New Delhi: On January 12, at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national convention, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah trained their criticism on the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ – the opposition alliance that is slowly forming to challenge the BJP in this year’s national election.
Over the preceding year, BJP leaders and government-friendly officials repeatedly criticised the ‘Unholy Alliance’ against Modi – because they are hoping we don’t remember how their own party first came to power, and how India elected its first ever, non-Congress national government in the summer of 1977.
The grand alliance of 1977 eventually included both the Jana Sangh – the forerunner of the BJP – and the Communists of the CPI(M). Across the ideological spectrum, rivals co-operated to bring down Indira Gandhi, who campaigned with the offer of a strong, effective government.
In his January 12, 2019 speech at the Ramlila Maidan, Modi reprised Indira Gandhi’s rhetoric, asking, “Why are they are all coming together? They want a majboor sarkar (a reluctant government) and not a mazboot sarkar (a resolute government).”
Nearly every BJP leader at the podium in Ramlila Maidan took a turn to lash out at the Mahagathbandhan.
“The only glue of alliance is hatred against Modi,” said union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, recalling another theme from Indira’s defensive campaign in 1977.
Prasad had special criticism for the coalition between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) – formerly vicious rivals who have buried their hostility in Uttar Pradesh. “The SP BSP alliance is for their survival,” Prasad said.
Earlier the same day, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, leaders of the SP and BSP respectively, made a warm show of unity while announcing a division of the Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh.
Each will contest 38 seats out of the total 80 – leaving open four, including Amethi and Rae Bareli, as a symbolic invitation to smaller partners and Rahul Gandhi’s Congress.