The four years and four months since the 2019 general elections have been tumultuous: parties have split or changed allegiance, politicians have switched sides, governments have fallen, and the Opposition has mounted a joint offensive against the Narendra Modi-led NDA. Yet, in most states, the battlelines appear much the same, bringing the relevance of the I.N.D.I.A bloc into question.
Take West Bengal, for example. The Left Front and Congress are disinclined to tie up with their I.N.D.I.A ‘ally’ Trinamool Congress. If TMC leader Mamata Banerjee is antipathetic to the Left Front, the state Congress has a chip on its shoulder vis-a-vis her. Going by the Left’s recent stance, the contest will once again end up being a quadrangular one, between the TMC, BJP, Congress and Communist parties.
In Uttar Pradesh, too, the BJP is unaffected. In 2019, it faced the Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance, with the Congress as a weak third force. This time, the proposed Opposition alliance appears less formidable than of yore, with the BSP having refused to join the I.N.D.I.A company and the Congress reduced to a marginal player.
Coming to the Northeast, where Assam accounts for the bulk of seats, the stage is pretty much the same, with the two Opposition parties — Congress and AIUDF — at daggers drawn. Only two parties from the entire region are members of the I.N.D.I.A alliance and both are from Mizoram, where the NDA in any case has no presence. The BJP has in fact added several Northeast parties to its list of partners.
Although the list of NDA members has expanded, as of now it is minus four key parties, namely the Janata Dal (United), the Shiromani Akali Dal, the AIADMK and the Bodoland People’s Front. How badly does this affect the BJP and NDA?
In terms of its tally, the BJP itself will not suffer substantially from the defection of the BPF, the SAD or the AIADMK. The BPF had joined the UPA but quit after it suffered in the Assam assembly polls. As for the AIADMK, its backing failed to win the BJP a single seat in Tamil Nadu in 2019. And although it managed two seats from Punjab with SAD support, one was arguably a result of Sunny Deol’s star power.
The JD(U)’s exit has certainly put the BJP on the back foot in Bihar. The mahagathbandhan, which inflicted a crushing defeat on the NDA in the 2015 assembly elections, has taken shape once again. The Rashtriya Janata Dal-JD(U)-Congress-Left alliance will be hard to beat, even with the RLJP and HAM in the BJP’s corner. Jharkhand will see a repeat of the JMM-Congress versus BJP-AJSU contest.
The Maharashtra scenario resembles 2019 in that the BJP-Shiv Sena is set to take on the Congress and its allies. The difference is that the latter stands enfeebled, with the rumps of the Sena and the NCP in the Congress camp, while the BJP has walked off with the majority of MLAs from both parties. Whether that will help or hurt at the hustings remains to be seen. (The Election Commission, meanwhile, has yet to take a call on which faction is the ‘real’ NCP.)
In Karnataka, the acquisition of the Janata Dal(S) gives the BJP the advantage. In Kerala, the only change is the Kerala Congress (M) crossing over from the Congress to the Left, which doesn’t matter at the national level, as the BJP’s presence in the state is marginal.
Nor has the picture changed in Andhra, Telangana and Odisha. None of the ruling parties are part of the I.N.D.I.A alliance, or of the NDA. The BJP is the main opposition in Odisha, a third force in Telangana and virtually non-existent in Andhra.
In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, it’s business as usual, with Congress and BJP in a straight fight. While the BJP is not tipped to perform particularly well in the forthcoming assembly polls, voting patterns can be radically different in the Lok Sabha polls.
That brings us to Delhi, where the Aam Aadmi Party shows no signs of coming to a seat-sharing agreement with the Congress. Both parties have declared they will contest all seven seats, which points to a reprise of the 2019 triangular contest. Likewise in Haryana, where both parties have announced they will go it alone in all the 10 seats.
Naturally, this undermines the possibility of a Congress-AAP alliance in Punjab. The state Congress has already expressed strong opposition to a tie-up with the ruling AAP. Given the attenuation of the SAD and AAP’s poor track record in governance, it is confident of doing better on its own. To mount pressure on the Congress, AAP released its first list for the MP assembly polls earlier this month, obviating the possibility of a joint front in the state.
As a result of its failure to decide on common candidates even in principle, the I.N.D.I.A alliance is beginning to look over-hyped. Visuals of parties fighting each other, while claiming to represent a national-level alliance, is bound to have a psychological impact on voters. The ‘frenemies’ will come across as just plain enemies.
Unless all 26 parties commit to common candidates and a common platform, they might as well gamble on a post-poll coalition rather than pitch themselves as a pre-poll alliance.
Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author