Rivals can’t be partners

Rivals can’t be partners

JD(S)-Congress Alliance

In the crumbling coalition in Karnataka, there is a message for alliance makers in politics. Though it is true that politics makes for strange bedfellows, matrimony of convenience falls apart rather quickly when it is between parties that did not see eye-to-eye previously. The fates of the BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, JD(U)-RJD in Bihar, SP-BSP in Uttar Pradesh and now the near collapse of the JD(S)-Congress combine in Karnataka are proof of this reality.

When the ruling Congress in Karnataka lost the Assembly elections in 2018, which threw up a hung verdict with the BJP as the single largest party, the top leadership of the Congress in New Delhi and the JD(S) in Karnataka hurriedly came together to form the government after the Congress high command said it was ready to give the leadership role of the alliance government to the junior partner, JD(S).

Since then, for the most part of the last year, the coalition government has been in the news more for the rumblings and rivalry within the alliance than for governance. Even in the latest round of desertions by Congress MLAs, many see an insider’s hand. However, it’s the failure of the alliance in the Lok Sabha polls this year that seems to be a catalyst driving this collapse.

It’s not the first time, and Karnataka is not the only state where an alliance of this nature is cracking.

When after a similar hung verdict in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly polls, the BJP and PDP, ideologically poles apart, decided to join hands to form the government of the troubled border state in 2015, making the then PDP chief Mufti Mohammed Sayeed chief minister, it raised many eyebrows. The alliance was described as the meeting of the North Pole and the South Pole. While the BJP thrives on Hindutva politics, the PDP has often been accused — most insistently by the BJP — of being sympathetic to Kashmiri separatists.

The trouble in paradise started soon after Sayeed’s death in January 2016, and there was great confusion. After weeks of wrangling and tiffs between the two partners, Sayeed’s daughter Mehbooba Mufti became chief minister more than three months after her father’s death. This, too, did not last beyond two years and two months. The BJP pulled the rug from under the PDP’s feet in June 2018, less than a year before the 2019 general elections.

While the BJP and PDP fell out with each other after three years, the alliance of arch rivals in Bihar politics—the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) and the Lalu Prasad-led RJD, was all the more short-lived. After coming together and “swallowing poison” to “defeat communal forces” — that is, to the stop, the Narendra Modi juggernaut in Bihar in the October 2015 Assembly polls — the alliance, which also had the backing of the Congress, collapsed two years later in July 2017. 

Nitish Kumar was back with the BJP, his partner for 17 years since 1996, which he had deserted in 2013, opposing the elevation of Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Flagging the contradictions of the “unnatural alliance,” Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan had predicted that the alliance would not complete even half of its five-year term. It turned out to be true.

The more recent and most short-lived example is the coming together of the bitter rivals in Uttar Pradesh politics — Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. The alliance of the two, along Ajit Chaudhary’s RLD, before the Lok Sabha polls, was announced with much fanfare and was touted as the one that would stop the BJP from returning to power in Delhi.

The alliance failed to make the desired impact. While the BSP won 10 Lok Sabha seats, SP could win only five. A month after the election results, Mayawati announced that she was walking out of the alliance. The bonhomie was short-lived — for just three months after their alliance was announced in mid-March this year. In the 2017 UP Assembly polls, Congress and Samajwadi Party had come together and Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav had campaigned, calling themselves “UP ke Ladke”. As soon as the alliance bombed, both parties blamed each other for the defeat, just like Mayawati has now put the blame for the Lok Sabha debacle on Akhilesh Yadav.

In the case of Karnataka, both the JD(S) and Congress are fighting for the same electoral space against the BJP in many regions while in Southern Karnataka (Old Mysore region), they are main rivals against each other, with the BJP only a marginal presence there for long. There is also a history of bitter relations between JD(S)-turned-Congress leader Siddaramaiah and the H D Deve Gowda family. Both the personal and political contradictions seem to have taken a toll on the alliance.

In Bihar, the RJD and JD(U) were rivals claiming the same OBC vote pie, while the bitter rivalry of the SP and BSP’s respective vote banks was the ground reality for the last quarter century in UP, ever since the first SP-BSP alliance had fallen apart in 1995 when the BSP decided to withdraw support to the Mulayam Singh Yadav government.

Uttar Pradesh is, in fact, a classic case where strange alliances have been made and have failed each time. Mayawati aligned with the BJP twice, became chief minister with its support first in 1995, but her government fell only four months later as the BJP withdrew support; in 2002, they came together again, but Mayawati had to resign as CM only a year later. The Congress had aligned with Mayawati in 1996, with the SP in 2017.