UPIASI in the news: The improbability of a grand alliance’s rise

Attempts to unite the Opposition against BJP may well fall short

There are too many variables at play for the opposition Grand Alliance to be politically effective in the next general elections against a rapidly expanding BJP.

The partial recovery of the Congress — perhaps the most critical of the variables — also appears the most improbable, given the electoral trends of the past two decades.

Nevertheless, the Opposition is looking to the upcoming Presidential polls as a dry run to shape the contours of this mega coalition.

The chief protagonists of this coalition — CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, former Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav, and Congress President Sonia Gandhi — are presently sounding out candidates who can put up a fight against the BJP’s nominee.

Given that the BJP already has the numbers in place, the fight is merely symbolic, the idea being to create a buzz about the inevitability of an Opposition coalition.

The President is chosen by the elected members of both Houses of Parliament and Assemblies of the States and Union Territories. Each MP carries a weight of 708 votes and the value of an MLA varies depending on the population of the State she represents. Of the total vote value of 10.99 lakh, nearly half comes from the country’s 4,120 MLAs, and the other half from 776 MPs of both Houses of Parliament.

The BJP and its allies now hold over 47.5 per cent of the entire pool. Andhra Pradesh’s principal Opposition YSR Congress has nearly two per cent, and Telangana’s ruling TRS 1.6 per cent have added to the BJP’s kitty. Favorable noises have also been emanating from Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK, which holds about 5.4 per cent of the value of votes.

“We will give [the BJP’s candidate] a contest and we are talking to people. It is not right for me at present to comment on who is being contacted and what the shape of the Grand Alliance will look like in future,” said Yadav.

There are too many hurdles in what Yadav & Co are trying to achieve.

The first is the weakness of the Congress, which is the national base of this coalition. The party is in the third or worse positions in five major States – UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. These States together account for as many as 249 Lok Sabha seats. Congress accounts for 6.2%, 6.66%, 12.25%, 17.95% and 6.42% of the vote share in UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu respectively.

According to scholars Adnan Farooqui and E Sridharan of the Jamia Milia Islamia and University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for Advanced Study of India respectively, the Congress’s political recovery is extremely difficult in these States. “If it is in the third or a worse rank, it becomes significantly more difficult to win,” says a paper published by the duo titled ‘Can Umbrella Parties Survive? The Decline of the Indian National Congress’ published in the journal Commonwealth and Comparative Politics.

So, for instance, while in the UP elections held earlier this year, a grand alliance of the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal, with its combined vote share of 52 per cent, could have trumped the BJP’s 39.7 per cent figure, matters appear shaky on the ground. Already the Congress’s alliance with the SP is in doldrums with both parties fighting local body elections separately.

The probability of luring Mayawati’s BSP, a fervent hope nurtured by all protagonists of the Grand Alliance, is still remote. The BSP has a history of making tactical alliances with the party in power at the Centre. Even if Mayawati does not ally with the BJP for fear of facing political annihilation, she has still not shown any inclination to be favourable to either the SP or the Congress unless they jointly recommend her name for President. In other words, there is no effective alliance in the State which accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats.

In West Bengal, the State with 42 Lok Sabha seats, the Congress has to choose between the Left Front or the Trinamool Congress. Even if the rising popularity of the BJP has made the TMC chief and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee more amenable to the Congress despite its alliance with the Left parties in the last Assembly elections, the probability of the trio fighting the BJP jointly is still too radical an idea to be acceptable to the rank and file.

Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, a dithering AIADMK provides fertile ground for the BJP, which is assiduously wooing movie superstar Rajnikant, and the Congress has to entirely depend on the DMK.

In State after State, the weakness of the Congress, coupled with the fragility of the alliance partners who are at loggerheads in their respective States disturbs the mathematics of the Grand Alliance which has so far shown to be effective only in Bihar Assembly elections in 2015.