In the Rajya Sabha, the defeat of the Congress nominee was wholly unexpected.
Quite clearly, the so-called Mahagathbandhan is neither Maha, nor a Bandhan, nor, for that matter, does it have a Gath to hold it all together. It is just a big-sounding word several Opposition leaders have taken to bandying about loosely, without realising that they might be making a laughing stock of themselves. At least on two occasions in the just-concluded monsoon session of Parliament they set out to demonstrate their faith in the Mahagathbandhan and only ended up exposing mutual antagonisms and contradictions. It appears what keeps them apart is stronger and durable than what might bind them together.
Paradoxically, if Narendra Modi is the reason they want to coalesce together into one big brotherhood of kindred souls looking for salvation from a Grinch who denies them access to the trough of power and patronage, Narendra Modi may also be the reason they cannot seem to be able to realise their pipe-dream of a so-called Mahagathbandhan. For Modi is good at exploiting the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the regional leaders. Being in power allows him to do things which no Mahagathbandhan protagonist can match.
If the Opposition suffered a loss of face in the no-trust motion in the Lok Sabha earlier in the session it was only to be expected, though the margin of its loss was surprisingly high. However, in the Rajya Sabha, where the Opposition enjoys a numerical superiority, the defeat of the Congress nominee for the Deputy Chairman’s post was wholly unexpected. It was a blow to the incessant talk of all-versus-Modi, but it was a personal humiliation for the Congress president. Indeed, we might join the feisty Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the Minister of Food Processing in asking Rahul what he was smoking when he foisted B.K. Hariprasad as the Opposition candidate for the prestigious post.
Come to think of it, Congress could have still continued to have its own man as Deputy Chairman had Rahul Gandhi, in a quirky decision, not gifted the lone seat in the recent biennial election to the Rajya Sabha to the Kerala Congress’ K. Mani, a sitting member of the Lok Sabha. The denial of another term to P.J. Kurien, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, forced a fresh election for the post. A good leader is able to think ahead, they say. Here our Crown Prince seems unable to think even beyond his nose.
Again, having decided to field B.K. Hariprasad for the Deputy Chairman’s post, it was incumbent on Rahul to enlist the support of at least those who are not formally allied with the NDA. If Modi could call the Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, to seek support for JDU’s Harivansh Narayan Singh, and Nitish Kumar could ring up the Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, our Crown Prince did not lift his little finger for the candidate he fielded unilaterally without doing his home work. The Great Man felt it below his dignity to solicit the leaders of small regional parties for votes when he headed what he considered was a national party. In Hindi they have an evocative phrase to describe the attitude of the Congress Dynast: Rassi jal gayi, bal nahi gaya—the empire is in tatters but the king continues to behave with the same hauteur and boorishness as before.
Whether Rahul realises it or not, the Mahagathbandhan is in tatters. Mamata Banerjee’s dream of a federal front does not extend, will not extend, beyond the boundaries of West Bengal, KCR’s remains confined to Telangana, though post-poll he might sup with Modi, as he did last week in the poll for the RS Deputy Chairman’s post; Naveen Patnaik is not averse to endorse Modi now or after the 2019 poll provided he is left alone to do his own thing in his pocket-borough. That the Shiv Sena too voted for the NDA candidate confirmed what was known all along that its bark has no teeth and it can always be persuaded to fall in line with a few sops here and there.
In the end, the Mahagathbandhan might turn out to be nothing more than a loose and highly flexible arrangement of a few leaders who have no hold—and no tall leader to match Modi at the national level—on the voters when it comes to the parliamentary poll. A Trinamool Congress megaphone argues that putting together a team always comes ahead before the captain’s selection. May be he is right. But what do you do when everyone wants to be captain and no one is willing to play under someone else? Eleven captains in a team is a sure recipe for disaster, isn’t?
Meanwhile, a few discordant noises you hear from the BJP’s allies are actually desperate cries for seeking patronage, a share in power. When they say A.B. Vajpayee’s coalition was better, they do not mean to pay tribute to the ailing former Prime Minister’s qualities of head and heart. No. What they mean is that because Vajpayee was dependent on them for majority, they were able to enjoy a degree of freedom which Modi, with a full majority of his own, has denied them these past four years. Though they still want the NDA back in power, but, with a vital caveat. Which is that the BJP should not get majority on its own.
As the one who first lamented that neither Modi can become Vajapyee nor Amit Shah L.K. Advani, it is appropriate to mention that all sides are to blame for the decline in political discourse. Vajpayee and Advani belonged to the old school which is on its last legs. Now politicians behave like wild pugilists out to knock out the rival, unmindful of the rules of the game, but determined to walk away with the prize of power. New politics for Naya Bharat is in which vigilantes roam the streets and the police watch disinterestedly, while Kanwariyas, the self-proclaimed devotees of Shiva, destroy public and private property. At this rate, give us our Old Bharat any day.