Summer 2018. The swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy witnessed some unusual moments in political history—the Vidhana Soudha dais turned into a theatre of visual memory. Arch-rivals shook hands. Improbable threatened to become probable. If it recalled the heady Janata years, there was a twist. The common enemy was not the Congress, but the BJP. The Congress was on this side. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi shared space with not just Chandrababu Naidu, champion of ‘federal’ politics, or Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD, a perennially friendly party, but also more (mutually) iffy fellow travellers such as the CPI(M), represented by the amiable Sitaram Yechury, the Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal. That tentative entente didn’t travel far—their essential incompatibility became the story of 2019.
At that time, this was seen as a harbinger of resurgence for coalition politics—the coming together of disparate political outfits to keep the saffron alliance out of power. Some saw it as a repeat of 1967—where a broad coalition led by Ram Manohar Lohia defeated the Congress in nine states. The great show of bonhomie was again on display in December in Lucknow, where the SP and BSP sealed their historic alliance, burying a quarter-century of rivalry. But the contradictions—sometimes silent, often overt—won the day. That part of the political spectrum which invented the whole logic of alliances, and inaugurated the coalition era, faces a dire existential crisis today. Modi 2.0 has trumped them decisively.