The advent of the festive season has brought good luck to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
After Mayawati’s imperious scuttling of any chance of an alliance with the Congress in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP can rest easy with the thought that the projected “mahagathbandhan” (grand alliance) of the national opposition may be now dead and buried.
After several by-election successes in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress appeared to have taken it for granted that the two states were already in its bag with the possibility of winning in Chhattisgarh as well on the basis of an anti-BJP wind blowing in from Madhya Pradesh.
But the Congress hadn’t taken into account its own internal fissures along with an ingrained arrogance and deviousness. One manifestation of the cracks within the party was the palpable gulf between two senior leaders in Madhya Pradesh, the party chief in the state, Kamal Nath, and the former chief minister, Digvijaya Singh.
Even as Kamal Nath teamed up with Jyotiraditya Scindia and “negotiated” with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), thereby hogging the limelight, Digvijaya Singh, perhaps feeling left out, decided to make his presence felt by throwing a spanner in the unity efforts.
True, the first chink in the mahagathbandhan was caused by Mayawati when she left the Congress in the lurch in Chhattisgarh, forming an alliance with the breakaway Congress leader, Ajit Jogi, and even announcing contesting 22 seats on her own in Madhya Pradesh.
But there was no immediate need for Digvijaya Singh to see her move as a scared response to the investigations against her by various government agencies.
Although this interpretation was being aired in the media, it was evidently unacceptable to the temperamental BSP czarina to find a senior Congress leader echoing the views of some analysts.
Hence, her huffy departure from any talks with the Congress on the grounds of the party’s arrogance and underhand manoeuvres of those like Digvijaya Singh whom she accused of acting at the BJP’s behest.
It is also possible that she believed that a tie-up with the Congress will benefit the latter rather than the BSP, not least because she suspected that the Congress was trying to regain its lost position among the Dalits as in the hoary days of the Congress’s Brahmin-Harijan-Muslim base decades ago.
This was the reason why she was not too pleased with Rahul Gandhi’s earlier practice of spending nights in Dalit villages, alleging that he soaped himself copiously on returning home.
Since then, her attitude has not only changed but, as she said even after the break-up with the Congress, both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were sincere in their desire for an alliance with the BSP.
It is obvious, therefore, that the Congress should have been far more careful in its dealings with Mayawati, with Rahul Gandhi himself playing a more proactive role to placate the oversensitive BSP leader, who is already under considerable strain because of the emergence of young challengers from within her own community like Jignesh Mewani and Chandrashekhar Azad “Ravan”.
The Congress’s mistake was to leave the task of talking to her only to the faction-ridden Madhya Pradesh unit, especially when disgruntled elements like Digvijaya Singh were lurking in the background, fearing that he would be further marginalised if Kamal Nath and Scindia managed to clinch a deal.
Now that the idea of a mahagathbandhan has collapsed for all practical purposes, it remains to be seen whether, if at all, the Congress is able to pick up the broken pieces.
Its dependence on a “grand” combine was based on the realisation that the only way the national opposition could take on the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah electoral machine was by acting in unison.
This arithmetical approach — one “strong” opposition candidate against the BJP in every constituency — was a concession to the fact that the opposition lacked a charismatic leader who could effortlessly draw crowds and articulate an inspiring vision.
Since the Congress and the opposition fail on both counts, the least they could do to offer a credible challenge to the BJP was by ensuring that the different parties developed a close understanding among themselves which took into account the idiosyncrasies of individual leaders and their apprehensions about being deceived.
However, the problem in the non-BJP camp is that it has only local leaders with little national appeal — Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu — while the “naamdars” (leaders with a lineage), to use Modi’s sarcastic word for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, are too preoccupied with rebuilding and even altering their own shattered images by visiting temples to undertake the arduous task of building a coalition brick by brick.
Mayawati’s desertion of the secular camp in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh was, therefore, waiting to happen. All that the Congress and the other parties in the national opposition can hope for at present is that the gathbandhans (alliances) elsewhere, notably in Uttar Pradesh, remain intact.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)