Karnataka bypoll results have once again proven that the vote share of combined Opposition can defeat BJP easily. It has been a repeat of Uttar Pradesh where Samajwadi Party wrested Phulpur and Gorakhpur from BJP.
Both BSP and SP were ideologically opposed to each other but votes at the time of the polls were transferred. Even in this case, JDS and Congress were able to transfer votes to each other.
The victory adds gravity to the idea of sensible state-level alliances against BJP throughout the country. There is no doubt that BJP has become the new Congress of Indian politics and all new axis would be organised against BJP the way socialist organised anti-Congress politics in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. But there exists a lesson for both BJP and Congress Party.
The biggest problem for the Congress in the 1990s was its slowly reduced status in north India but it continued to fall prey to hubris that being the oldest and biggest party it will not go for alliances at the state level. On the other hand, BJP was the resurgent party and its problem was untouchability.
Times were changing quickly. Congress which used to be untouchable for the Opposition was becoming okay for the third front after Babri Masjid demolition. BJP was able to break its marginalisation by getting through like-minded regional parties opposed to the Congress whereas Congress in both 1998 and 1999 continued to fight the election like a hegemon where both ego and size were mismatched. Vajpayee was able to stitch a coalition by 1998.
Congress had to do a BJP in 2004 wherein Sonia made smart tie-ups and UPA 1 came into power. Similarly, today BJP is suffering from a massive hubris.
Its expansion has taken place at the expense of its alliance partner. As of now, its focus is to break the partnership of the Opposition and forward the logic that there is no alternative.
The same reason - 'there is no alternative', was forwarded by Congress also when the party was in power, but that could not stop Deve Gowda and I K Gujral from becoming the Prime Ministers.
It is this inability of BJP like Congress of 1996 and 1998 that is likely to hurt the prospect of the party. There is always a limit to expansion. The Roman Empire expanded because of unbridled expansion. Congress collapsed because its leadership in the state was not in the sync with emerging intermediate castes who continue to compromise the core of regional parties today. For any political party, both cooperation and hegemony are required in equal measure.
Any loss of balance impacts that fortune of the party. The lesson for the BJP is that as it has discovered the power of number and hegemony, it will also need to understand the power of cooperation as in long run it helps you achieve far more than brute numbers.
Indira Gandhi, under whose leadership India played a vital role in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and conducted Pokhran test in 1974, could not manage social coalition at the local level despite having numbers.
Congress, on the other hand, will benefit tactically by these alliances. It will build the confidence of the Congress to fight the Lok Sabha elections by cooperating with the regional parties but it will, unlike BJP, need to focus on rebuilding its hegemony. Without basic core hegemony, Congress will not be taken seriously by the regional players. So, victory is sweet but it cannot be the long-term goal of the Congress Party as electoral victories at cost of the organisation will devour the party itself.
What one will have to see is whether state-level alliances be able to stop the heady mix of religion and nationalism which BJP has adopted to fight the Lok Sabha elections.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)