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Better Choices


The ongoing process of opposition parties forging alliances for the single purpose of combating the Modi phenomenon has implications for Indian politics in the larger context. It could lead to a polarisation not exactly desired by those involved. In UP, for example, the two newly allied parties, SP and BSP, are working on the basis of simple arithmetic, which comes out to be more than the fifty percent of votes cast in the previous election. This theoretically gives them an assured victory in a majority of the seats – if voters vote purely according to community and caste lines – but will that not do exactly the same with those ranged against them? Considering the principles upon which SP and BSP are constituted, there is bound to be a falling out eventually, as they are not in the least compatible. The votebank of each will supposedly return to the original party, but is there a guarantee that the polarisation on the other side will similarly disintegrate? What they will very likely have provoked would be a powerful political force more permanent than just a preference for Modi. Will that be a good thing in the long run?
The same logic can be applied in other parts of the country. If there can be a caste based coalition, similar regional ones can also emerge. Instead of being given a range of choices regarding which voters can have multiple preferences, a polarisation would mean being forced into a binary between two extremes. It’s like being extreme vegetarian or non-vegetarian – nothing in between. It will go beyond becoming like a presidential system of government and be unable to represent the diversity of identity and opinion that exists in a country like India.
The BJP would like nothing better than this polarisation, as in several states it has managed to get tantalisingly close to the fifty percent mark. The existential threat that the smaller parties feel is because of this, but the proposed cure cannot be worse than the disease. Should there be a fragmented mandate after the Lok Sabha polls, how will the ‘third front’ decide between the BJP and Congress, and on what basis? Will it not then be about seeking support for a prime ministerial candidate and, hopefully, the policies on the basis of which the country will be run? Is it wrong, then, for the voters to ask that these be enumerated before the polls so that a more informed choice can be made? Should not the analysts be presenting the various scenarios possible, instead of merely promoting one or the other coalition? Or, will it just be about Modi, (or Modi versus Gandhis, which the Congress would like)?