One Nation, One Election, One Opposition
The process in itself can be political, where some or all state governments under BJP rule could agree to dissolve the house and seek a fresh mandate alongside Lok Sabha polls.
An analogy about the approach of parties in Opposition is riveting in its contextual relevance. The persuasive proposition argues that politicians often believe returning to power is like retrieving the bag that whizzed past on the airport carousel. They stay sanguine that the ruling front will blunder and power, like the bag, can be reclaimed as it reappears on the belt. This misplaced notion has left many parties on the wrong side of the carousel of power.
The fear of existential threat is a high-octane propellant in politics. Since the June meeting in Patna, opposition parties have coalesced towards a consensus for survival. This week, the Modi Government amplified their fears by calling for a 5-day special session of Parliament beginning September 18 and announced a committee under former President Ram Nath Kovind to examine the possibility of holding assembly and parliament elections simultaneously.
The process in itself can be political, where some or all state governments under BJP rule could agree to dissolve the house and seek a fresh mandate alongside Lok Sabha polls. The process could be legislative, requiring amendments in Article 83(2) and 172 (1) of the Constitution besides resolving issues in uncharted territory. The institution of a panel suggests the approach could be political. The immediate cause of angst for the Opposition is triggered by speculation– as nobody knows for sure – suggesting elections could be held earlier than scheduled.
On Friday, opposition parties put on their game face and countered the one nation, one poll theme song of the ruling BJP-led NDA with a resolution to fight the forthcoming election as 'one opposition'. The 28-member alliance, which met in Mumbai, resolved, "We, the INDIA parties, hereby resolve to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections together as far as possible." The parties also resolved to "organise public rallies" across the country on issues and coordinate "communications, media strategies and campaigns with the theme in different languages."
The alliance is built around the arithmetic of politics. In the 2019 elections, the BJP won 303 Lok Sabha seats, polled 22.90 crore votes and bagged 37.76 per cent of the votes polled. The opposition alliance, which claims to have won 142 seats, asserts that the BJP leveraged the poor index of opposition unity. The hypothesis scaffolding the alliance is that if the parties confront the BJP juggernaut united as ‘one opposition’ they will harness a higher share of votes and seats. In theory the index of opposition unity matters. However, the sum of pieces idea flails if the winning party polls bags over 50 per cent votes. On the ground the INDIA alliance faces a formidable challenge. In 2014 the BJP won 136 of its 282 Lok Sabha seats with over 50 per cent votes. In the 2019 elections, the BJP bagged 303 seats of which it won 224 seats with over 50 per cent of the votes and in 105 seats, the party polled over 3 lakh votes.
The presumption of the arithmetic of votes and seats can flatter to deceive. Outcomes depend on how parties execute the transfer of votes – in the 2019 polls, the BJP-plus bloc routed the SP-BSP mahagathbandan to bag 64 of 80 seats. Seat share agreements are tricky, as reflected in the "as far as possible" phraseology of the Mumbai declaration. What will the arrangement be in West Bengal, where the Left and Congress fought the TMC; in Kerala, where the Congress is battling the Left; in Delhi and Punjab, where Congress was ousted by AAP; and in the political risotto of Maharashtra? The 14-member coordination panel will be pushed to its limits in crafting compromises.
Indeed, the X factor in the 2024 polls would be the performance of the Indian National Congress. The 2019 polls saw the Congress in face-off contests against the BJP in 186 seats, of which the BJP bagged 170 seats. The saffron alliance swept 28 of 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh, 23 of 25 in Rajasthan, 9 of 10 in Haryana and all the seats in Gujarat, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
There is no disputing that the Modified Bharatiya Janata Party is perhaps the most formidable juggernaut seen in India's political arena in recent decades. It is equally true that the BJP has struggled to outwit regional parties and expand its footprint across many states. Regional parties held on to strongholds In the late sixties, it was said, one could drive from Delhi to Calcutta without encountering a single Congress government. The Opposition revels in pointing out that one can drive from Thiruvananthapuram to Kolkata and not encounter a single BJP-ruled state.
Critical for success is how the #INDIA alliance evolves a consensus on its messaging beyond the 'oust Modi' slogan. The members of the alliance have been vocal about what must not happen, what is not happening but not how they will make a difference. It is not enough to rage about inflation, unemployment, agricultural distress, caste census, women's empowerment and economic growth. The alliance must present an alternative template of credible solutions and engineer credibility that captures the electorate's mind.
India's democracy is thirsting for competitive ideas. Young India aspires for and is eager for change. Young voters have and will ruthlessly offload lazy politics and leave politicians stranded at the wrong side of the belt of power.
Author of The Gated Republic, Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution, and Accidental India