With only a couple of months left before general elections for the seventeenth Lok Sabha, it would make sense to see the formation of forces on either side as did Sanjaya to Dhritharashtra in the epic story of Mahabharata. Sanjaya’s description and the literary flourish there may not be adaptable here. Yet, the message drawing some features of the formation and identifying the weak spots in the links could be a worthwhile exercise.
Let me add a caveat: This attempt fights shy of identifying who the Pandavas and who the Kauravas are in the battle ahead. This is to ensure a sense of objectivity and not committing an act that is central to myth – pitting the right against the wrong to fix the outcome -- and unbecoming in the science of history.
On one side of the battle-line stands a coalition of forces headed by the Congress party. This consists, as it is at the time of writing, the DMK, the RJD, the NCP, the JMM, the National Conference and the Janata Dal (S) from Karnataka. There are, indeed, parties as the AAP, the Left parties, the TDP and the TMC that have indicated that they will fight against the ‘other side’ but from the flanks; or as is described in the language of war-science, open another front. These are the SP-BSP combine, pretty formidable in Uttar Pradesh announcing a similar approach in the state from where most MPs are sent to the Lok Sabha.
This combination will contend against the BJP-led coalition, whose alliance formation is still in the making and efforts, as it is at the time of writing, are to enlist the AIADMK and the Shiv Sena. There are others such as the Janata Dal (U) and the LJP in Bihar that have resolved to stay on with the BJP. There are also such parties as the BJD, neither here nor there, the TRS, more inclined to team up with the BJP-led combine post-poll and also the YSRC in Andhra Pradesh.
As things stand, there may not be any substantial change in this formation between now and May 2019. Some tinkering, where smaller parties on either side (smaller in terms of the number of MPs that win from these platforms) will move hither-tither and all over the place in the event of a hung Lok Sabha an ensure to themselves a place in the cabinet thereafter.
Getting back to the Sanjaya mode, it will be worthwhile to ponder and even identify the weak-links in the two formations and how much these will play once the bugle is blown. Let me take up the case of the Congress-led front. Among its weak spots in the chain are: The vulnerability of the coalition government in Karnataka; and the entry of Priyanka Gandhi on the UP stage and the threats this could place to the possible consolidation of votes against the BJP behind the SP-BSP combine. The Congress-led forces are free from the burden of anti-incumbency they faced in 2014 and that makes them look stronger than they were five years ago.
The weakest link, in this chain, remains the ugly drama unfolding by the day, and on some days by the hour, in Bengaluru with Congress MLAs playing hide and seek and guest appearances in the absurd narrative of playing recorded conversation. The fact is the Congress party in Karnataka is caught between Sidharamaiah and DP Chandrashekar and the games they play from resorts. It will call for some managerial skills between now and early April for the Congress to keep its flock together. Once it achieves this, the weak link in the chain would have been covered, albeit for that moment. The Priyanka Gandhi factor and its impact on the consolidation of all opposition to the BJP in terms of votes too will unfold. Although, it remains to be seen how Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati respond to this.
As for the BJP-led coalition, there seems to be an upset in their calculations. Unlike the noise and the allegations by Rahul Gandhi, the Rafale deal and the display of bad patches in the documents containing the contract by a section of the media is beginning to take its toll. Narendra Modi, whose capacity to turn the tide was seen as the BJP’s best arm in any battle, is now beginning to be seen as vulnerable. It happened to Bhishma on day ten of the battle of Mahabharata but that was of his own choice. It may not even look similar to Karna losing his armour; because that happened by design and deceit.
The ruling combine seems to be working upon realignment of forces and attempting to make every effort to impress and form into formidable battle formation. The trouble, however, is the Rafale fighter aircraft seem to have been taken possession by their adversaries in a metaphorical sense. Do the BJP-led forces have a Brahmastra in their possession? That will be known soon; maybe a couple of weeks and this, indeed, is a long time in politics.
V.Krishna Ananth teaches History at Sikkim University, Gangtok.