Not too long ago, there was a time in early 1990s when the entire country used to believe that in a vast and diverse India, which was divided into religion, region, caste, creed, gender and even faith, coalition politics was here to stay.
But is it true today? The instability of coalition governments and less decisive decisions has forced the electorate to contemplate before voting and as per the recent trends in 2019 election results shows that the people wanted a stronger government with clear mandate at the Centre.
Worst is that even after the results are out, the elected legislators and Parliamentarians are jumping the fence to join the bigger bandwagon of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The defectors believe that their political career will be more stable if they stay with the party that is now leading from the front. The NDA has 353 members in the Parliament of which the BJP has 303 and Shiva Sena with 18 members stands second in the coalition. Vellore Lok Sabha by-election is still to be conducted as it countermanded due to violation of election code of conduct.
In 2014 the BJP in a robust blitzkrieg had swept the 2014 polls, crossing the magical 272 mark in the Lok Sabha easily by winning 282 seats, while the NDA bagged 336 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 seats. Congress, on the other hand, was almost decimated to 44 Members of Parliament.
A show of strength at Kolkata in January 2019, one of the biggest opposition rallies ahead of the 2019 general election, was attended by political leaders from all over the country. Many among them had been partners with the ruling NDA in the past. The euphoria was being built up by the opposition leaders to get together to contest and stop the return of the BJP aka Narendra Modi in the 2019 general elections. However, with Congress giving a lukewarm response towards this ‘mahagathbandhan’ (biggest coalition), the idea fell like a pack of cards. In fact, the major reason for this fallout was that the 21 opposition parties could not reach to a consensus on their prime minister candidate.
Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, a ‘mahagathbandhan’ was formed between the arch rivals and bête noire Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) while deliberately keeping the Congress out just to ensure the defeat of the BJP-led NDA. The intention was to ensure the transfer of their traditional voters to each other in their corresponding seats, and this hope was not unfounded. They had done the experiment in the by-elections in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana a few months before the 2019 general elections, which clicked at that time, but not in this Lok Sabha election. Soon after the elections results were out, this coalition also fell apart in less than 50 days with BSP leader Mayawati calling it off.
The consolidation of Yadav voters, who have traditionally been with the SP, was not as strong as it should have been. Only 60 per cent of them voted for the ‘mahagathbandhan’ down from 75 per cent in the last Assembly elections when SP had alliance with the Congress. The study, however, says that the BSP was able to hold on to its core Jatav voters, but could not get support of non-Jatav Dalit votes for the ‘mahagathbandhan’.
As for the Muslim votes, these went to SP-BSP alliance in a big way, which is estimated to be about 73 per cent, but at the same time, about 14 per cent of the Muslims voted for Congress. This shows a clear division of Muslim votes, much to the advantage of BJP and thus proving that this time on the pre-poll coalition could not bring-in much success.
The study also highlights the popularity of Narendra Modi, which helped BJP consolidate its vote share. Though there were local issues, it probably did not matter and people voted keeping in mind that it was a national election. The study says BJP got 12 per cent votes due to the Modi factor alone. It says that the ‘mahagathbandhan’, as well as the Congress, failed to give an alternative narrative. Though they raised issues of unemployment, farmers’ distress, demonetisation, GST etc, they could not offer a credible alternative.
So, should this be a cause of worry? Yes, given that critics argue that coalitions slow down economic growth mainly due to internal conflicts, instability, time-consuming decision-making, and uncompromising ideological gridlocks, among other things. Yet, the fact is that our country is no stranger to coalition politics, which had become a trend over 1991-2014. A pre-poll alliance is more likely to survive and show stability than the post-poll alliance. To clear the cloud, we see the instability in our neighbouring state Karnataka which entered into post-poll alliance to keep the BJP-led NDA out of power in the state.