Millennium Post

OPPOSITION ARITHMETIC

As India awaits its next government with a mix of apprehension and nonchalance, our politicos are quickly tying loose ends to propose a coalition of difference that can truly achieve ‘vikas’ in tandem with ‘sabka saath’

OPPOSITION ARITHMETIC

Many believe that BJP will come back to assume power; but many more will agree that its majority cannot be as convincing as in 2014. Securing 282 seats of the 543 again, appears unlikely. The ball then has quickly bounced into the courts of regional parties who will play significantly in deciding the government that runs our country for, hopefully, the next five years.

India's tryst with coalition governments has been a mixed bag of happy tenures and abrupt sentences. While Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA and Manmohan Singh's UPAs both sustained their terms with more credibility than shame (until UPA II's corruption assault) – some others, like the Janata Dal-led United Front collapsed without closure. On the other hand, while majoritarian governments have been able to present a facade of apparent stability within organisational ranks, their actions have been deeply damaging– Indira Gandhi's Emergency and Narendra Modi's demonetisation both stand testimony to the evils of running a democracy without acknowledging difference.

Objectively, neither a coalition nor a single-party majority can assure successful governance. What matters ultimately is that we build a government that is truly for the people, of the people and by the people; not one that simply emerges from the people to assume unquestionable authority.

In India, ultimately, while stability at the Centre is important, perhaps recognising difference and providing governance that is mindful of difference will be paramount to achieving true economic growth. History too stands testimony; despite coalition governments collapsing more often than majoritarian ones, their performance has been markedly better. For instance, statistically, India achieved most economic growth under the governance of UPA-1, while maximum economic reforms were undertaken by the Narasimha Rao-led minority government.

Now, with results for the 17th Lok Sabha due in four days, the possibilities of a coalition seem real, and plausibly so. When BJP shot to power in 2014, few had anticipated that in five years they would incite enough hate to motivate regional powers, who were so long logged in their own battles, to pick up their boots and aim for national leadership. While the ruling party's army of campaigners has carefully dismissed the coalition as a noxious mixture (mahamilavat) of conflicting elements seeking to grab power, Indian today may actually perform better under a coalition government that accounts for each section of our very diverse society – rather than a fundamentalist who only sits as the cherry on a considerably layered cake.

Who has the numbers?

On May 13, when MK Stalin met Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR), speculations were strife that all wasn't well within the UPA camp. Particularly because DMK (led by Stalin) has been a sworn ally of the UPA, while KCR's TRS has remained firm in its resolve to support only a Third Front of non-Congress and non-BJP parties. The cloud was soon cleared after KCR admitted that he would not mind a coalition with Congress, provided the grand old party does not seek a larger share of the pie than it deserves.

Interestingly, YSR Congress (YSRC) led by Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh had earlier said that his party would join whichever coalition was supported by KCR. Both had been in the BJP's radar as possible partners in a post poll hung assembly scenario. YSRC and TRS, both are expecting to sweep their states. With a combined 46 seats at stake here, them securing even 30, as is predicted, could make a noticeable difference in the final tally. So far, while KCR is tilting towards a federal front, the cautious Jagan has refrained from making any public statement until results are announced on 23, when Andhra Pradesh will also welcome a new state government, which Reddy seeks to wrest from incumbent Chandrababu Naidu, who has been at the forefront of leading a federal coalition. Jagan had also previously said that his party would support whoever accords Andhra the Special Category Status (SCS) – this was also grounds for the resignation of Naidu's TDP from the NDA coalition in May last year. BJP may be inclined to provide SCS to Andhra and seek support from Jagan. This would also tarnish Naidu's reputation who has already been blamed for his failure in achieving SCS for the state.

SCS though has another contender who could make a big difference to this year's outcome – Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janta Dal (BJD). Odisha too voted for its state assembly alongside the Lok Sabha polls and Patnaik, who has held the reins for the last 19 years, appears confident of securing another term. After Cyclone Fani devastated the coastal state earlier this month, Patnaik has demanded SCS from the Centre, in view of the state's vulnerability to climate exigencies and annual trysts with the same. If BJP accords SCS to Odisha, BJD too could swing in favour of the saffron party. Odisha has 21 seats of which 20 were won by BJD in 2014. Patnaik promises a repeat but has refused to comment on any alliance until the poll results. He will be a most lucrative catch for whoever wishes to occupy Centre – though, he will most likely come with the clause of according SCS to his perennially inflicted state.

Mamata Banerjee, who has been leading the charge in Bengal amid repeated attacks by BJP, will most likely secure her earlier majority as BJP's increase is expected to count largely from the seats occupied by now defunct CPIM. Of Bengal's 42, she should take charge of about 30. Tamil Nadu, the other player, will also throw in some surprises. While in 2014, still under Jayalalithaa's administration, AIADMK had secured 37 seats in the assembly, making it the largest regional party; this year, the results will reflect a changed narrative. DMK will make a comeback and AIADMK is unlikely to repeat its count, despite BJP support. Sadly, down south, they are less swayed by petty national security rhetoric.

For the coalition and even BJP, eyes will be glued to Uttar Pradesh, the grand chunk of Hindi heartland that is most likely to decide the ultimate winner. The SP-BSP alliance has done well on ground, it appears from exit polls, but the strength of BJP can never be estimated until counting concludes. While Mayawati and Akhilesh appeared to be an unlikely combination, they could well bring into the kitty close to 30-40 seats of the 80 in UP. How well they will do in a coalition is hard to guess, particularly since they alienated Congress from their pre-poll coalition in the state.

Arithmetic vs Chemistry

Most critics have dismissed the coalition, believing that its absence of centred leadership will disappoint the masses. And, if it does assume power, it will surely fail to sustain itself. In other words, this arithmetic, no matter how robust, will not stand a chance in the face of Narendra Modi's infectious chemistry with people. True, Modi has a chemistry that few leaders can replicate – but, what good has this chemistry done? Had Modi's chemistry replicated the successes of Jayalalithaa's governance, which also stemmed a great deal from her shared chemistry with her people, then we could posit chemistry as an important parameter of governance. But, if chemistry is only ascertained by jingles in public speeches and jibes that are most distasteful but sellable, then such chemistry must be immediately rejected. We do not need a PM who does well on social media platforms, we need a PM who acknowledges the everyday trysts of our farmers, one who is willing to address press conferences and surely one who is supported by critique not a coterie of back-scratching monkeys showering praise. And, for this most essential element of critique, we must pave way for a diverse government where decisions are not based on one person's whims and can be ratified by voices that cognize differently. Ultimately that is the essence of India and only a government that replicates such an essence will be able to govern with resolve and justice.

We are a parliamentary system where divergent voices are essential; unlike the US's presidential system, we do not need a face to fight elections. Remember, our prime minister is only 'first among equals' in respect to both her/his cabinet and us people. Inflating a prime minister's persona is meaningless, for it is the cabinet in total that governs the country. Today, a coalition may appear nebulous and fraught with dangers – it probably even is. But a known trouble is always better than the unknown that appears with the mask of a messiah while concealing the grin of evil reincarnate.

Radhika Dutt

Radhika Dutt

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