The collapse of Mahagathbandhan in Bihar shows the changing political dynamics of India. The opposition front just based on some anti-party ideology like Congress in past and BJP at present or anti-personality ideology like Indira Gandhi in past and Narendra Modi at present with motto of enemy’s enemy is a friend is never sustainable. Such fronts are short lived and are always unstable e.g. Janata Party coalition during 1977 or V P Singh government during 1989-90 or the United Front governments during 1996-98 and eventually brings infamy to the whole front because of weak controls over actions of the partners.
Nitish Kumar had been a long-time ally of BJP and he probably estimated that his aspirations of becoming PM could be fulfilled if he gets enough seats and a fair percentage of NDA total seat share. But when Mr. Modi was announced as PM candidate then that immediately put water on his aspirations and he quit. Such was the extent of anger that some people speculated that the possibility of blasts during Patna rally weren’t completely out of his knowledge.9 He might have also thought that as former CM Lalu Prasad was jailed and disqualified to fight the Lok Sabha election and the Congress had become unpopular nationally due to astronomical level of corruption scandals, so there are fair chances of him getting a good share of seats in Bihar and that might also help him in becoming a PM if there is hung parliament. The result showed that a total of only 16% votes went to him.1,8 It became apparent to all parties that BJP couldn’t be stopped if they fight separately and it also showed him that the voter base of RJD and Congress is loyal which won’t desert them even in the face of Jungle Raj and corruption.
Afterwards, he took the responsibility and resigned and installed former CM Jitan Ram Manji on the seat of CM, but it turned out that he was unable to hold power through proxy. Then, during the state elections, a great alliance was formed, and they secured majority of seats as per the vote arithmetic they thought earlier. They got on average of 42% votes which indicated that the votes were successfully transferred to each other in their respective constituencies.2 The vote arithmetic was simple where RJD and Congress commanded majority of 31% of Muslims and Yadavs votes and Nitish Kumar commanded approximately 16% of votes, like in 2014, from different sections who backed him due to his development work and restoring law and order.3 By projecting Nitish Kumar as the leader of alliance, the alliance was able to keep the skeptic vote base of Nitish.
End of Mahagathbandhan
Even though Nitish entered alliance but he was aware of the cost that he’ll have to pay by aligning with RJD and Congress. He kept home ministry with him in the hope that he could keep law and order under control but that also didn’t work. He also got irked when former Siwan MP Shahabuddin described Nitish as CM of circumstances and not by people’s support during his bail by Patna High court which was later revoked by Supreme court, and Lalu not objecting to it.11 In the audio clip of Shahabuddin and the RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s alleged conversation aired on Republic TV, Lalu was also heard taking instructions from Shahabuddin, thus indicating the control of criminal elements on the government body even in the domain of law and order.6,7 Nitish authority was undermined and the exposure of various corruption scandals and deteriorating law and order situation and Lalu’s running the government through the proxy of his son’s ministries clearly distressed him as it was eroding whatever vote base he was having by projecting him to be the indirect supporter of corruption and weakening law and order situation and thus compromising on his core ideology. That position for long would have left him with significant reduced voter base by 2019 where his power would have been further diminished.
To contain the damage, he tried to reduce the partner’s influence by giving signals of support to NDA during demonetization, surgical strikes, backing Ram Nath Kovind for the presidency, et al. That also benefitted him in other way by helping him to retain some credibility among his voter base and to come closer to BJP. By announcing that he is not looking for prime ministership during 2019 election, he also buried the single issue which was the reason of his split.
Then there were raids on Lalu’s premises regarding various corruption scandals. It could have been the shared plan like as Sushil Modi had claimed that people from JD(U) had helped expose the alleged corruption by Prasad and his family.5 Also, CBI raid without credible evidence could have backfired and hence it is unlikely that it was done without inside support.
At that point, Nitish told Tejasvi Yadav to give clarification, the political language of saying to resign. That would have greatly reduced Lalu’s influence and his control over the government and would have also put water on Tejasvi’s dream on becoming CM. On the other hand, when he didn’t resign, he had few options. First was to resign himself and call coalition meeting to elect new head. That would have been stupid as that would have made Tejasvi CM instead due to the majority support. Second was to withdraw his party support from government but that would have resulted in split of his party where the RJD, Congress combine just needed 15 MLA’s and many would have gone with them, eventually leaving him powerless. Third was to take outside support of BJP but BJP has no advantage of doing that. Fourth was to go for fresh election but that would have brought BJP to power like in 2014. The last one, also the one he chose, was to make alliance with BJP where he retained credibility, chief ministership and hold on party, the best-case scenario. This political move of CBI raids put him in a position where he was in advantage from all fronts.
Some MLAs opposed the decision like his partner Ali Anwar from PMM who claims to command 80% of total Muslim votes which are backward as per Pasmanda documents and who also claims to be the reason of his victory during 2005.4 JD(U) president Sharad Yadav also objected to this move and leaders close to him said that he’ll plan his future strategy after his meeting with BJP president Amit Shah, where the talk would probably be about the ministerial seat at central government.10 But, it is unlikely that there would be major effects as the fresh election too would result in NDA majority and this is known to existing MLAs as well.
Development vs. Secularism
The opposition parties would try to create a front against NDA but there aren’t many agendas which they could use as their gluing force. The corruption and nationalism are ruled out as they’re weak on that front after the exposure of series of corruption scandals etc. and the main agenda that is left is secularism. During the last three years with opposition taking stands like opposition to unfurling of national flags & singing of National anthem, supporting anti-national slogans in the name of free speech, opposing demonetization and surgical strikes etc., it has led people to believe that these parties don’t stand either for nationalism or anti-corruption.
Regarding secularism, subtlety and gradually, BJP is weakening opposition’s claim to that ideology. People want peaceful life irrespective of caste or religion etc. Several exposures of opposition’s propaganda to create an environment of communal tensions has also weakened the people’s trust on opposition. There had been attempts to instill fear in the minds of minority community by making them believe that there would be widespread riots all over India if NDA comes to power, but nothing happened of that sort. Later, alleging that the church attack and nun rape being done by some Hindu groups, but which were eventually found to be done by some illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.12 Same was the case with Dadri lynching where many people questioned UP government’s intentions and poor handling of the whole case and misleading people through misinformation.13, 14 Poor control over law and order situation that creates communal tensions in other states governed by secular parties like Bengal is also eroding the trust of people from their secular credentials. Earlier politicians used to blame each other for communal tension but with these incidents, there has been exposure on who are responsible and cause riots through propaganda and inaction and that is alienating their traditional vote base.
Though it can’t be ruled out that the government needs to make more efforts if they really need to gain trust of minorities like taking strict actions against cow vigilante groups etc. But, the ground situation where people are seeing the equality without any appeasement to any section of society, is gradually changing the minds and with the NDA support for women empowerment and ending triple talaq, it is also likely to move female population from minority community to NDA fold. It could also be speculated that perhaps many people from minority community voted for NDA during recent UP elections.
The opposition attempts at picking one incident out of hundred daily incidents, which suit their agenda will continue because of their need of survival and maintaining fear in mind of their supporters but the returns would keep on diminishing as the faith of people is eroding.
The arithmetic based coalition is never stable if there is no strong fundamental ideology of alignment. The opposition to a party or personality isn’t even a real ideology and just a self-defense for survival, which will eventually break when the other front becomes weaker or if some partners themselves become stronger.
There is undoubtedly Modi juggernaut in the country at present. Those who were skeptical before 2014 national election saw it from the gathering during Modi filling of nomination papers in Varanasi, those who were still skeptical saw it from the seats count during national election and continuous winning of elections afterwards and lately from the scale of victory in UP. As Omar Abdullah rightly said, the opposition should focus on 2024 election.
There are only few parties like Congress who couldn’t join NDA or with which NDA won’t enter coalition at all. With the PDP-BJP government, it has become clear that very few alliances are impossible. The popularity of Modi has only increased since last elections, which is also reflected from recent surveys as well. In this situation, there are only two options in front of opposition parties. One is to either come under NDA umbrella and share power or to face the juggernaut. By 2019, it seems very few number of parties would think of opposing NDA.
Considering the situation right now, in TN, AIADMK is in disarray after the death of Jayalalitha and the alleged pro-Congress Sasikala group is already in jail while there are talks of possible agreement of OPS, EPS and BJP groups to form a coalition soon. DMK on the other hand is not strong today. In Kerala, BJP is still not strong, but its vote count has increased, and its performance will depend on its success of forming a similar body on the lines of Muslim Rashtriya Manch for Christains. Karnataka is going to come to BJP and BJP could have won last time as well if there have been no mess up. As noted by some authors, CM Siddaramaiah attempts to stoke regional chauvinism through a separate flag and opposition to Hindi would unlikely to help him win, especially after central government agreement to remove Hindi from metro posters.15, 16 In AP, TDP is already an ally and YSR extended support last time as well. In Telangana, TRS might join NDA in Telangana to share power at center which is also evident from their backing of NDA president nominee.
Naveen Patnaik in Orrisa was in stress last time too with his rushing to learn Oriya though he won handsomely. This time he too supported Ram Nath. Bengal CM Mamta in is unlikely to join though many from Left could move to BJP and its vote count will increase. The clean image of slipper wearing Mamta which has shattered after revelations of various corruption scandals and her poor handing of communal tensions might cost her lot of votes. In Bihar, CM Nitish will be an ally and would lead to easy victory. Gujrat will also remain with NDA due to lack of any opposition and Congress having difficulty just to save the RS seat of Ahmed Patel, considered to be the most powerful person during UPA after Sonia Gandhi. That event has clearly diluted the UPA’s partners faith in leadership of Congress where they’re having difficulty in even securing a RS seat for such an important person and this might instead boost image of former Gujrat leader of opposition Shankersinh Vaghela, who might join BJP. UP is another major state where after the scale of recent victory which has put the political leaders (both local and national) to sleepless nights and the grand alliance of BSP, SP and Congress can’t be ruled out. But it is also possible that Mayawati could join NDA as well as her Dalit Muslim experiment has failed with Muslims aligning with SP and Congress and Dalit defecting to BJP. BSP could join NDA to retain her Dalit vote bank and wait for 2024 like others.
Nitish was the opposition’s answer to Modi in 2019 elections after alliance of RJD and JDU and their huge victory but with Nitish joining hands with Modi, it has caused huge setback to opposition. His comment that there is no-one at present who is even capable of standing against Modi, a comment coming directly from a person considered to be Modi’s competition has demoralized them further.
Regional parties could either enter into alliance or face Modi wave again but even if they get some seats still it might be of no use if NDA get majority but on the other hand, through coalition they could share power. But one thing is clear that with the today’s situation, it looks like the victory of NDA is imminent, but the real question is about the scale of victory and the possibly of the largest coalition of partners post-independence.