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Chandigarh Kare Rajneeti! But Opposition Doesn’t Learn

The experience of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation elections holds some important lessons.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Unless the opposition learns an important lesson,  it’s going to be Goa-Manipur-Chandigarh in an endless loop.&nbsp;</p></div>
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What’s common between Arvind Kejriwal and Ayushmann Khurrana? For one, their initials are AK, but that’s somewhat trivial, right? For another, both have wowed Chandigarh with unconventional derring-do. Khurrana broke patriarchal stereotypes to marry the very charming Vaani Kapoor, who plays a trans-woman on celluloid (go catch Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui on Netflix). Kejriwal has done one better, smashing a political stereotype by winning Chandigarh’s local polls, long thought to be a strictly bi-polar tussle between the BJP and the Congress. His AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) came out of nowhere to wrest 14 seats in the municipal body, humbling the BJP (12 seats) and the Congress (8 seats).

Now, here’s where Khurrana out-points Kejriwal. While he won the girl and gabru (strongman) contest, poor Kejriwal lost Chandigarh to the wily BJP. Why? Because he never WhatsApp-ed the Congress leadership.

So, what was an obvious political tactic – AAP and Congress should have shared the spoils in a 67:33 coalition – eviscerated in the face of a swift, belligerent BJP. One Congress chap defected, one AAP vote was invalidated, the sitting BJP MP shoved a casting vote, and seven Congress councillors abstained.

Before Arvind Kejriwal, who loves to sing, could belt out the epic Talat Mahmood song from the farcical comedy Dekh Kabira Roya (1957, Saint Kabir Cried At What He Saw) – hamsay aaya na gaya, tum say bulaya na gaya, fasla pyaar main dono say mitaya na gaya (I failed to reach out to you, you did not call me, neither of us could reduce the distance in our love) – the BJP had installed its own leaders in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation.

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Those Who Forget History are Condemned to Repeat it

Whoever authored this iconic quote – whether Irish statesman Edmund Burke or Spanish philosopher George Santayana or British Prime Minister Winston Churchill – was accurately describing the predicament of India’s clueless opposition parties in the post-Modi era. For those of you who have also forgotten recent history, let’s do a quick recap.

February 2017: Goa

BJP suffered a surprise defeat, plummeting from Manohar Parrikar’s handsome 21-seat majority to a dismal 13 seats in the 40-member house. Congress was utterly unprepared for its 17-seat near-majority. It should have been a sitter of a government to form, especially since the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) had whacked the BJP candidates in Pernem, Marcaim, and Sanvorden constituencies.

Add to that Vijay Sardesai’s Goa Forward Party’s (GFP’s) three seats wrested from the BJP in a vicious contest, a 23-member Congress-led coalition should have been a shoo-in. Instead, the Congress watched paralysed as the BJP struck quick-and-dirty deals with arch-rivals MGP and GFP to steal the government away from the “winners”!

March 2017: Manipur

Slashing across thousands of miles from Goa on the west coast to Manipur in the far north-east, the BJP’s template remained irrepressible. The Congress had won 28 seats in the 60-member house, just a whisker away from a majority. The BJP was far short with 21 seats. Congress only needed to do a quick-and-dirty deal with one small party – perhaps Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party – to rule again. But Congress stood leaden-footed as BJP scooped all the smaller players into its fold and formed the government.

October 2019: Maharashtra

This time, the shoe was on the other foot. The BJP emerged as the single largest party, with 106 seats in the 288-seat Assembly. But it got into a fratricidal stand-off with the Shiv Sena, who wanted the Chief Minister’s job despite winning only 58 seats. One skirmish led to another, when a smart Sharad Pawar egged Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray to jettison the BJP and “do a Goa and Manipur to them”. So now, the BJP swallowed its own bitter medicine. The Shiv Sena got into an entirely unprecedented – even unholy – alliance with sworn political enemies, the Congress and the NCP, to form the unlikeliest of governments in free India.

But there was a lesson here for brittle opposition parties. They got saved because they got into government, got to enjoy political power. Else, their tiny band of MLAs would have been easy pickings for a merciless BJP in Mantralaya (Secretariat) – a la Goa, Manipur, and Chandigarh (circa 2022).

My Bigger Enemy’s Enemy is my Friend, Even if He is my Smaller Enemy!

This mantra is a mouthful, difficult to fathom at one go:

For Congress, its smaller enemy, the AAP, is a friend because AAP is the BJP’s (the Congress’s bigger enemy’s) enemy.

For Shiv Sena, its smaller enemy (the Congress) is a friend because Congress is the BJP’s (Sena’s principal adversary’s) enemy.

For Trinamool Congress, its smaller enemy (the Congress) should be a friend because the Congress is the BJP’s (Trinamool’s implacable foe’s) enemy.

Now, in Uttar Pradesh, the huge, looming political battlefield, the Congress must realise that its smaller enemy (the Samajwadi Party) is a friend because the SP is the BJP’s (Congress’s bigger enemy’s) enemy.

Once you lay out the proposition as simplistically as above – in kindergarten terminology – it should become easy to comprehend for our opposition parties, right? No, wrong. This is why we see the spectacle of the Congress readying to fight across 403 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, when instead it should be strengthening the hands of the SP to take on the mighty BJP. Now, if such practical wisdom continues to elude our opposition stalwarts, then it’s going to be Goa-Manipur-Chandigarh in an endless loop.

(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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