INDIA alliance should get its act together

Let us embark on defeating the BJP in more scientific manner

As the results of the five assembly elections taking place will be available to the reader at just about the same time as this column, it makes little sense to speculate on the outcome.

The fact is that time and again, especially since 2003, it has been shown that these five assembly elections, always held on the eve of the general elections, are not the heats for the final to be run a few months hence. No one learned this lesson more bitterly than Atal Bihari Vajpayee who, on the basis of these elections won handsomely by the BJP in 2003, decided to advance the Lok Sabha poll by six months—and suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of a Congress-led opposition that came together by circumstance more than design at virtually the last moment. Apart from a determination to oust the BJP from the Centre, there was little or nothing by way of seat-sharing and no single manifesto. The common minimum programme came after, not before, the post-election formation of the United Progressive Alliance.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

This shows that for all the handwringing over the INDIA alliance not having faced this round of assembly elections with any element of joint purpose, there is still plenty of time for the alliance to show its composite face. However, it would be best to not attempt a repeat of the 2004 jugaad but embark on defeating the BJP in a more scientific manner.

The fundamentals are already clear. In 2014 and even more so in 2019, the BJP won a formidable victory, not because a majority voted them in but because the majority vote (of around 69 per cent in 2014 and about 63 per cent in 2019) was hopelessly fractionated.

This shows that “getting their act together” is the principal task before the INDIA alliance. With Sonia Gandhi present in Mumbai (she was not there in Patna), they were able to give themselves a name and set up committees to prepare for one-on-one contests in as many seats as possible, as well as to outline an agenda to present to the voter. This was not for the assembly elections but only for the national elections as they did not have in the five state assemblies the common stake they definitely have in the outcome of the next general elections. As such, with the assembly elections out of the way, the time has come to give teeth to the alliance.

“Giving teeth” is an exercise in both arithmetic and chemistry. The arithmetic lies in coming to mutual agreement on which seats are going to be allotted to which member of the INDIA alliance to forge the largest possible number of one-on-one contests with the BJP in as many seats as possible. This definitely does not mean maximal agreement. Even 300 seats in states where the BJP either won marginally or won preponderantly—essentially the Hindi-speaking Gangetic basin from Gangotri to the Sunderbans—will place on its head the arithmetic of the BJP’s overwhelming victory in the two previous national polls. But, in and of itself, arithmetic alone won’t do. The favourable maths should also spark a chemical reaction that will alter voter perceptions of the prospects for themselves and the INDIA grouping over the next five years. Some of the elements of such a promising joint outlook have already become clear in the present round of polls. There are pointers, too, to what might hold even greater appeal in the near future. Putting all these together is INDIA’s next task—and please pardon the pun, for it is also Bharat’s next task.

Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.