Is India Heading Toward a Two-Party System?

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar.
Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. (Photo: PTI)

The Mahagathbandhan achieved a decisive victory in Bihar, leaving many surprised in its wake. While many are busy analysing the outcome, I view the JDU-RJD-Congress win in simple terms – that of on IOU, or an Index of Opposition Unity!

The comparison on vote share needs to be made between the BJP numbers in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the Assembly results. But this isn’t down differently, as the two opposing camps (JDU-RJD in the 2014 poll and the BJP in the Bihar election) have lost an equal vote share. Any other assessment is erroneous since the previous elections in Bihar were fought by a JDU-BJP combine.

To write off the BJP and the Prime Minister on the basis of these results is counting chickens before they hatch. The next parliamentary fight is over three years away. But more importantly, the JDU and RJD need to be able to work together. I fear the Nitish-Lalu combination may fall apart in a couple of years, once the euphoria of this win wears thin.

I’m reminded of the breakdown of the Janta Party experiment in 1977, since that (too?) was a coming together of convenience and necessity, not ideology. This is not to take away from Nitish, Lalu and Sonia’s success in Bihar. Or to ignore the subtle, but strong  message of caste having the edge over religion, at least in Bihar.

A Hindu leadership can provide comfort and win the support of the Muslims, if they can provide good and even-handed governance, without appeasement, as evidenced in the decimation of the MIM.

The next step is to have the two Ms come together in the forthcoming UP elections, Netaji Mulayam and Behenji Mayawati, with the grand Mama Sonia playing a minor role in terms of seats (but to be fair, she and the Congress do seem to be the glue holding it together in Bihar).

Could India be moving towards a two-party system? Yes, although not quite the way the system is understood elsewhere. One party in our potential two-party model would be the BJP, while the other will be a combination of different parties in different states.

But some partnerships really can’t happen: I dont see the CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress coming together in West Bengal (Didi will win on her own, though she might condescend and give the Congress a few keeping the national picture in mind with the BJP being largely irrelevant), or the DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu (although Jayalalitha might lose Tamil Nadu if an IOU is put together against her).

The Congress strategy clearly ought be a reconciliation with reality ­– combine the opposition wherever necessary, even if you are only getting crumbs (41 seats fought in Bihar, winning 27) and go for broke in states where you are strong on your own, like Karnataka and Rajasthan.

We do live in interesting times.