Opinion

Acid test for mahagathbandhan next month

By Vipin Pubby

It was exactly forty years ago that India’s first mahagathbandhan, or a grand political alliance, was formed which led to the formation of first non-Congress central government in the country. The grand alliance was formed soon after the lifting of the internal Emergency in 1977 with the blessings of Jan Nayak Jai Parkash Narain who himself decided to stay away from office.

The mahagathbandhan in the making now also aims to bid for power in 2019 general elections although there are several factors which are totally different than those prevailing back in 1977. The grand alliance was formed to wrest power from the Congress led by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi whose government was facing wrath of the people due to excesses during the Emergency.

The proposed mahagathbandhan, encouraged by a similar tie up which led to the successful return of the Nitish Kumar led government in Bihar, hopes to bring together diverse groups and parties to take on Modi who has been growing from strength to strength despite setbacks in Bihar and Delhi.

As per the latest reports, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has taken the initiative to meet other opposition leaders. She has recently met Nitish Kumar, his coalition partner and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. It is believed she has also discussed the proposal informally with some Southern regional political parties. There is also a possibility of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s Samajwadi Party also aligning with the alliance.

Although almost all partners of the proposed mahagathbandhan are keeping a low profile and are not yet ready to talk about the progress made, what is significant that some erstwhile political arch rivals such as the Trinamool Congress and the Left Front may get together to defeat their common enemy.

While the 2019 elections are still far away, the immediate focus of the non-BJP parties is to put up a joint candidate for the presidential elections next month. Even though the BJP has made overtures to its rivals for a unanimous choice for the next President, it is unlikely that the opposition parties would agree and would like to put up a fight. As things stand now, NDA is short of about 20,000 votes in the electoral college for Presidential elections. It is trying to rope in some smaller parties and independents but the opposition parties are in a position to give a scare to the BJP’s candidate.

Thus the ensuing Presidential elections are going to be an acid test for the NDA as well as the future mahagathbandhan partners.

However, unlike 1977, the grand alliance partners have to overcome some serious obstacles to be able to set up a fight against the NDA. For one, there was palpable anger against Indira Gandhi and the Congress post Emergency. There has been rise and rise of Modi but certain sections of society are now also looking at alternatives. The most serious factor that may be going against the Modi government is the emergence of a divisive society with the government seen as encouraging Hindutva forces. The lack of investments and the resultant growing unemployment, unrest in the agriculture sector, slowing down of economy and the growing arrogance of the government may be some of the factors going against the government.

At the same time, the proposed mahagathbandhan has a formidable task ahead. The public anger against the government is not as palpable as it was against the Indira Gandhi government. The Janata Party alliance rode on a wave against the then government and those who joined hands had some ideological understanding. However, difference did emerge sooner than expected and the government floundered after half its term which led to fresh elections and return of the Congress under Indira Gandhi.

It would be a fatal flaw if the proposed mahagathbandhan’s only aim would be to wrest power. It shall have to come out with concrete proposals and a vision for the country if it intends to pose any serious challenge to the Modi government.

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