[Watch] Elect Right 2019: Alliance Games – BJP Races Ahead While Mahagathbandhan Looks To Put House In Order


Pre-poll alliances, seat sharing, traditional rivals attempting to unite in the hope of halting the Narendra Modi juggernaut – political arithmetic takes centre stage this election season, and in this episode of Elect Right, we analyse who's ahead in the Alliance Games.

Through 2018, a section of the media spent considerable energy speculating the emergence of the Mahagathbandan – a grand alliance to effectively take on the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the upcoming national election.

We are hardly 7 weeks away from the start of the Lok Sabha election of 2019, but for the six photo-op moments and a few pre-poll alliances, the Mahagathbandan is barely starting to come together.

Instead, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was accused by many as being incapable of bringing together allies, has in a matter of two days swiftly secured more pre-poll alliances and finalised seat-sharing in the electorally significant states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

In Maharashtra, the BJP firmed up its old alliance with Shiv Sena. In Tamil Nadu, it worked out an arrangement with the AIADMK and Pattali Makkal Katchi.

The swift, decisive move by the BJP in finalising these pro-poll pacts is in turn a poor reflection of the opposition parties. The Mahagathbandan now appears to be steeped in confusion as seen in the squabbling between regional parties and the Congress.

This issue hogged headlines last week as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal expressed his concern on the Congress almost ruling out an alliance with AAP despite it being favorable for the Gathbandhan. He said and I quote “ We are tired of convincing the Congress to form an alliance”.

In Tamil Nadu, S Ramadoss’s party, which enjoys support in the northern part of the state, was reported to be inclined to join the Congress-DMK alliance after being denied a berth in the Union ministry. But the party had a rethink after the BJP offered it six Lok Sabha seats – more than the DMK-Congress Gathbandan was ready to part with.

Some articles have been quick to point out that the BJP, which raced to a majority on its own in 2014, is now conceding more seats to regional allies, and that this is a sign of desperation.

They point towards the alliance with Shiv Sena, where the BJP has given three seats more than the number contested by the Sena in 2014. This, despite the fact that the BJP’s performance in the state, both in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, has been on the upswing.

The BJP’s desire to work towards an alliance with the Sena stems from limiting the battlefronts in the 2019 election. Going against the SP-BSP combine in UP, Congress-JDS in Karnataka, and a resurgent Congress in MP, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh will suck in significant resources, and the BJP would prefer to limit the UPA tally in Maharashtra. Conceding to an old ally is a small price to pay.

But this realism and clarity in differentiating between short and long-term goals is what that the Congress party clearly lacks right now.  This could be attributed to the fact that the Congress is unable to overcome the memory of being a grand old party and, therefore, struggles to gauge ground reality and concede to regional parties in the interest of winning elections. Congress is stuck between investing on its own resurgence and winning the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

Whereas the BJP understands the threat it faces in Uttar Pradesh, thanks to the coming together of the SP-BSP, and is set to create its own mini gathbandhans outside UP.... hence its alliances in Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The BJP’s organisational clarity, acceptance of ground reality, and strategic decision-making make it a natural core around which smaller parties are gravitating.

It is precisely this that the Mahagathbandan lacks: a strong magnet at the centre. And the Congress, which considers itself and its leader as the principal opponent to the BJP, has much ground to cover on this front.

Note: This video was recorded before the Congress ruled out an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.