Assembly Elections 2022: Chandigarh Kare Rajneeti! But Opposition Doesn’t Learn.
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 Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress. His Aam Aadmi Party came out of nowhere to wrest 14 seats in the municipal body, humbling the BJP (12 seats), and 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—was eviscerated in the face of a swift, belligerent BJP. One Congress chap defected, one AAP vote was invalidated, the sitting BJP Member of Parliament shoved a casting vote, and seven Congress councillors abstained.
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 Narendra Modi era. For those of you who too have forgotten recent history, let’s do a quick recap.
February 2017: Goa
The BJP suffered a surprise defeat, plummeting from Manohar Parrikar’s 2012 majority of 21 seats 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 had whacked the BJP candidates in Pernem, Marcaim, and Sanvorden constituencies. Add to that Vijay Sardesai’s Goa Forward Party’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 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 be in power 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. 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, then 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 NCP, to form the unlikeliest of state 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 the Vidhan Sabha – 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 (AAP) is a friend because AAP is the BJP’s (Congress’s bigger enemy’s) enemy.
For Shiv Sena, its smaller enemy (Congress) is a friend because Congress is the BJP’s (Sena’s principal adversary’s) enemy.
For Trinamool Congress, its smaller enemy (Congress) should be a friend because 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 (Samajwadi Party) is a friend because 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.
Raghav Bahl is Co-Founder – The Quint Group including BloombergQuint. He is the author of three books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’, and ‘Super Century: What India Must Do to Rise by 2050’.