30 July 2017 13:46:23 IST

A long-time ‘deskie’, Baskar has spent much of his journalism career on the editorial desk. A keen follower of economic and political matters, he likes to view economic issues from a political economy lens as he believes the economic structure of a society is deeply embedded in its political and social ethos. Apart from writing the PolitEco column for BLoC, Baskar writes book reviews and articles on politics, economics and sports for the BL web edition. Reading and watching films are his other interests, though the choice of books and films are rather eclectic.  A keen follower of sports, especially his beloved Tottenham Hotspur FC, Baskar is an avid long-distance runner.  He hopes to learn music some day!

The hoary history of political flip-flops

Now that the last flicker of anti-BJP alliance has been doused, things look bleak for the Opposition

Political coalitions, like most marriages, are opportunistic in nature. So, it should have come as no surprise when Nitish Kumar walked out of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) last week and once again embraced the BJP-led NDA. Nitish went from becoming former chief minister to chief minister in less than 24 hours.

There were strong indications of this happening when, over the last few months, Nitish broke rank with his coalition partners and supported the government in the Centre. The first instance was when he supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s controversial demonetisation move last November. Then came the Presidential election when Nitish openly supported the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind, even before the Opposition could name a candidate. He even attended a luncheon hosted by Modi, giving the Opposition meeting a miss.


The BJP managers led by the shrewd Amit Shah sensed an opportunity to break the Grand Alliance and set the myriad investigative agencies at the government’s disposal to work. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family gave these investigating agencies more than enough leads to go after them thanks to the allegedly shady deals struck by Tejaswi Yadav under the loving gaze of his father Lalu when he was Railway Minister during the UPA’s reign. This was an opportunity that Shah simply couldn’t miss and he took it gleefully.

That the other partners of the Grand Alliance — Lalu’s RJD and the Congress — played right into the BJP’s hands only made matters easier for it. The irony is the RJD is still the largest party in terms of number of MLAs in the Bihar Assembly.

Nitish has always been a survivor as seen by his long association with the NDA. He was, in fact, the Minister of State of Agriculture and later, Railways Minister under the erstwhile NDA regime when AB Vajpayee was Prime Minister. So he has managed the impossible in Indian politics — burnishing his secular credentials despite being a part of the BJP-led NDA.

Not uncommon

But there is a long history of political flip-flops in India where secular leaders have walked in and out of BJP’s embrace without tainting their credentials. Way back in the 1990s, AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa was in an alliance with the NDA in the 1998 General Elections but within a year, had joined hands with Sonia Gandhi to pull down the first BJP-led government at the Centre with the able assistance of Subramanian Swamy.

Even more opportunistic was the DMK’s alliance with NDA during the 1999 elections. DMK was even part of the Vajpayee government between 1999 and 2004. It was only a few weeks before the 2004 elections that it broke off from the NDA, rediscovered its secularism, and became an important ally of the Congress-led UPA for most part of its 10-year reign.

Some may find it hard to believe that TMC’s Mamata Bannerjee, who is today among Modi’s most vituperative critics, was once a trusted ally of the NDA. She too was a Railway Minister in the Vajpayee government.

This brings us to the more important aspect of Indian politics today — is there a viable alternative to the all-powerful BJP under Modi? When the Grand Alliance defeated the BJP in the Bihar elections in late 2015, there was much celebration among the Left-liberal community of the BJP’s hegemony being checked. There was even talk of replicating such a Grand Alliance at the national level to counter the BJP-led NDA in the 2019 elections. But all that seems like wishful thinking now.

Tainted view

The bane of anti-BJP ‘secular’ parties is that most of them are tainted by corruption and dynastic politics — the Yadavs’ SP, Mayawati’s BSP, Lalu’s RJD and even the DMK.

Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) was one of the exceptions to this, along with the Left parties and BJD. But once Nitish felt that his carefully built reputation of good governance and probity were being dented by his association with RJD he decided to join hands with his former allies.

Some have argued that Nitish should have taken the more honourable option of asking the Governor to dissolve the Assembly and call for fresh elections. But that would have been a high-risk option for Nitish and amounted to handing Bihar on a platter to the BJP. So who can blame him for taking the easier way out?

Just recently Ramachandra Guha had jocularly suggested that Nitish Kumar join the Congress and resurrect the party. A few days later Nitish traveled in the other direction. Guha, in an interview with Times of India, a couple days ago was game enough to admit that the joke was on him.

With the last flicker of anti-BJP alliance being extinguished, things look bleak for the Left-liberals. Given the utter disarray of the Opposition parties, some have already called the 2019 elections in favour of Modi and the NDA. But the election is still almost two years away and that is a long time in politics. If only I could believe that.