is the need of the hour in whatever shape and form it takes place.
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004)
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