A Noob’s Guide to Politics
A humble attempt at easing your life with this two-part series on all things politics.
This quote from one of my favourite authors is precisely why I felt the need to write this, and you are here to read this. While he wrote this quote for an entirely different age, just like his novels, the quote remains relevant even today. To keep things simple, I’ll focus mainly on Indian Politics. So let’s let the curtains drop and the drama unfold.
Good old childhood friend “Civics” says a political party is an organization of like-minded people formed to achieve goals they jointly agree on, but it’s never that simple, is it? Humans are complex creatures, and while politicians might bury our expectations into the ground when it comes to fulfilling promises, they take things through the roof when it comes to being complicated. While the civics definition does help, there are too many exceptions to stop it from being a good enough guide for someone trying to understand politics. Let’s consider one of the said exceptions, and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Maharaja of Gwalior (symbolic), joined the BJP after leaving the Congress, where he had spent his whole political life until that point. Not just him but his father, Madhavrao Scindia, too was a devout Congressi. But his grandmother, Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia, was a founding member of the BJP. His aunt Vasundhara Raje has arguably been the face of BJP in Rajasthan for the past almost two decades. You see the contradictions? Their dining table conversations must have been a spectacle! Have you heard of the saying that you shouldn’t talk while you’re eating? It is perhaps for such families that it came into existence.
As a rule of thumb, everything is twisted. If it doesn’t seem twisted, chances are it’s not politics you’re talking about.
As you would’ve guessed, the next section is about the two poles of our political landscape, the BJP and the Congress.
Bharatiya Janata Party
BJP certainly needs no introduction in today’s time. As you already know, they have been at the helm of the nation since the 2014 General Elections. Founded in 1980, after an arduous journey, they first properly came into power at the centre in 1998, with Atal Bihari Vajpayee taking charge as the Prime Minister. However, they lost power in only about a year’s time in May 1999.
Interestingly, during the Kargil War of 1999, the Vajpayee administration had already lost power and functioned as a caretaker government.
In the general elections that followed the war, BJP led alliance sailed through with a comfortable majority, and for the first time since Independence, a non-Congress PM completed a full term in office. After losing the 2004 elections, the party was pushed back to the opposition benches, where they stayed for the next ten years. The tides turned in 2014, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, the party bounced back with a thumping majority, a marvellous tale we’re all very much familiar with.
Indian National Congress
Founded in 1885, the Grand Old Party of India, although going through its worst times post-independence, has been at the helm of the nation for the longest. Whether we like it or not, whether we want to accept it or not, the Congress party has laid the foundation of this nation. In the 21st century, Congress has been in power for two consecutive terms starting in 2004 when Dr. Manmohan Singh became PM. The party has always remained heavily dominated by the Gandhi family, yet today it finds itself at a loss of a clear leader. Even with all its problems, Congress remains the only party other than the BJP to have a nationwide presence and still maintains power in some key states.
Now you’d think BJP vs Congress must be the best example of rivalry you could find, and you’re not wrong, but humans are full of surprises and politicians? They’re practically exploding! In Maharashtra’s Gondia, BJP and Congress did the last thing you’d expect, together they formed an alliance :|
When one party alone cannot attain majority they form alliances with parties they like or at least ones they hate the least. What we see generally is two kinds of alliances, pre-poll and post-poll.
As the name suggests, pre-poll alliances are formed before elections. These alliances generally end up lasting longer as they’re created with ample thought and appropriate planning, but there are exceptions. Politics is just like organic chemistry when it comes to exceptions. In the 2015 Bihar polls, friends-turned-archrivals-turned-friends Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar came together with the Congress to form a pre-poll Maha-gathbandhan(MGB) and successfully stopped the BJP from gaining power in the key eastern state. But the alliance didn’t last long as Nitish Kumar broke off from it in 2017 and went back to form a government with his old-time mate, the BJP. So at the end of it, now Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav are friends-turned-archrivals-turned-friends-turned-archrivals :)
Made after the announcement of election results, these alliances are generally formed in haste to capture power and avoid another spell of elections. A great contemporary example is the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA = Shivsena + NCP + Congress), formed in 2019 after Shivsena broke up with their old time friend BJP turned their foes, and after a lot of theatrics, the MVA was born. Shivsena founder Balasaheb Thackrey’s son, Uddhav, in a significant detour from his father’s legacy of maintaining distance from active politics, swore as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. The alliance has outlived the expectations of many.
Naturally, next, we look at the two most important alliances.
National Democratic Alliance
NDA, led by the BJP, is the alliance currently in power. Since NDA came into power at the centre, it has been losing members and is now heavily dominated by the BJP. We’d expect more parties to flock to the victor, but so has not been the case with the NDA. Many erstwhile friends became foes, and some just left unable to withstand their diminished status in front of their giant leader, the BJP.
United Progressive Alliance
Founded in 2004, UPA is led by the Congress. UPA is the only contemporary to the NDA. Several attempts at creating a third front have repeatedly failed. Just like the NDA, the UPA, too, has weakened in the last eight years, albeit for entirely different reasons. Whether or not our nation’s Acche din started in 2014, Congress’ bure din definitely did. Then after that, it is simply human nature. Parties left the weakening camp, the dying horse for greener pastures.
Now you might wonder if parties left the UPA but did not join the NDA, then where did they go? This brings me to my next and (to your relief) the last section of this article.
Rise of regional players
UPA weakened, so parties left it. But BJP by itself has a comfortable majority in the Loksabha, so it did not bother if NDA lost a member party here or there. This even meant that BJP did not have to worry about pulling the ones leaving UPA into their fold. They have had the luxury of not having to bend their ideology to maintain their alliance. So what has happened is that several of the erstwhile members of the UPA and NDA, who are dominant in their home states, have started to project power nationally. Mamata Banerjee’s TMC in West Bengal, Kejriwal’s AAP in Delhi, DMK in Tamil Nadu, the Communist parties in Kerala are prime examples of what we are discussing here. At the state level too, when the BJP war machine was colouring one state after another in saffron, these parties stood as the main challengers.
So with this, we reach the end of this part, and while what you’ve read may not help you impress a stud/chick you met in a bar (maybe their fathers will be better candidates if you’re looking for someone to impress), the next part of this series might just improve your chances ;)
PS: This is not just a guide for a noob, this is a guide by a noob :)
Sincere thanks to Vrushali Sule for being the guinea pig of this experiment :)
Liked what you just read? Go on Part II is waiting for you :)
A Noob’s Guide to Politics: Part 2
In this concluding part of the series, we are going to try and understand political wings, particularly in the Indian…
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