MPs' Mass Suspensions: INDIA Bloc Needs to Solve 2 Maths Problems to Defeat BJP

Mass suspension of MPs may have united INDIA bloc but they have 2 major challenges.

8 min read
Hindi Female

As many as 141 Opposition MPs have been suspended from Parliament in just two days. Ironically, this act has pushed the Opposition INDIA bloc to close ranks. This, in effect, ends the drift that seemed to have set in the alliance. INDIA bloc partners fought against each other in the state elections and the parties seemed to be speaking in different voices in the aftermath of the results.

However, now all those differences have been forgotten, with the alliance partners coming together to take on the government after the mass suspension of MPs. The suspensions are being compared to both the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and the manner in which 63 MPs were suspended in 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi was the PM. In both these cases, the government of the day enjoyed a brute majority in Parliament, as is the case even now.


This unity is, of course, important. But it is only a starting point. Unity in the alliance on its own cannot guarantee a victory for the INDIA bloc. In fact, if one has to stick one's neck out - based on present circumstances, it won't even bring them close to defeating the BJP.

To defeat the BJP, the INDIA bloc needs to solve two mathematical problems.

Maths Problem 1: Arithmetic Alone Isn't Enough

The fundamental rationale for the INDIA bloc is arithmetic. But there are limits to what arithmetic can achieve for the alliance.

The bloc is counting on two things:

  1. By coming together, they would be able to prevent a split in anti-BJP votes.

  2. The entry of erstwhile BJP partners like Shiv Sena UBT and JD-U can change the arithmetic in key states.

Now, let's look at the first point. It is true that the non-NDA parties did lose a sizable number of seats due to a split in anti-BJP votes. However, in very few cases was the vote split between parties that are now in the INDIA bloc.

Six seats in Bengal were lost to the BJP due to a vote split between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress. We can't put the TMC and Left votes in the same category as many Left votes in West Bengal are more anti-TMC than anti-BJP.
Mass suspension of MPs may have united INDIA bloc but they have 2 major challenges.

Meeting of Top Leaders of INDIA Alliance Postponed for Third Week of December

(Photo: PTI)

Then the NDA won a number of seats in Maharashtra due to a vote split between the UPA (Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra) and Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi. But then the VBA isn't part of the INDIA bloc as of now.


In Delhi, even if AAP and Congress would have contested together, the BJP would still have swept all 7 seats. In Jharkhand, the alliance was in place and yet the BJP ended up sweeping.

In Uttar Pradesh, a possible SP-Congress-RLD alliance in 2024 may not be as formidable as the 2019 SP-BSP-RLD alliance. Even that alliance could win only 15 seats despite having both SP and BSP on board.

Then in states like Kerala and Punjab, the INDIA bloc parties are unlikely to come together.

The main arithmetic advantage that the INDIA bloc parties have is due to the entry of the Shiv Sena Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray in Maharashtra and the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar.

Even if one factors in the splits in the Sena and the NCP, the NDA would still incur some losses compared to its 2019 tally of 41 out of 48 in Maharashtra. Its losses will be even higher in Bihar, where it had won 39 out of 40.

These are big states but even a loss of 30 seats between both states won't pose a threat to the NDA's majority.

This is what we mean when we say arithmetic alone isn't sufficient. This was the first maths problem.


Maths Problem 2: BJP Can Be Defeated Only if Its Vote Share Falls Drastically

The NDA's vote share in 2019 was about 45 percent. The BJP's alone was a little under 38 percent. 45 percent is a huge number in a multi-party first past the post system. Just for context, it is more than what Indira Gandhi achieved at the peak of her power in 1971 - 43.7 percent or the 42.7 percent she got in 1980. It is just about equal to Congress' vote share under Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962.

It is slightly less than the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress vote share in 1984 following the killing of Indira Gandhi and the anti-Sikh pogrom - 49 percent.

This basically means that the Modi regime is presently as dominant as some of the most of the strongest governments in India's history.

INDIA bloc leaders like mentioning the 2004 elections but they won't be able to defeat the BJP based on the 2004 model.

In 2004, the UPA managed to defeat the NDA despite losing crucial state polls in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh a few months earlier.

The 2004 win was possible because of a minor swing of 1.5 percentage points against the BJP, the shift of key allies like the DMK, deft alliance management in key states like Tamil Nadu and Bihar, and a Congress sweep in undivided Andhra Pradesh. The BJP had less than 200 seats then, it has over 300 now.

Mass suspension of MPs may have united INDIA bloc but they have 2 major challenges.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo for representation. 

(Photo: Namita Chauhan/The Quint)


While the alliance factor may be in the INDIA bloc's favour, the problem is that a mere reduction of 2-3 percentage points from the BJP's vote share won't make much of a difference. The party will still sweep Gujarat and the Hindi heartland (except Bihar).

To defeat the BJP, the INDIA bloc needs to look at not 2004 but at elections in which one party governments with huge majorities were defeated - 1977 and 1989.

In 1977, Indira Gandhi could be defeated due to a massive 9.2 percentage point swing against the Congress on one hand and the uniting of the Janata Party on the other.

In 1989, it was a negative swing of about 9 percentage points that took Rajiv Gandhi out of power.

The need for such a drastic fall in the BJP's vote share is the second mathematical problem for the INDIA bloc.

Such a massive fall in vote share can happen only when both the following trends take place.


1. A mass movement against the regime involving the whole or part of its base

Indira Gandhi's defeat in 1977 was possible mainly due to the anti-Emergency movement. The drastic fall in the Congress' vote share between 1971 and 1977 was possible mainly because of the movement which reflected popular anger against the draconian Emergency.

Then in the run-up to the 1989 elections, two movements took place - the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation by the Sangh Parivar and the anti-corruption movement led by VP Singh.

While the Congress lost a major chunk of its upper caste Hindu base to the BJP due to the Ram Mandir agitation, it also lost a sizable part of its support among Muslims in North India to VP Singh and Janata Dal as it was seen as playing ball with the Mandir lobby.

The Modi regime has faced more than its share of mass movements - from the anti-CAA movement, the farmers' movement, the wrestlers' protest to name a few.
Mass suspension of MPs may have united INDIA bloc but they have 2 major challenges.

Bhartiya Kisan Union National Spokesperson Rakesh Tikait and other farmers stage a protest in Lakhimpur Kheri on Thursday, 8 August.

(Photo: PTI)

However, except for a section of Hindu Jats, none of these movements involved the NDA's base. The anti-CAA movement outside the Northeastern states was largely centered around the Muslim community. The farmers' movement was to a great extent led by Sikh farmers from Punjab. Both these are by and large anti-BJP voting blocs. Therefore, these agitations didn't really affect the BJP's base, except a section of Jat Hindus in Haryana and West UP.


2. A rebellion within the regime

A massive reduction in any regime's vote share can also take place if there is a rebellion within the ranks. In 1977, stalwarts like Jagjivan Ram left the Congress and formed Congress for Democracy. In the run-up to 1989, the rebel was VP Singh who left the Congress and attacked the party over alleged corruption. He then became the fulcrum for the Opposition parties as well as disgruntled Congress leaders.

There are no signs of rebellion within the BJP, except for the party losing allies like the JD-U, Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal, AIADMK and Rashtriya Loktantrik Party. This may lead to some minor reduction in the vote share that was added by the BJP's allies in 2019. However, it won't harm the BJP's own vote share. Also the BJP has won over a faction of the Sena and NCP and formed a new alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular).

The BJP has been one of the most rebellion-resistant parties. Leaders like Madanlal Khurana, Uma Bharti, BS Yediyurappa, Kalyan Singh, Babulal Marandi etc who left the party and tried to create their own space, failed and had to come back.

The only rebellion from within the BJP ranks in the past few years has been of leaders like former Governor Satyapal Malik and former Cabinet Minister Yashwant Sinha. While both leaders are important voices, they can hardly damage the BJP in terms of vote share.


The Problem With the INDIA Bloc

The main shortcoming of the INDIA bloc is that none of the leaders in the alliance have a great track record of getting BJP voters to switch sides.

Be it the Congress' win in Karnataka in 2023, Aam Aadmi Party's win in Delhi in 2020 or Samajwadi Party gaining ground in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh elections - the Opposition's wins or gains have mostly left the BJP's vote share untouched compared to the previous Assembly election. Even in case of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, it helped the Congress gain at the expense of the JD-S in Karnataka and BRS in Telangana but failed to eat into the BJP's vote share even in Karnataka.

The entire model for the Opposition has been to consolidate anti-BJP votes, while the BJP manages to maintain a healthy vote share. This holds true for Rahul Gandhi's political approach as well. Surveys show that while the percentage of people picking him as their PM choice increased, it led to no decrease in PM Modi's appeal, indicating that Gandhi's rise may have all been at the expense of 'others'.

The only exception to the BJP's stable vote share in the last four years has been the 2022 Himachal Pradesh election in which the BJP's vote share fell by over 5 percentage points compared to 2017. But that too was largely due to local factors and rebels and this can hardly be expected to be repeated at the Lok Sabha level especially with PM Modi enjoying a high degree of popularity in the state.

Neither the arithmetic of the alliance, nor Bharat Jodo Yatra rerun is likely to change this on its own. What the Opposition needs is a nation-wide mass movement around jobs and livelihood.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  INDIA alliance 

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