Mahagathbandhan: Why not?
With a clutch of experienced politicians, the Mahagathbandhan could be just the political alliance that gives BJP sleepless nights ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls
Historically, the turnout at Kolkata's Brigade Parade Ground is meant to speak volumes about prevailing political trends. No one had mastered the art of drawing the teeming multitudes to the green political arena that's part of the city's famous Maidan area. No one had succeeded in matching, leave alone bettering, the crowd turnout by the Marxists till a young, feisty woman leader showed them that they alone could not have the bragging rights. It was way back on November 25, 1992, that Mamata Banerjee shocked naysayers within her own party (the Congress at that time) by purportedly attracting 50,000 people (an overwhelmingly large number at that time) from across the state to the hallowed ground. The people of the state had answered her call and had shown up for her, not for any other Congress leader in a clear indication that come what may, they were standing firmly with Mamata. It was at this rally that Mamata announced her decision to quit her position as Union Sports Minister in the P V Narasimha Rao government. And as the firebrand leader rung 'CPI(M)-er Mrityu Ghonta' (CPI(M)'s death knell), the crowd couldn't contain their glee. An ominous sign for both the Left and the erstwhile faction-ridden Bengal Congress, and an indication of the political events to follow.
Mamata's ability to attract spilling crowds only increased with the intervening years. So much so that in the recently organised United India Rally at Brigade Parade Ground, lakhs showed up to listen to leaders from across the political spectrum promise to work towards a 'BJP-mukht Bharat'. And, just as in 1992, when Mamata dramatically rung the CPI(M)'s death knell, now she declared that the BJP government was past its expiry date. If the turnout and reception meted out to the attending politicians is anything to go by, the Mahagathbandhan may not seem all that unacceptable a concept to the 'aam aadmi'.
Ever since leaders from over 22 national parties answered Mamata's clarion call, the ruling party has been quick to dismiss the alliance as an unholy one driven by greed and opportunism. As the leaders shared the stage, standing with joined hands raised over their heads making for a historic picture, genuine questions were also raised about the calibre of such an alliance to govern a nation and most importantly, stay united.
While the alliance may make for some strange bed-fellows (like the SP-BSP, TDP-TRS), the idea of the Mahagathbandhan itself is not avant-garde. While it is true that the nation faced political instability for a few years following changing leadership at the Centre ((VP Singh (1989-90), Chandra Shekhar (1990-91), H D Deve Gowda (1996-97), I K Gujral (1997-98)) due to coalition diktats, it has also for several years been ably governed by coalition parties. UPA-I performed exceedingly well and UPA-II, while scam-ridden, did not put the brakes on the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and development. NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a coalition too. And, even though in 2014, Narendra Modi won a thumping victory for BJP, his party had to bring together old allies and new to form the government at the Centre.
If the parties in the Mahagathbandhan perform well in their own states in the Lok Sabha polls this year, as is predicted, then the chances of the Congress also being a part of a secular alliance of like-minded parties is a surety. Congress's participation would ensure that the experience of running a nation is at the service of the Mahagathbandhan. Not that there is dearth of leadership experience among the regional leaders that includes a former Prime Minister, six former chief ministers, five former union ministers, and five current chief ministers (including K Chandrashekar Rao who may have skipped the Kolkata rally because of N Chandrababu Naidu but has been determinedly pushing for the Mahagathbandhan). And, with veteran leaders like Mamata Banerjee playing the conduit in keeping the parties together, it would only take coming up with a UPA-like Common Minimum Programme to keep the coalition ticking. At least with a Mahagathbandhan of successful chief ministers with winning state models (much like Modi's Gujarat) to their credit and pushed by a zeal for competitive success in their respective states, one thing is certain – there will at least be discussion before major economic reforms are announced, quite unlike the current government that has taken autocratic, blundering economic decisions without even consulting its allies. And, with grassroots leaders from various parts of the country in such an alliance, at least the interests of the common man and the diverse and secular fabric of the nation will stand protected.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)