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Lesson For Maharashtra: Why 'Unnatural' Alliances Collapse

History has shown whenever parties who’ve been sworn foes have tried to cobble unnatural alliance, it hasn't lasted.

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Does ideology matter in Indian politics or are leaders utterly opportunistic, ready to compromise everything for power?

The latest shenanigans, leading to the rise and then the fall of Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra, are trotted out as perfect examples of ideology-bereft politics.

But that’s a bit odd, right? How can the rise and fall – i.e., such opposite events and outcomes – exemplify the same political theorem?

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1977: 'United' Janata Party

My mind is spinning back to 1977 when I first acquired a fledgling political consciousness. Indira Gandhi had unexpectedly lifted the Emergency to revive democratic functioning.

Her political opponents, emerging from 18 months of shared incarceration, sniffed a hitherto unthinkable possibility. The mighty Indira could be defeated if they put up a united fight.

But there was a problem. Ideologically, the half a dozen or so Opposition parties were completely disparate, even inimical:

  • the free-market liberals of Swatantra Party

  • the centrist, disgruntled ex-Congressmen who had bitterly broken away from Indira

  • the sworn anti-Congress, anti-Sangh socialist followers of Lohia

  • the conservative, RSS-blessed Jana Sangh

And many others spanning the Left and labour unions’ spectrum. But all ideologies were put in abeyance – nay, even dissolved – and a ‘united’ Janata Party was formed.

Indira Gandhi's ruling Congress was wiped out from the west-north-east arc stretching from Kutch to Kohima, even as she swept south of the Vindhyas. But the victory mirror cracked soon, at first, over the 'dual membership' of the erstwhile Jana Sangh and RSS members. Shortly, petty egos, ambitions, and convictions unleashed a million new mutinies. The Janata government collapsed in a heap in less than three years.
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1989: Second Janata Experiment

A decade later, India was ripe for one more irascible coalition when the 'renegade' VP Singh welded socialists and ex-Congressmen into another Janata Dal in 1989, which won the second-highest tally in Parliament but needed 150 more MPs to get a stable majority against Rajiv Gandhi's defeated, but single largest party, Congress.

This time, the Right and the Left, i.e., the BJP and the Communists, did not jump into the cauldron, but propped up VP Singh from 'outside'. But before long, the ‘scourge of 1977’ re-hit the second Janata experiment.

The BJP ratcheted up Hindutva with Advani’s political chariot, and VP Singh retaliated with Mandal's caste arithmetic.

These two ideologies –

  1. one that saw India as a monolith Hindu nation

  2. and another which built itself on the caste underpinning of an intrinsically diverse/divided society

– collided. The Left parties were left smouldering with their uncompromising secularism. Within 11 months, another unholy, incompatible political experiment came to grief. But those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.

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1996: United Front

In 1996, a ‘reverse VP Singh of 1989’ structure was crafted. Now, the Congress joined the Left and gave oxygen to the Deve Gowda-led United Front (a new nomenclature for the erstwhile Janata formations), while the BJP occupied the Opposition space.

Again, doom was written all over, as most United Front constituents practised diehard anti-Congressism. Naturally, a restive Congress destroyed the United Front twice:

  1. by replacing Deve Gowda with Inder Gujral, and later,

  2. by pulling the rug from under Gujral too.

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2015: Nitish-Lalu Alliance

I will end my examples with perhaps the most stunning volte-face in Indian politics. In 2015, Nitish Kumar tied the knot with sworn political enemies, Lalu Yadav and Congress, to annihilate the BJP in Bihar.

It was the plus-est point in political irony, as two leaders, whose only vocabulary was cuss words for each other, embraced to hand a knockout punch to Prime Minister Modi. Of course, it couldn’t last. These ones don’t, as history has repeatedly proved. Before long, Nitish walked ‘back home’ to the BJP, his avowed ‘natural ally’.

What all of these examples prove is that whenever parties with utterly incompatible ideologies – those who’ve been sworn, implacable foes over decades – have tried to cobble an unnatural alliance, it has not lasted, never.

So, ideology does matter, it does define uncrossable boundaries, a 'Lakshman Rekha' beyond which political decimation is foretold. And while a political party can stray into grey compromises, it comes to grief when itdoes a volte-face, crossing the boundary into impermissible territory. That’s resisted by, and is unsellable to, its core supporters and cadre. They revolt.

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2019: Maha Vikas Aghadi

That’s precisely what happened in Maharashtra. The Thackerays crossed the Rubicon when they chose to cohabit with two Congress formations with whom they’ve been in a blood sport for half a century.

How could they have defied history? They couldn’t. They didn’t. So clearly, ideology, or at least deep-rooted political beliefs and convictions, do matter.

(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:  Maharashtra   Shiv Sena   Uddhav Thackeray 

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Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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