Five Myths About Congress, Mahagathbandhan & 2019 Lok Sabha Polls

Here’s why a grand alliance of regional parties with Congress is healthy for Indian democracy.

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Video producer: Anubhav Mishra
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya

It’s 2019,  Happy New Year! General elections are a hundred days away and here are 5 political myths that you need to be aware, in fact, beware of!

First and Most Enduring Myth, 2019 Will Create an ‘Unstable Coalition’

Brace yourself for one stunning fact that is never quite spoken about. Since 1999, almost each and every government in India, whether at the Centre or in the states, whether ruled by a single party or a diverse coalition has completed its full tenure.

  • Yes, it’s remarkable! Even the most evolved western democracies cannot exceed this feat. In fact, in over 70 years of independence there have been just half a dozen years of “instability” spread over three time zones:
  • 1967-69
  • 1989-91
  • 1997-99

But we should not read anything unusual in these natural trends as our democracy ripened and took deeper roots:

  • The Indian National Congress normalised its overwhelming dominance. Its popular vote fell from 40-45 percent to near 30.
  • A national Opposition party emerged out of the synthesis of the BJP and erstwhile socialist or Janata Party fragments. Its vote share rose from single digits to near 30 percent.
  • Several regional parties rose representing sharply defined language or caste or community clusters. Their national vote share began aggregating to about 30-35 percent, even as each party could pull in around 2-5 percent on its own.

This was bound to happen. It is a healthy assertion by social coalitions in such a spectacularly diverse country.

Second Myth: A Non-Modi Government Will ‘Overturn’ India’s Economic Model

Frankly, our mixed/welfare economy with a rising share of private enterprises is the doctrine that all political parties have signed up for. While the Congress has displayed its liberal credentials over 15 years of the Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh tenures, the BJP has done the same under the decade of Vajpayee and Modi.

I would actually argue that Modi has been the most interventionist among this quartet, believing in a bigger state, nationalised institutions and price controls. In fact, some of the regional chieftains from HD Deve Gowda and Chandrababu Naidu to Naveen Patnaik, to name just a few have been a tad more aggressive about economic reforms.

Third Myth: Congress Will Fail Without Mahagathbandhan

The minute a Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee even mildly criticises the Congress or Rahul Gandhi “godi” (or lapdog) TV channels put out explosive headlines about “Maya dumps Mahagathbandhan” “Flawed Mahagathbandhan” etc, etc. But as against this propaganda, just look at the facts:

  • In almost 75 percent of the country virtually all across North, West, Central, South and Northeastern India – a Mahagathbandhan is already in place, with one-on-one contests between two formations, one led by the BJP and the other built around the Congress.
  • Yet there are a few special cases most notably Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha where the political boundaries are not sharply defined between two formations with a third player in the act whose affiliations are unclear, leading to the fourth myth.

Fourth Myth: Only 100% United Opposition Can Beat Modi

Now allow me to argue that it makes tactical sense for the Congress not to have a Mahagathbandhan in UP or West Bengal or Odisha.

Since the Congress’ core vote banks overlap with the BJP’s (example, Brahmins and Thakurs in UP) a strategically placed Congress candidate who would not divide the Muslims or Dalits but cut into Brahmin and Thakur votes could actually damage the BJP, giving the advantage to potential Congress allies like Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee.

So instead of being a “failure,” this may actually be a clever tactical ploy to weaken Modi.

Fifth Myth: Federal or Third Front Govt Without Congress or BJP

Relax, this one is unreal. Let’s put the various regional outfits into intelligent slots:

  • There are those which can never join the BJP, ie they can only ally with the Congress. These include RJD (Bihar), SP (UP), Leftists perhaps also NCP (Maharashtra) and AAP (Delhi).
  • Then there are those that can only hitch up with the BJP. These would include the Akali Dal (Punjab) and TRS (Telangana).
  • Finally, there are the “ambidextrous regionals” who can go either way, but with an inclination towards either the BJP or the Congress. TMC, DMK, TDP, JMM, NC and PDP would be Congress-inclined while AIADMK, YSR, BJD, BSP, Nitish Kumar’s JDU and Paswan’s LJP would be “genuinely” ambidextrous preferring a formation that allows for a stronger “share of voice.”

In the end, we really should never fear a coalition in our country, because India is fundamentally, a coalition of different languages, religions, castes and other special interest groups.

So, if a government is formed which organically represents them, it should have the stability of a 30-wheel chariot.

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