United India Rally: Does Mahagathbandhan have a future?

“What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”, opined the great social reformer and political leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale. This is probably what Akhilesh Yadav was referring to when he said “Jo baat Bengal se niklegi who desh main dikhayi degi”, at the United India rally organised by Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata. The rally saw political heavyweights from India’s regional parties raising slogans against the ruling BJP and Prime Minister Modi. Viability of a united opposition providing an alternative to Modi needs to be debated. However, the TMC supremo has well and truly sounded the bugle for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and made it a Modi vs. all political extravaganza.

This kind of an experiment is not new to Indians. Indira Gandhi’s draconian emergency had generated a wave of anti government sentiments on which the Janata Party rode to power in 1977. Janata Party was an amalgam of multiple parties with conflicting and diverse political ideologies that came together to oust the common enemy: Indira Gandhi. But the Janata government failed to impress. Economy suffered, foreign investment diminished as Coca-Cola and IBM ceased operations in India. Unemployment, inflation and poverty started to bite. As the popularity of the government started dwindling, infighting and inherent contradictions of the constituents brought the government down in 1979.

India witnessed another experiment with such coalitions in 1989 when the National Front government came to power with VP Singh at the helm. VP Singh’s government was always on shaky grounds with Deputy PM Devi Lal making comments against government and its decisions. Singh also felt threatened by the growing popularity of the BJP. To establish his political clout he precariously ordered the implementation of the Mandal Commission. Cornered by this decision and fearing a split of Hindu votes, BJP organised a Rath Yatra across north Indian states. Chief Minister of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav stopped the Yatra in Samastipur after consultation with VP Singh. BJP withdrew support and the government fell in no time.

Soon another coalition government headed by Chandrashekhar was installed at the centre with support from Congress. This government fell relatively quickly in 1991. During this period the economy suffered and India had large trade and fiscal deficits. Foreign reserves eroded and the country was at the brink of a default on its financial obligations. India had to pledge its national gold reserves to obtain a loan from the IMF and World Bank to avoid complete economic meltdown.

This clearly displays the perils of running an unstable coalition government where saving government takes priority over matters of national importance. Incidentally, Yashwant Sinha who is very critical of the Modi government’s economic policies was the Finance Minister during the economic crisis of 1991.

These incidents are a grim reminder of how a coalition government formed of unlikely allies for a shallow goal is bound to fail. The grand alliance would thereby have to answer many questions before projecting themselves as a viable alternative to the current government. Given the failures of past such alliances, how does one expect anything better from what Mamta and other regional satraps have to offer? Major legislations like the GST, RERA, Benami Transactions Prohibition Act, Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code that could be game changing for the Indian economy were passed because the current government is led by a strong national party that enjoys majority in the house. Can the proposed khichdi sarkar provide such decisive governance? Can the alliance members ignore their regional & caste vote banks and give priority to national interests?

Then there are corruption cases like Saradha, Fodder scam, Taj corridor case, UP illegal mining case against the alliance’s leaders. Congress’s poor track record is also well publicised. Would the grand alliance be able to provide clean governance with such leaders and parties on board?

Who will be the prime ministerial candidate? Some BSP leaders have already started projecting Mayawati as the next Prime Minister. Akhilesh Yadav has cryptically signaled that the next PM would be from UP. Mamta and Rahul are also known to be harbouring prime ministerial ambitions. This could potentially be the deal breaker for the alliance. Also any government at the centre cannot be formed without the support of one of the two national parties. Would the grand alliance want to take Congress support given the latter’s track record of toppling coalition governments in the past?

The grand alliance would need to answer these questions in the run up to the elections. It would need more than mere sloganeering and rallies to get past the finish line. The idea that “India will think tomorrow what Bengal thinks today” does not seem to hold water in modern India.

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