Amid contradictions and poll alliances, pan-India anti-BJP front unlikely for 2019
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) defeated the Congress in the elections for Rajya Sabha’s Deputy Chairman’s post. The NDA managed this feat despite not having a majority in the house.
Three major non-NDA non-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) parties – the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) – voted for the NDA candidate. Abstentions from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the YSR Congress further lowered the Congress candidate’s tally.
While this is another important political victory for the BJP, it will be premature to dismiss the prospects of a larger anti-BJP coalition in the 2019 election on the basis of these results. Here’s why.
An anti-BJP front in 2019 is more likely to function at the state-level rather than as a pan-India alliance under the leadership of the Congress. In an interview to Hindustan Times, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar attributed this to the Congress losing its erstwhile dominance in India’s polity. Such a process is bound to face two kinds of contradictions.
A coming together of one set of regional parties with the Congress will also create a counter-polarisation behind the BJP. Let us take Tamil Nadu for example. The Congress is likely to have an alliance with the DMK, while the AIADMK appears to be heading towards a pre-poll alliance with the BJP.
Similarly, while the Shiv Sena has been indulging in anti-Modi rhetoric for some time, it also realises that parting ways with the BJP will significantly diminish its electoral prospects in case the Congress and the NCP restore their pre-poll alliance in the state. This probably explains why the Shiv Sena voted for the NDA candidate in the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman election even though it abstained in the voting on the no-confidence motion.
In some states local antagonism among parties is bound to prevent a grand alliance against the BJP despite broad ideological congruence. The case of the AAP and the Congress in Delhi, the Left and the Congress in Kerala and the Left and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal are some such examples. The resistance by local units of these parties against an all-in-unity pre-poll alliance against the BJP is not very difficult to explain. Any such alliance is likely to do long-term damage to the prospects of the junior partner in the alliance.
For example if the Congress cedes leadership of the anti-BJP alliance in Delhi to the AAP, it’ll be a clear admission that it sees itself as the distant third player in Delhi’s politics. Such forces will probably be more comfortable doing business with an anti-BJP front in a post-poll scenario. To be sure, the Opposition is not only one facing such contradictions. In some states, the BJP might be planning to enter into new alliances as a junior partner. The behaviour of the TRS and the BJD – they did not vote during the no-confidence motion and voted for the NDA in the Deputy Chairman’s election – in Telangana and Odisha fits into this category. In case such alliances happen, there is bound to discontent within the BJP ranks in such states, because the electoral ambitions of local leaders will now have to be sacrificed.
The following table shows how different political parties voted in the Deputy Chairman’s election. It also shows the likely attitude of a party in its state of influence vis-à-vis the Congress and the BJP in the 2019 elections. All parties which voted for either the Congress or the BJP have been considered as potential allies. (Table 1 here: party-wise voting).
We use these scenarios to calculate the number of Lok Sabha seats where the Congress and the BJP are likely to have pre-poll alliances. This has been done by adding the number of seats in a given state where such alliances are likely to happen. Our calculations show that the Congress is likely to have a pre-poll alliance in 324 seats. For the BJP this number is just 204. To be sure, these calculations do not include alliances with parties which do not have members in the Rajya Sabha. This could add pre-poll alliance seats for both the Congress and BJP. For example, the Congress might have an alliance with the National Conference in Jammu & Kashmir and the BJP is likely to retain is smaller allies in Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, a pre-poll alliance between the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) outside Uttar Pradesh has not been considered here. There are reports of such discussions between the two.
The short point is, it is still early days to make exact predictions about political alliances for the 2019 elections. However one can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that anti-BJP parties are likely to have pre-poll alliances in more major states than the BJP led NDA. For example, Karnataka (Congress-Janata Dal Secular), Tamil Nadu (DMK-Congress) and Uttar Pradesh (SP-BSP and probably Congress-INLD) are three big states where the degree of Opposition unity is likely to improve significantly compared to what it was in 2014. What is also true however is that expectations of all non-NDA parties coming together in 2019 are extremely unlikely if not totally impossible.