The Avengers Endgame has a lesson for Narendra Modi’s rivals in India – NO SPOILERS

India’s ongoing elections is a battle for dominance inside the Parliament. The incumbent government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seen as the strongest outfit, even after five years in power. The party is projecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an invincible candidate with solutions for the millions of problems that plague India’s economy and society, much like Thanos.

On the other hand, unlike the two-party structure in the US, there is a motley crew of political parties with equally big egos but very diverse ideologies, and varying degrees of charisma. However, individual prospects of success, if they were to take on Modi by themselves, can be called uncertain at best. Therefore, there is a clamour for a grand anti-Modi coalition-- in India they call it ‘Mahagathbandhan’-- much like the Avengers.

What is missing is the equivalent of a S.H.I.E.L.D that can put together an optimal team. Yet, efforts towards forming a coalition are constantly underway. Some analysis [hyperlink] suggest that it will remain a strong possibility even after the elections.

In academic terms, the phenomenon is called ‘index of opposition unity’. In all the Parliamentary elections since 2002, 45% of the seats have been won due to low ‘index of opposition unity’, according to data analysed by veteran psephologists Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala in their recent book ‘The Verdict’. In other words, the winning party converted low votes into a seat because the rival parties were fragmented.

However, it is easier said than done for parties to forge friendships given their troubled past with each other. Most parties have been part of different alliances, led either by BJP or the Congress, at some point or the other. The ideologies have been far more malleable than their egos.


The contenders

There are 12 regional and local parties from 10 states that have come together for now. Leading the coalition from the front is the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and Samajwadi party in Uttar Pradesh.

The political landscape changed in the western parts of Uttar Pradesh when Rashtriya Lok Dal joined hands [hyperlink] with Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party to gear up against the rise of BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

The RLD is a former ally of the Indian National Congress, the only other national outfit after BJP. Congress itself is not part of this alliance, at least not yet.

The Congress itself has stitched together a different clique comprising of other regional satraps like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) from Tamil Nadu, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar, among others.

While some of the communist outfits are in the Congress clique, the biggest of all the red parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI(M) as it’s popularly known, is still largely fighting on its own in different parts of the country. As it stands, CPI(M) cannot form a government on its own, it has to offer its support to one coalition or the other. The party’s state unit in Punjab has already offered its support to the Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh.

The fight between Modi’s challengers is to decide who shall lead the pack and who shall become the Prime Minister. So while the different packs are non-committal to a common cause right now, a post-poll consensus is still very likely after some of the egos are cut to size by the election results.

But Modi is not Thanos

However much the BJP would like Modi to be all-powerful and invincible like Thanos, he isn’t.

Even in the thumping victory of 2014, the BJP and allies, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had just 31% of the country’s votes. The parties backing Modi, too, have mostly been fair-weather friends at best. The Janata Dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar in Bihar has been in and out of the NDA at will in the past.

Bickering is a constant feature between the BJP and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, an alliance that has survived 25 years with breaks in between. While the two parties are fighting together this election, the Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray recently called Modi ‘a thief’ just days before sealing the deal with the BJP.

Realpolitik, the German word for politics that is more practical than ideological, comes alive every five years, around the Lok Sabha election, in India.

As in The Avengers Endgame, the challengers will have to sacrifice ego and embrace realpolitik to stay relevant.
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