Instead, ideological opponents, long-standing political rivals the Shiv Sena and the Congress have joined hands, thereby exposing the former’s commitment to cultural nationalism and the latter’s commitment to secularism.
The khichdi government in Maharashtra has also triggered important questions on the nature of coalition politics. A flawed and false narrative was created that the BJP does not respect alliances, which is why the Shiv Sena was forced to make such a move.
However, a closer look reveals that it is in fact the BJP which provides a ripe ground for a healthy multi-party system where regional and national aspirations are nurtured.
The Congress, still rooted in a feudal system, has neither helped allies nor is it an electorally viable alliance partner.
Congress and coalition politics:
Accustomed to a High Command culture, where the writ of one family runs large, the Congress has been a recent entrant to the rough and tumble of coalition politics.
In fact, one of the earliest decisions Sonia Gandhi took as the party president in Pachmarhi was to shun politics of coalitions and try to capture power alone.
This spirit was not far from the Congress’ own attitude to non-Congress coalitions. Visuals of how Charan Singh was made to quit before facing Parliament, Chandrashekhar’s exit in a matter of months, followed by unceremonious exits of both Deve Gowda and IK Gujral have a tale of compelling to tell and pattern to observe.
Four prime ministers could barely complete a year just due to the politicking of the Congress and its political intolerance for another organisation, leave alone an ideology.
In early 2017, the Congress and Samajwadi Party came together with much fanfare. The sympathetic media dubbed the coming together of the ‘UP Ke Ladke’ as the next best thing in Indian politics.
In a spirit of large-heartedness, Akhilesh Yadav gave the Congress a hundred seats. The results were for all to see, with Congress winning a mere seven seats. A year earlier in 2016, Tamil Nadu witnessed an historic election in which the AIADMK became the first party to retain power in decades. DMK insiders were convinced that it was the 40 seats for Congress that stood between power and the DMK.
The astute Nitish Kumar was on point when he said in the Bihar Assembly, after severing ties with the RJD, that the Congress which had no presence or organisation in the State, climbed to 27 seats in the Vidhan Sabha in 2015.
Congress, a fair-weathered friend:
Doing business with the Congress is risky. Once again, evidence in the form of bitter experiences by DMK and Samajwadi Party that corroborate this assertion.
In 2011, when the Congress and DMK were partners, when the DMK had plum ministries, the Congress put Kanimozhi in jail just to protect another tall leader of theirs from Tamil Nadu. Similarly, Mulayam Singh Yadav was troubled with Dearness Allowance cases and government dismissal threats when Congress was either supporting the SP in UP or relying on SP support at the Centre.
BJP and its alliances:
Unlike the Congress, the BJP has always been far more accommodating towards alliance partners.
A perfect case in point is the Akali Dal-BJP alliance that has endured the highs of office and the lows of the past several decades.
Despite many calls to break the alliance in 2017, the BJP preferred to stick with Akali Dal and contest as a team. The close bond between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Parkash Singh Badal is seen as the main reason behind that.
Allies gain with BJP:
There is little to contest, if one infers that across North, South, East or West, alliances partners tend to gain when they tie-up with the BJP.
Take the case of Ram Vilas Paswan. Comprehensively routed in 2009 Lok Sabha polls and 2010 Assembly polls, LJP came back with six seats in 2014 and it retained that tally in 2019. This is the longest that Ram Vilas Paswan has held a ministerial position; he also anointed his son as heir to the party.
The same is the case with Upendra Kushwaha and the RLSP. While in the NDA fold, it won three Lok Sabha seats and bagged a place in the Council of Ministers, in 2019, it was routed.
The Asom Gana Parishad was facing an existential crisis after its loss in 2001. Repeated attempts to unseat the Congress failed. However, after the Modi government took office in the Centre, a fresh bid was made to combine strengths with the AGP and today they have ministers in Assam.
Similarly, the NPP led by the Sangma family is firmly in the saddle in Meghalaya, with support of the BJP.
In Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio formed the new Nationalist Democratic People’s Party. As an ally of the BJP he was able to dislodge the Naga People’s Front from Nagaland, which was ruling for the past several years.
Before 2019 Lok Sabha polls, TDP left NDA to become an ally of the Congress party in Telangana polls. Both parties lost badly and the Congress blamed the TDP. However, they continued to be political friends at national level.
In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the TDP won just three seats as against the 16 seats it won as part of the NDA alliance in 2014.
The TDP has also gained power in the state by winning 117 seats after 10 years of continuous defeats in 2014 due to alliance with the BJP and the popularity of the prime minister. In 2019 Assembly polls, it suffered a humiliating setback: winning just 23 of 175 seats and losing power in Andhra Pradesh.
Alliance with the BJP brought huge success to the TDP. Without alliance, it has lost power.
Pre-poll alliances with BJP leads to revival:
In the summer of 2013, Nitish Kumar dismissed BJP ministers from his government in Bihar and, guided by misplaced bravado, decided to contest the 2014 elections on his own. His tally fell from 20 to a mere two!
While in the 2010 Vidhan Sabha elections JDU emerged as the single largest party with 115 seats, Nitish played second wheel to Lalu Yadav’s RJD in 2015. Even in matters of government, the RJD was arm-twisting Nitish Kumar. Feeling suffocated and unable to work, he returned to the NDA fold in 2017. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, JD(U) won 16 out of the 17 seats and will lead the NDA in Bihar come 2020.
Take the examples of Uttar Pradesh’s Apna Dal and Suheldev Party. In 2014 and 2019, the Apna Dal won two Lok Sabha seats. The party was founded in 1995 (now it is called Apna Dal Sonelal) but it did not win in a single seat in any previous Lok Sabha election. Its success in 2014 and 2019 is purely on account of the alliance with the BJP and popularity of the prime minister.
In 2017 Assembly polls, Apna Dal, in alliance with the BJP, won 11 seats. This is a huge bonanza for Apna Dal. Earlier, it had won only one Assembly in 2002 with mafia don Atiq Ahmed as its candidate.
The Suheldev Party was founded in 2002 but never won any seats either in state Assembly or Lok Sabha until 2017.
In 2017 Assembly election, in alliance with the BJP, it contested eight seats and won four, a strike rate of 50 percent.
The curious case of the Shiv Sena:
The Shiv Sena has seen many stages in its political journey. Pampered by the Mumbai Congress and doyens of industry to weaken Communist unions in Central Mumbai, the Sena then pursued a series of agendas. It played the Bhumiputra (son-of-the-soil) card, then it had a brief flirtation with the Emergency and then it focused on opposing the Congress in the early 1980s. But, in all these years, except for little successes, the Shiv Sena did not see much light at the end of the tunnel.
In the late 1980s, after the Sena and the BJP allied, there was no looking back for the party. In 1990, its performance improved significantly and in 1995 it tasted power in Maharashtra.
Both in 2014 and 2019, the Shiv Sena had its best performance in central politics again due to the Modi wave. Its leaders actively used the prime minister’s name to gather votes.
Thus, recent electoral evidence suggests: The BJP is a better vote catcher, allying with Congress harms prospects, and BJP treats allies better.