United they stand?

The suggestion to put a common candidate against BJP, which was mooted by some earlier, is gaining ground after JDS-Congress combine decided to form the government. If the votes secured by Congress and JDS in 2018 elections are added, BJP would have got only seven parliamentary seats in Karnataka against 17 that they won in 2014. It is true that general election in India is a summation of election contests in states and union territories and not a seamless national referendum on political parties. So, let us categorise states depending on feasibility of common candidate against BJP and check whether this will work for each category of states or not.

The first category of states is where BJP and Congress are in direct conflict. Gujrat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh form this category. As there has already been a direct contest, the question of united opposition candidate does not arise at all in these states. Put it simply, if BJP is to be defeated, Congress should win against BJP in a head on collision.

UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana and Delhi are the second category of states where despite being a dominant player, BJP secured less than 50 per cent and but still manage to acquire substantial seats in 2014 elections due to multi cornered contest. In these states, BJP can be defeated if a common candidate is positioned and all non-BJP voters are mustered to vote for the common candidate. In UP, SP and BSP have already come together to fight against BJP and if Congress joins the alliance, BJP will have to face a tough fight in UP. If Mahaghatbandan of RJD-JDU-Congress continued, it would have fielded united opposition candidates against NDA/BJP in every constituency and given NDA/BJP a run for money.  Now, with JDU with BJP, RJD-Congress combine can challenge NDA.

In Maharashtra, in alliance with Shiv Sena (SS) and Swabhimani Paksha, BJP, SS and Swabhimani Paksha got 23, 18 and one seats respectively, leaving six seats for Congress-NCP alliance in 2014 elections. Now with SS’s announcement that it will not align with BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha polls and Raj Thackery’s desire of Modi Mukt Bharath, theoretically, Congress, NCP, SS and Raj Thackery’s MNS could come together and challenge BJP with a common candidate in every Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra.

In Karnataka too, Congress-JDS alliance could rock the boat of BJP. In Haryana, INLD could join with Congress in putting a common candidate against BJP in every seat. In Delhi, Congress — AAP alliance could give a nightmare for BJP. All these alliances could pose serious challenges for BJP in winning as many seats in 2019 elections as it won in 2014 elections from these states. However, in that process, JDS, INLD and AAP will cede their established anti-Congress agenda completely to BJP. SS and MNS will cede their established right wing political agenda completely to BJP. Once they become part of anti-BJP alliance, irrespective of whether they win elections or not, all these parties can hardly recover their ground after the elections and thereby would have to undergo slow death. If in that process, BJP loses sizeable number of seats in 2019 elections, it would seriously dent the seats for BJP and may force BJP out of power. However, this is good for the country as this may lead to two-way contest sooner than later in these states.

Then comes the third category of states such as West Bengal and Orissa, where BJP already emerged as a party which could challenge TMC and BJD in the respective states, but still way below TMC and BJD. Will TMC, the number one party in West Bengal be ready to align with Congress and left parties, the third and fourth in popular support, to defeat BJP, the number two party?

In fact, if at all any such alliance is made, it gives an impression that BJP cannot be defeated by TMC alone and would be a morale booster for BJP. In the recent local body elections, TMC unleashed unprecedented violence against BJP, left and Congress cadres leading to more than 15 killings and hence there is a great animosity between TMC and all other political parties in West Bengal. If TMC cannot even digest Congress and left parties in the fray let alone in its fold that too in local body elections, how does one expect the same behaviour will not be shown by other dominant regional parties towards other non-BJP parties? In Orissa, BJP pushed Congress into oblivion, leaving the fight directly between BJD and BJP. BJD’s plank has been anti-Congress even from the days of Biju Patnaik and if BJD aligns with Congress to defeat BJP, it is as good as BJD giving up its plank of anti-Congress and may benefit BJP.

Kerala, AP, Telangana and TN form the fourth category of states, where state parties dominate the politics and BJP is not a force to reckon with, till now and hence the question of fielding united candidate against BJP does not arise. However, the state parties have been on the forefront in mooting the idea of common candidate against BJP, irrespective of whether they subscribe to the same in their own states in 2019 general elections.

 Why? Because, BJP long back established itself as a strong contender in all the states where it has a direct fight with Congress and now BJP’s foray is into states where state parties rule the roost. The success of BJP in states like Haryana, Assam and Tripura, where BJP emerged directly from nowhere to the ruling party in the respective states since 2014 has been giving nightmares to the state parties. BJP has been on expansionary agenda to win seats from states where state parties have been dominating for decades, that would compensate partially or fully for the losses it would incur in the states where it maximised its victory in 2014 elections.

However, the state parties cannot afford to lose its turf in their respective states as these parties know once the turfs are ceded to BJP, it is very difficult to retrieve and hence the clarion call by the state parties more than Congress to stop BJP juggernaut.

In a nut shell, there is a scope for opposition parties to field common candidates by non-NDA parties against BJP/NDA in the second category of states and not in other category of states and hence the scope for fielding common candidates is limited. BJP with a vote share of 31 per cent could be defeated hands down by having a united opposition candidate is based on four assumptions:

The first one is that BJP got 31 per cent uniformly across all parliamentary seats and hence can be defeated by fielding a common candidate. The second one is that every party other than those in NDA could be enlisted in an alliance at state level, let alone at national level. The third one is that all the votes that won’t be casted for BJP would automatically will go to the common candidate. The fourth one is that BJP retain only 31 per cent or less and the effort of BJP to increase its vote share by foraying into new territory since 2014 is not worth to consider. These assumptions form the bedrock of the fanciful idea that a united opposition candidate will defeat BJP hands down in 2019 general elections.

(The writer teaches at TAPMI Manipal. Views are personal)