3 Reasons 2019 Could Cook a Khichdi That’s a Political Delicacy
Khichdi, the sick person’s gruel of rice and lentils, is also a colloquial description of weak coalition governments. The phrase acquired wide currency during 1996-97, when unstable United Front regimes under HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral were felled by Sitaram Kesri’s Congress party in 11 and 8 months respectively.
Today it’s back in vogue, with several pundits wondering if the 2019 polls will throw up another khichdi coalition: in an eerie replay, the BJP could become the single largest party with 180-200 seats, the Congress could come in second with around 130-150, and a clutch of regional parties could dice the remaining 200 seats into tinier morsels. But this is also where the story could diverge from 1996; in fact, there are three reasons why 2019 could cook a khichdi that is a political delicacy!
Reason 1: Modi Strikes Dahshat in His Opponents
Modi strikes dahshat (extreme fear) in his opponents. His take-no-prisoners style of politics is a unique cementing force for otherwise squabbling opposition parties. He is what the Americans call a “closer”, campaigning with colossal energy to single-handedly snatch victories from the jaws of defeat. He can accuse his peers – eg, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – of treason without batting an eyelid. He can tear newspaper headlines – eg, ‘Congress is a Muslim Party’ – out of context, gleefully smearing the party which led the nationalist movement for Independence.
His opponents get completely unsettled by his strategic silences – they are damned if they remain quiet, and damned if they protest too much – either way, the issue gets sharply polarised. This, then, is the single most critical difference between 1996 and 2019: there was no Modi in 1996, who would have forced the opposing coalition to sustain. But in 2019, Modi will be the powerful glue for his opponents to stick together – or perish forever!
Reason 2: A Different Congress from 1996
There is a second over-arching reason why the 1996 disaster will not be repeated in 2019 – it’s because the Congress is very different now from what it was then. In 1996, the Congress had keeled over from 244 seats to 140, a clearly defeated party.
However, in 2019, the Congress could be an “ascending force”, rising from 44 to between 130-150 seats in Lok Sabha. That should give it the moral authority to significantly participate in, or even lead, a coalition government. Also, Sitaram Kesri was an old, weak, impatient provincial leader. As opposed to him, Rahul Gandhi is unchallenged in the party. He is also young and patient, not aching to jump into South Block. He is not expected to indulge in the “Kesri shenanigans”, which were primarily responsible for the Gowda and Gujral catastrophes.
Reason 3: Opposition Wields a Common Platform
In 1996, the United Front coalition was a hasty, opportunistic afterthought. As against that, today opposition leaders are slowly, laboriously welding a common platform. Massive by-election victories in Gorakhpur, Phulpur, Kairana, Ajmer, Alwar, Gurdaspur, Bhandara-Gondia and other places are proving to be an optimistic catalyst.
Political titans like Sharad Pawar and Mayawati are displaying a mature esprit de corps. Maya sacked, within 24 hours, a senior leader who had said uncharitable things about Rahul Gandhi. HD Kumaraswamy quickly disowned his 1996-styled theatrics; again, within 24 hours, he acknowledged his folly.
The final conclusion, therefore, is inescapable: even if the 2019 poll arithmetic turns up a clone of the 1996 hung house, its chemical glue will be entirely different, which could, could, surprise the naysayers.