Politics in any democracy and especially in a parliamentary democracy is always going to be a numbers game. In most countries with a two or a three party system, the first past the post system, generally throws up results along expected lines nationally. But in countries with such a complex democracy like India, the FPTP will always throw up an interesting challenge. Now in India this system has worked and apart from a few issues here and there, it has generally been accepted as representative of India’s diversity. That changed in 2014, when suddenly folks on the left and those disgruntled with Narendra Modi couldn’t comprehend the mandate that BJP had received and have since been making bizarre claims in interviews and columns. I’m not going to debate the FPTP vs the presidential system here, since that requires a detailed discussion and a deeper debate. Since the present system in India is here to stay, I’m laying a few points that I’ve heard lately on debates.
Since the 2014 elections and especially in the last two years, one fact that the Congress, left and the disgruntled leaders (once in BJP now darlings of the left) keep repeating is that BJP only got 31% of the votes and that 69% of India voted against BJP. This keeps being repeated by the opposition and especially by Congress durbar court jesters like Mani Shankar Aiyar, and ex NDA-1 minister, author, journalist and now a full time interviewee, Arun Shourie.
This is a lie perpetrated by partially quoting statistics to suit their narrative. The fact is that NDA – the alliance led by BJP got 38.5% of the vote- BJP by itself got 31%. The people in India that voted for Mr. Modi, voted for NDA and not just BJP. That fact is never mentioned. Since the 2014 LS, although the NDA has lost a few parties, it has also gained some allies like JD (U) and PDP.
Now, if one were to consider the second ridiculous point that these leaders claim, that if the opposition unites, it means that with rest of the vote they will form the government, then that point too doesn’t hold up. Time and again we have that people voting for a third party don’t necessarily shift their votes to the opposition just because now it is a 2 cornered fight. The Indian voters may not shift their allegiance as Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha or Shatrughan Sinha did since the voters don’t have ministerial ambitions.
Let’s look at a few examples of why this is a false hypothesis that is being propagated by desperate people who lost all hopes of political relevance in a 2019 scenario where Mr Modi comes back with similar numbers to 2014 or even with 250 seats. In Odisha, BJD was the dominant party and it got 1.7% of the national vote (44.1% in state), Congress got 26% in the state and BJP 21.5%. There is no evidence to suggest that BJD and Congress will tie up in the state, but if even they in a highly hypothetical scenario, the BJP’s share would significantly go up as it becomes the primary opposition party. BJP is already in the ascendance in Odisha, and this might bolster it, thus making the BJP vote share go up. In Tamil Nadu AIADMK was the dominant party which is now getting close to an alliance with BJP. ADMK got 3.27% of the national vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha. Is that 3.27% vote an anti BJP vote or is it a pro Jaya vote. I would argue that it is the latter, but I can understand how hate can cloud the judgement of even smart people like Mr. Shourie.
Similarly, in Haryana will INLD ally with Congress? Can all its vote transfer completely? Ditto for West Bengal (TMC and Left will not ally), Andhra Pradesh (TDP & YSRCP will not ally), Kerala (Congress and Left alliance will not happen there), J&K (PDP & NC), UP (Akhilesh and Mayawati’s by poll alliance may face rough weather when it comes to ticket distribution). There are several local level issues at play as well. Take UP for example if the BJP nominates a Dalit candidate and the SP-BSP field a Yadav candidate, there is no guarantee that a BSP voter will not vote for the Dalit fielded by the BJP.
There are several contradictions amongst the political parties to suggest that this grand nationwide alliance is a pipe dream that comes every election cycle only to fail every single time. And there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that since 38.5% of India voted for NDA in 2014, the other 61.5% will automatically vote for the other alliance. For starters the independents and the others and NOTA had 5% of the vote. This brings down the other side to 56.5%, and as I have talked about many amongst these 56.5% are non-compatible with each other, so even a 2014 LS type result by vote share might not yield the outcome they desired.
And lastly, it is tempting to assume that a voter votes the same way regardless of how many alliances are fighting. In a straight NDA vs the rest contest, it is highly plausible that voters who normally vote for a regional party might vote for PM Modi nationally. And most importantly for alliance to succeed nationally, it needs a face to lead it. If these ‘analysts’ who keep dreaming about the third front think that the state parties will accept Rahul Gandhi as that leader, then they are more deluded that the Congress leaders who believe that Rahul Gandhi is capable of being the PM.
Congress will never accept a coalition that is not led by it and the other regional parties may not accept Rahul as PM. In both the cases, this grand alliance is doomed. And let’s assume, that they work together and convince each other to accept Rahul as a PM candidate, what do you think will happen if Rahul Gandhi is pitted against Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha election? The Congress might be scared to death to even predict that outcome.
In an earlier column, I had said how BJP might not be able to cross 300 on its own and state parties individually do pose a challenge to it. But if they take this idiotic step of having a grand alliance, it will spectacularly backfire. An alliance led by Rahul Gandhi might probably be the catalyst that Mr Modi needs to propel the party to 300. And that day, I hope to see yet another interview of Mr. Shourie.