Political Line | Chaos and coalitions

July 23, 2023 08:03 pm | Updated July 24, 2023 04:08 pm IST

(This is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George. The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox.)

Political parties are realigning, unsettling old equations across India. The more polarised the 2024 battlefield becomes, the more evident it is that those who are not with the Congress are effectively with the BJP.

Between the two alliances that made their respective shows of strength last week, one could count 64 parties — 38 at the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) meeting that endorsed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a third term in 2024, and 26 at a gathering that vowed to work jointly to defeat him. The Opposition parties named their alliance Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) — the name itself says a lot about the new formation, our editorial pointed out its collective determination and confusion, both at the same time. The name also suggests that the Opposition parties realise that they will have to take on the BJP in a framework of a nationalist contestation. That is the only option; and that is the best option.

The NDA gathering had 38 parties, many of them with very little voter base. Possibly, the BJP and Mr. Modi believe that if the election is closely fought, every vote will count, but apart from that it appears that there is an attempt to prove that neither the party nor the PM is isolated, or politically untouchable, our editorial noted.

We cannot yet say the battle lines have been clearly drawn for 2024. They are being drawn, and further realignments are expected in the coming days. But there are few indicators from this week that underscore some long-term trends, or clear signs of parties reworking their priorities.

Both NDA and INDIA have their eyes set on subaltern votes — the OBCs and the Dalits. INDIA parties have called for a caste census. The BJP managed to woo back Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party chief Om Prakash Rajbhar, who is expected to boost the party in Uttar Pradesh. His noisy parting with the BJP ahead of the 2022 Assembly election in U.P. and now the tamed return to its embrace show the paradox of subaltern politics. These leaders and parties are not really comfortable in the saffron tent, and perhaps want to break free, but they are unable to do that. OBC and Dalit leaders who carved out autonomous spaces by creating wide coalitions of subaltern social groups now stand cornered — by their own deeds and the appeal of Hindutva among their voter base. Nitish Kumar in Bihar is another example — he managed to remain CM for nearly two decades, alternately aligning with and opposing the BJP, but the going is not very easy. His ambitions to emerge as the face of the Opposition campaign in 2024 is not really taking off, and he is upset about it, though he publicly denies it.

So, there is clearly a subaltern vote, but no subaltern leader or party. The BJP has managed to capture that space and OBC/Dalit voters. Today, no OBC leader is visible whose support base is not restricted to just one caste or State. That opens an opportunity for the Congress — only if it has the courage and imagination to seize the opportunity to become more subaltern in representation and rhetoric.

Many political equations within parties and States have been thrown into a tailspin. Until this settles into a new equilibrium, confusion will prevail. In West Bengal, the Congress and the CPI(M) units have to deal with Trinamool Congress chief and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s new bonhomie with the Congress national leadership. In Delhi and Punjab, the Congress and AAP have dialled down their mutual rivalry. In Karnataka, the BJP and the JD(S) are coming closer, confusing the workers of both parties. In Bihar, the BJP managed to win over the Chirag Paswan faction of the LJP, but his uncle Pashupati Nath Paras is in no mood to give up the Hajipur Lok Sabha seat to make this easy and workable.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Telangana, where the BJP has for all practical purposes given up its battle against the ruling BRS. At a strategy meeting of the party, workers wanted to know whether the BJP is interested in fighting the BRS at all or not. Those who are observing the emerging situation in Telangana are amused by the BJP-BRS dynamics, though both continue to count each other as a political enemy. BRS leader K. Chandrashekar Rao is trying to expand the footprint of his party in Maharashtra, where his campaign could cut into the support of the Congress-Shiv Sena (UBT)-NCP (Sharad Pawar) alliance. The BJP is leaving no stone unturned to make some gains in Maharashtra, where despite capturing power, it feels limited and restricted.

BSP leader Mayawati and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi are swinging in the no man’s land between the two alliances. In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP is balancing itself between the ruling YSRCP and the Opposition TDP. Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy are the other two regional chieftains claiming to keep equidistance from both fronts. The Congress’s stakes in these two States are low, and in the event of a hung Parliament, these parties could do business with anyone at the Centre. At the moment, those who claim to keep equidistance from the BJP and the Congress are actually helping the former. That’s the Big Picture.

Federalism Tract - Notes on Indian Diversity

Naked Reality of Manipur

A viral video, which showed two tribal women being paraded naked and molested by a mob, blew the lid off the sexual violence faced by women in Manipur and finally forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence on the ongoing ethnic clashes in the State. But has he? Not quite, our editorial notes.

Tamil Borders

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin had appealed to the PM to raise issues related to Tamils with visiting Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Mr. Modi, who has his own plan to woo Tamil voters, did so.

Language Lessons

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has written to all its affiliated schools stating that they may consider using Indian languages as an optional medium of instruction in addition to other existing options.

The Supreme Court said it cannot direct the Centre to include Rajasthani as an official language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

Is the delimitation question settled?

Delimitation is the process of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies based on a recent Census to ensure that each seat has an almost equal number of voters. The last countrywide delimitation exercise took place in 1976. While the current boundaries were drawn on the basis of the 2001 Census, the number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats remained frozen on the basis of the 1971 Census in individual States. In 2002, the Constitution was amended to place a freeze on the exercise until the first Census conducted after the year 2026. Should delimitation be delayed any further? I discuss this question with two experts — former CEC O.P. Rawat and demographer Udaya Shankar Mishra. You can listen to the discussion or read the transcript here.

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