Coalitions of the willing
Before a pudding is ready to be taken out of the oven, the ingredients that make it vigorously interact with each other. The final flavour is determined by the ‘how much’, ‘mixed with what’ qualities that go into the final baked product. Now that we can smell general elections in the air, the ingredients that make for that grand exercise have started to jostle with each other. That coalition politics is here to stay with us is another factor that makes such pre-poll interactions more interesting than the actual polls themselves. That the Congress, dangling rather precariously in various states, is now once again making friendly noises to the Samajwadi Party — and is being shyly reciprocated in these actions — suggests that going it alone is neither wise nor safe for the ruling party at the Centre. To show sincerity of intent, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi has a launched an attack on the BSP government headed by Mayawati. Rahul Gandhi too has taken up cudgels against the UP government. The SP, consigned to the relative wilderness of not being in power in Lucknow, is realising that personal enmities are not worth playing up if it plans to keep its head above the water line.
In this possible process of diminishing animosity and growing closeness between the Congress and the SP lies a sub-text. The Left has been talking about firming up a ‘Third Front’ for a while. But it seems rather obvious at this stage that numbers, rather than an intense desire for ideological equidistance, will put paid to such an experiment. In January, CPI(M) patriarch Jyoti Basu even stated that he “[didn’t] see a Third Front formation now”. But perhaps more indicative of the fact that a non-BJP, non-Congress formation is too premature at this juncture is the restlessness of the Left itself. Announcing a nationwide agitation “if the government failed to take steps [against inflation and spiralling prices of essential commodities] by April 15,” the CPI(M) wants to ensure that its brand equity as the party for the ‘aam admi’ does not get diluted. In fact, the Congress, by meeting eyes with the SP and others, may be on the look-out for putting its secular eggs in more than one increasingly belligerent basket.
Pre-poll tie-ups have the relative advantage of being more long-term than post-poll ones. In that respect, the BJP has always been a better practitioner of coalition politics than the Grand Old Party. The temptations of going it alone can be great, especially for a vertical organisation like the Congress. But in the end, reality makes practical men out of all of us. And it’s better one gets real now rather than when the pudding’s taken out of the oven.