Analysis: Maharashtra signposts era of anti-BJP coalitions

NCP chief Sharad Pawar with NCP MP Sunil Tatkare arrives to address a press conference after a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss government formation in Maharashtra, in New Delhi on November 18, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Talks over government formation in Maharashtra have now stopped at the doorstep of Delhi, as it often does with political decision making. And while the coming week will reveal whether the Shiv Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) end up forming the next government in the State or not, what the attempt has done is to arguably ring the death knell for the “Congress system” of party politics and replaced it with a BJP version of the same.

To set the context one needs only to look back at 1967, a significant year in Indian politics. The Congress party had been voted back at the Centre with a weakened majority in the Lok Sabha and lost power in States like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal, the then State of Madras, Odisha (then called Orissa) and Kerala.

Opposition parties ranging from the socialists to the right wing Jana Sangh allied to form governments in several States as they put aside wide ranging ideological differences and united on a common anti-Congress agenda. These governments were called the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) governments. This unity against the Congress was tested again in 1975 during the Emergency and later in the failed Janata government experience (1977-79). These coalitions proved that the ‘mighty’ Congress could only be defeated by coalescing opposition forces.

Cut to 2019: one of the oldest allies of the BJP, the Shiv Sena, supposedly bound by the umbilical cord of a shared Hindutva ideology, breaks ranks and signs on with the Congress and the NCP. Elsewhere, parties are going to the polls in broad anti-BJP alliances like in Jharkhand, where the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) are contesting as a combine. The upcoming polls in Bihar too may see a consolidation of opposition forces. All this against the BJP.

The BJP, with back-to-back victories in the last two general elections that have secured it commanding majorities and the political space to pursue its ideological project to replace the “Congress system”, is the new party to beat. The main difference, though, is that while in 1967 the socialists under Ram Manohar Lohia held the centre of these coalitions, the regional parties do so now. The Congress, as a national entity, is not an effective counter to the BJP, which struggles more against strong regional parties.

The transition points to not just the change in the ‘Congress system’ to a BJP dominated one, but also the deepening of Indian federalism in political terms. Any move to understand the ideological leap of faith of the Shiv Sena and the NCP-Congress attempting a coalition can only be explained along these terms.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 7:57:46 AM |

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