As has been pointed out over and over again following the Karnataka elections results, there is now solid evidence that the best counter to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ideology it represents, is to mount a direct face-off in every state. Triangular or four-cornered contests are almost surely doomed, because of the vote-bank that BJP has cultivated, the effectiveness of its propaganda machine, and because (to rephrase one of their master strategists) “they have Amit Shah”.
This should be the template for the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign – counter and contain the BJP in every state, and work out the contours of a new government after the results are in. This is exactly the strategy Mamata Banerjee had advocated a couple of months back. The rationale is simple – the BJP’s approach to elections follows a ‘scorched earth policy’ wherein every opponent and every institution is destroyed and delegitimised. Even their allies would have by now realised how the BJP’s approach to alliances is one that seeks complete subjugation. From recent experience, alliance partners such as the Shiv Sen and Telugu Desam Party have chosen to protest and break ties, while Janata Dal (United) has chosen to fall in line to survive.
In a ‘BJP versus the rest’ fight, you don’t need a national front and a national face. You need state-level leaders. Also, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trump card is to make every election about the Nehru-Gandhi family, and breaking the contest up with multiple challengers offers a chance to break that narrative.
Political parties need to ask their voters to vote for the best candidate in their respective constituencies, because that is what our Parliament is meant to be – a set of elected representatives who can represent their constituencies best in Parliament, and together, choose a government that will deliver equally for all parts of the country. If the BJP is forced to hobble to power with the help of allies, we may still see better political strategy and economic policy under coalition compulsions. If the strategy works really well, and the BJP stays well short, the opposition parties could come together to pick a Prime Minister under a ‘common minimum programme’ – one that makes state governments supreme and focuses the central government on issues that cannot be handled at the state-level.
Opposition unity brought on by the threat of an authoritarian government may not be ideal in normal circumstances. But these are exceptional circumstances. The BJP, as adept as it is in winning elections by running down incumbents, has precious little to show for its governance track record, and has resorted to unsavoury power grabs. They have then gone on to strangulate institutions that could hold the Executive to account in a democracy. This is exactly what we have witnessed, as key national institutions have collapsed one after the other, unable to withstand the onslaught of a brazen majoritarian politics, and a complete disregard for the established norms of Indian politics.
In a way, this is new, even for the BJP. All they can claim to imitate are the few years of authoritarianism displayed by Indira Gandhi in the years leading up to the Emergency in 1975. But this certainly has not been the pattern of our national politics in the last four decades. Shorn of any semblance of internal democracy, the BJP itself has shrunk to fit into the shadow of the outsized egos of two men. Its state governments have floundered. A naked emperor is doing the country damage, whether he recognises it or not.
Irrespective of the outcome, the choices we make when voting increases our responsibility when a new government is in place. Citizens need to hold their governments accountable, irrespective of the party in power. But what may be of utmost importance in these times is not to allow prejudice, intolerance and lack of compassion to dictate your lives, and your political choices.