Coalition politics is an imperative because of the threat today to the ideas of social justice


The making of a coalition is no more a matter of choice for the parties opposed to the right-wing authoritarian postures of the BJP but a command from the common people. The churning on the ground among almost all social groups is exerting pressure on the Opposition parties to jettison their minor differences and rally together to protect and safeguard institutions that are currently under attack.

Reasserting democracy

The 2019 election is going to reassert and reconstitute the idea of democracy with particular emphasis on inclusion, representation and participation. The tenets of the making of a coalition or alliances this time are quite similar to those in 1977, when supposedly divergent political outfits came together to pose a united challenge to the hegemonic politics then of the Indian National Congress. By and large, we are committed to the core ideas which constitute the idea of India: freedom, liberty, social and economic justice, and secularism. These shall be the focal points of our manifesto or common minimum programme.

We know that, in spite of a chequered history, coalitions in India have earned particularly bad publicity from the liberal quarters, especially the economic liberals who denigrate coalition governments as ‘weak governments’. As all popular ideas often are, this too is a fallacious idea. Coalitions, by virtue of embodying internal democracies within the executive, are more democratic because partner parties (especially small and regional parties) have their ears closer to the ground. They represent the true aspirations of national communities because they keep the larger and national political parties more accountable and are less likely to lapse into arrogance.

Our scepticism of coalitions is rooted in several difficulties of coalition politics. The first is related to the difficulty of cobbling together a coalition. Ideological distance between parties is sometimes difficult to bridge; at other times, the social distance between voter constituencies is an obstacle. The second is to do with keeping a coalition together. Agreeing upon a practical common minimum programme is a must for providing stability to a coalition. Ideological nuances must be set aside against an imminent threat or for a longer-term political project.

An imperative

The significant point is that all Opposition parties have also drawn their lessons from the points mentioned above. The past behaviour of coalition partners is often assumed to be the sole indicator of their commitments to any future coalition with them. This gives rise to the problem that parties in a coalition continue to labour under a trust deficit and never effectively prioritise investments in a coalition for fear of upsetting their core support base or in the hope of increasing their influence. Neither in real politics nor theoretically is it impossible that coalition partners who have had trouble in the past can manage to come together again. The RJD has shown this by actually doing it in the last Bihar Assembly elections with the Mahagathbandhan. We continue to believe in the inherent value of coalitions.

Coalition politics is an imperative now more than ever before because of the stress and threat to the very ideas of social justice. If today, the Opposition parties fail to come together, they would be pushing the marginalised communities in India, especially Dalits and minorities who did gain a little ground in society and polity, to lose their meagre but hard-earned benefits from the state.

Manoj Kumar Jha is from the Rashtriya Janata Dal and a member of the Rajya Sabha


The so-called Mahagathbandhan has neither an ideology of development nor a record for reliability


In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won with a full majority and established itself strongly in national politics. The proof of this is that when the BJP came to power in 2014, its governments existed in only five States. This has now extended to 19 States (where it is either in power or is a supporting party).

In Indian politics, the support of the people to any government or party strongly depends on how fond the people are of that party and the popularity of its record of governance. If we look at it from this perspective, it’s quite easy to say that the BJP has only gained more and more popularity among the people since it came to power in 2014.

A BJP wave

There was a time when the BJP was looked at as a party limited to a particular region. The times have changed; now, the BJP is active in every State, whether in the north, south, east or west.

It could be said about the 2014 Lok Sabha election that there was a wave in favour of prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, which helped the BJP to win. After the 2014 election, acceptance for the party has only grown and new alliances have come up. In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, parties from all over the State came forward to support the BJP. The Janata Dal (United) is with us now. In northeastern States like Assam and Tripura, local parties have shown overwhelming support and joined us.

It’s not as if Opposition parties like the Congress have not tried to stop us. It’s another matter that most of their attempts have come a cropper. For instance, the Congress fought against the communists in Kerala and joined hands with them in West Bengal. Despite this, they had to face defeat. During the U.P. elections, when the Congress formed an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP), the coalition crumbled.

Congress has no credibility

Now, again, there are talks of a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ for the 2019 general election but the question is, if this coalition ever comes into existence, what will be the Congress’s position in it? In U.P., the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party are not giving any importance to the Congress. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress is ignoring the Congress. Even in Telangana, the Congress doesn’t have a credible partner. There are two reasons for this: one, the Congress has lost its base among the people of the country, and two, its leadership has lost credibility.

The lack of an internal democratic system in the party has led to an estrangement of people from the Congress. The lack of ideological commitment has led to a complete lack of clarity on what the party supports and doesn’t support. So, while the party seems to be standing with the anti-national gang of Jawaharlal Nehru University, in Karnataka, it is trying to divide the Hindus. In Gujarat, the party is dividing society on the basis of caste. It is also trying to imitate the BJP’s nationalist ideology as it doesn’t have one of its own. Finally, until the leadership of this alliance is decided, it should only be considered a myth.

This so-called Mahagathbandhan does not have an ideology of development. Nor does it have a record for reliability. This is nothing more than a drill based on a non-existent opportunity.

Bhupender Yadav is a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha


Who will be the face of the alliance? The issue is not about a lack of leaders; it is of too many leaders


The answer to the question is not easy as the road to a grand alliance against the BJP is quite complicated. It is complicated on account of two factors. The first is the issue of leadership: who will lead the anti-BJP alliance? The second pertains to the nature of State-level electoral contests. The parties trying to form an anti-BJP alliance are also political opponents in their respective States.

The question of leadership

Let us examine the question of leadership. Who will be the face of this alliance is difficult to resolve as the issue is not about a lack of leaders, it is about too many leaders. It is well known that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will not accept the leadership of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Nor will BSP chief Mayawati and NCP president Sharad Pawar, who consider themselves bigger leaders than Mr. Gandhi. Even though Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu are not at loggerheads on the issue of leadership, it is difficult to imagine that they would be willing to accept the leadership of Mr. Gandhi or of anyone from a regional party. The only solace for these regional parties that are trying to form an anti-BJP alliance is that SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav is no longer active in politics and RJD president Lalu Prasad is in jail. The issue could have become more complicated had the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav or the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav also staked their a claim to the top political position.

Even if these parties manage to resolve the issue of leadership, it neither solves all the issues nor paves the way for the formation of an anti-BJP alliance. There are compulsions of State-level electoral contests which come in the way of the formation of a national anti-BJP coalition. Examples are being cited of the BSP and the SP, but one should not forget that forming an alliance before a bypoll is much easier than forming one before a national election. To counter this argument, the Bihar example is being cited. If two arch rivals — the JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar and Mr. Prasad — could come together for the 2015 Bihar Assembly election, why can’t many political parties that are opposed to each other come together? The answer is simple: we all know what happened to the JD(U)-RJD alliance barely within a year and half of forming the Bihar government. We all know how the government is being run in Karnataka: the two coalition partners — the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) are constantly at loggerheads.

Alliance talks

Even if parties like the SP and the BSP in U.P., the NCP and the Congress in Maharashtra, and the Congress, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha in Jharkhand manage to form an alliance, questions remain. Can the Trinamool Congress and the Congress afford to form an alliance in West Bengal? Can the Biju Janata Dal form an alliance with the Congress in Odisha? An alliance of the Congress and the Left does not work in West Bengal. That experiment had failed in previous Assembly elections.

Will the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress be willing to consider an alliance in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana? Can the BSP consider having talks with the Congress for an alliance formation in States like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh or in Uttarakhand? It is well known that talks of an alliance between the Congress and the AAP for 2019 failed. Talks of an alliance between the Congress and the BSP for the recent round of Assembly elections also failed.

It also remains to be seen whether the Congress will manage to keep its alliance intact with the JD(S) in Karnataka.

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi

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