'Anti-Congressism shifted to anti-BJPism in 1996'

'Anti-Congressism shifted to anti-BJPism in 1996'

In 1996, the book 'Politics of Jugaad: The Coalition Handbook' by journalist Saba Naqvi says, the country for the first time saw a change in the anti-Congress narrative. (Image: http://rupapublications.co.in)

If 1967 crystalised 'anti-Congressism' as a hallmark of coalition politics, it was 29 years later that the country shifted its gear into 'anti-BJPism', says a new book.

In 1996, the book 'Politics of Jugaad: The Coalition Handbook' by journalist Saba Naqvi says, the country for the first time saw a change in the anti-Congress narrative.

Only seven years before in 1989, the country had seen the rightist BJP and the Left coming together to support the V P Singh-led National Front to ensure that the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress was kept out of the government.

Socialist icon Ram Manohar Lohia, who is credited for the coinage ‘anti-Congressism’, had in the 1950s and 1960s championed the cause of parties of varying ideologies coming together to take on a common enemy while the BJP's predecessor, the Jan Sangh played a role in Opposition unity against the Congress.

"This is relevant today, as the idea of disparate forces coming together to take down a common foe is one of the primary impulses that drive coalition politics. The difference is that from anti-Congressism, we have moved to anti-BJPism as being the impulse behind the process," Naqvi writes.

In 1996, Congress had lost its pre-eminent space and the BJP for the first time became the single largest party.  In 1991, it had garnered 120 seats, the highest till then, propelled by the Ram Temple movement. It further expanded with the Babri Masjid demolition and further growth of BJP, which the secular parties found problematic.

"Another experiment in coalition politics began: The same social and political forces that had put together the National Front in 1989 now came together to create what was called the United Front in 1996. This unity, however, marked a distinct break with the past. It was unity against the BJP, whose earlier avatar, the Jana Sangh, was part of the political combines, in one way or another, since 1967, when coalitions began to come together to challenge the Congress," Naqvi writes.

"What is interesting about the short-lived United Front experiment (in 1996) is that it was driven by the logic of keeping the BJP out of power. So we can say that this was an instance of anti-BJPism replacing anti-Congressism. It, therefore, appears to be an impulse in Indian politics that regional forces come together against the dominant party of the age—which, for most of Independent India’s history, was the Congress, but today is the BJP," she adds.

1996 saw the 13-day A B Vajpayee-led BJP government and its inability to find allies to clear the half-way hurdle of 272 seats, though it managed with better numbers in 1998 and 1999.

The United Front experiment was "also an instance of the communists working with the Congress, as they have always seen right-wing forces, such as the BJP, as the greater enemy", Naqvi writes.

For the Congress, this experiment was a "genuine problem", as it was "being compelled to empower forces that had eaten into its bases" and there was "an inbuilt contradiction in the entire arrangement". By 1998, Congress withdrew support leading to another general election but "the Congress did not gain from this — the BJP did".

"It was being forced to appear to be friends with the Janata Parivar at the Centre even as it was being challenged by them in the states. One can, therefore, say that the Congress never intended to give too much oxygen to the Third Front arrangement—it was just waiting for the time and opportunity to establish its primacy again, failing which it settled for a brief interregnum of playing back-room games," she writes.