I got it wrong; history repeated...

By Ashwin Tombat
26 May 2019 13:37 IST

I got it wrong. Very wrong. In fact, the election result was nearly the diametrical opposite of my prediction.

This was the BJP’s election to lose. In UP and the Hindi heartland the NDA had won 192 out of 215 seats in 2014 (89 per cent). In the three states of Western India (Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa) they got 70 out of 76 seats (92 per cent). Retaining those seats against alliances of caste-based parties in UP and Bihar that had individually contested in 2014, was going to be very, very difficult.

On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Odisha and West Bengal together account for 192 seats. The NDA had won just 24 seats from these states, of which 17 were from Karnataka. Except to a small extent in Karnataka, West Bengal and Odisha, the NDA was not about to increase its tally much in these states.

A serious dent in the NDA’s Hindi heartland and Western India tally could cut the NDA’s final figure well short of a majority, making it the largest single grouping in parliament. It would need further allies to form a government.

This was far from impossible. In Gujarat’s 2017 assembly election, the Congress won 77 seats to the BJP’s 99. It then won assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in December 2018.

The Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s mendacity and unwillingness to accept the existential battle they were in — refusing to make deep compromises to build alliances — had already ruled them out as winners. But at least they could come back as a serious Opposition!

Or so I thought…

But the BJP’s remarkable social engineering saw the party gain nearly 10 per cent greater vote share in UP. The BJP won fewer seats than in 2014 only because of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati’s Mahagathbandhan — the only pocket of resistance against the saffron surge.

The BJP turned traditional political wisdom built around caste identities on its head. It constructed a majoritarian identity embodied in a single person — Narendra Modi — and successfully projected this as an election where he was the only option. The voter could either choose him, or reject him and hope for the best.

The BSP-SP had Jatav, Yadav and Muslim votes. The BJP mobilised 40 non-Yadav ‘most backward’ castes and Dalit Passis, who are in rivalry with Jatavs.  With a 10 per cent increase in vote share, the NDA should have won all 80 seats in UP. They won fewer seats than in 2014 only because of the Mahagathbandhan. In fact, it could have won around 15 more seats if the Congress hadn’t played ‘vote-katua’ in UP.

The RJD’s Bihar alliance was more carefully constructed. It had, apart from the traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha, extremely backward caste leader Jiten Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party. Plus, it had the Congress, to seal the minority vote.

But it was an uneasy, last-minute alliance. There were far too many ‘friendly fights’. Principal vote gatherer Lalu Prasad Yadav was behind bars. Like all bickering marriages, it failed to work.

The election also showed that people can vote completely differently for assembly and parliamentary elections. This, even when they are held simultaneously — and the voter has to push buttons in adjoining booths — as happened in Odisha.

Not securing an alliance with the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) cost the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) dearly in Maharashtra. Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh chief Prakash Ambedkar joined hands with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) to form the VBA. The Congress-NCP refused to take it seriously, and spurned an alliance. VBA contested all 48 seats independently.

Had the Congress-NCP alliance included the VBA, it could have won 12 to 15 seats more in Maharashtra. As it happened, the VBA won one seat, while the Congress won none.

One last word about ‘Mahagathbandhans’. In February 1972, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was saddled with a minority government dependent on the support of Communist parties, Socialists, DMK, Akali Dal and independents, called a snap poll.

The opposition parties — the Cong(0), the Jan Sangh (which later became the BJP), the Swatantra Party and the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP) — formed an electoral alliance known as the ‘Grand Alliance’. Roughly translated, it means ‘Mahagathbandhan’.

Indira Gandhi’s Congress(R) swept the polls, winning 352 of the 518 Lok Sabha seats — a two-thirds majority. The then ‘Mahagathbandhan’ suffered a crushing defeat.

The players may be in opposite roles, but history does repeat itself.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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