In my last column (https://www.businesstoday.in/opinion/prosaic-view/how-karnataka-could-open-up-2019-lok-sabha/story/277434.html) I had pointed out that while a united opposition may have the chance of denying the BJP a second consecutive term in power, it would be hard for it to govern unless there was a more substantial common agenda than simply a shared dislike for the BJP bringing them together.
But why are so many parties - which have been bitter opponents for much of their lives, and have very different agendas - coming together to oppose the BJP? The parties love to tout their shared love for "secularism" and a shared dislike of the BJP's Hindutva politics as the prime motivation. But the real reason could be the fear of losing all relevance, rather than a dislike for the Hindutva agenda.
Consider this. After the first decade post-Independence, we have not had too many leaders who could boast of absolute majority in the Parliament and a popularity that spanned most states in the country. At the peak of her popularity, post the 1971 war, Indira Gandhi was one. In the first half of the 1970s, she rode roughshod over all opposition, in Parliament and outside it. That was the first time a dozen opposition parties came together under the banner of Janata Dal and won the elections in 1977.
Then, after her assassination in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi won by a huge majority and for at least a year and a half, he had no opposition worth speaking. But after that, his popularity was on the wane. He lost to a rag tag coalition at the next election in 1989.
That is worrying their own allies. Shiv Sena thought of itself as the big brother in Maharashtra for a very long time until Modi and Shah made it clear that the BJP was the big brother and the Shiv Sena needed to live in its shadow.
In Odisha, Naveen Patnaik came to the conclusion that BJD had no future in the NDA much before any other leader and he had got out of the alliance even before Modi came to power. In Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu came to same conclusion after waiting for three and a half years. In Bihar, though Nitish is the CM, there are reports that the BJP does not listen to him any more than the RJD did.
The rise of the Modi-Shah led BJP is worrying for all parties because it is not just the Congress they are trying to make irrelevant. The sheer BJP juggernaut pushed aside the SP and the BSP in UP as if they were of no consequence. And now, after conquering much of the north, east and west, the BJP has set site on the south.
Karnataka is an interesting case because the JDS was expected by many to ally with the BJP. The problem was that the JDS realized that it still had a chance of remaining relevant if it allied with the Congress - but it would have no future if it backed the BJP. And hence two parties that fought against each other came together in a post-poll alliance.
Ditto for UP, where the SP and BSP have come together. It is not that they do not hate each other - it is simply that they have realized that with BJP sweeping through the state, it is better to set aside that hate temporarily if they want to continue remaining relevant in politics. The TMC does not like the Congress (or for that matter any other party) in West Bengal, but it is happy to be part of an alliance because it fears the BJP is growing to be a formidable opponent. Chandrababu Naidu knows that he does not have much future or influence if he continues to ally with the BJP.
Secularism is a very convenient term in politics of alliance, but it has little to do with the current alliance - it is just about remaining relevant at the end of the day for the political parties that are coming together now to combat the BJP.