THE LAST week has truly seen a shift in power equations. The unilateral pullouts by crucial alliance partners in the UPA and the NDA signifies not just the end of the dominance that the two alliances had in the past few years but also reflects the erosion of authority of the leaders of the two major parties that head the coalitions.
Smaller parties are deserting in droves and their leaders don’t even feel the need for a formal goodbye. Last week, the PMK bid farewell to the UPA with just an informal parting note to Sonia Gandhi from the PMK boss P. Ramadoss, better known in Delhi as Anbumani’s father.
The PMK, you will recall, was with the NDA until it lost the elections 2004. Seeing the numbers stacked against the NDA, it bolted across. Then, as now, Ramadoss had written a letter, to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and I quote: “ We formed the NDA to serve the cause of the people of India. But the circumstances in Tamil Nadu have made us part company…. however, we will always cherish the friendship forged with the prime minister ( Vajpayee).” I don’t know if he was similarly courteous to Sonia. My guess is not.
The reason is the cabals surrounding the top leaderships of the two parties. Grassroots leaders are denied access to the leadership which in turn leaves the top brass with no idea of the ground realities. Many alliance partners are small outfits but there is so much they can take pride in. And it hurt when the top brass of the Congress and the BJP sent rootless wonders to act as interlocutors to solve intra- coalition problems. These negotiators, all learned, cosmopolitan and very urbane, can carry on a debate in TV studios but not beyond. These interlocutors don’t know either the language or the idiom of small regional leaders or their party’s ideologies.
Earlier, the BJP had officially nominated Jaswant Singh, Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swaraj to deal with intra coalition problems but had they been at work, Naveen Patnaik would not have walked away. Instead, it was “ non- official” interlocutors with cross party and cross corporate connections who went as firefighters. Their mission was doomed from the beginning. The Congress sent Digvijay Singh to negotiate with the Samajwadi Party.
Considering that Amar Singh can’t stand him, that’s like sending Jayalalithaa to forge an alliance with Karunanidhi. For more than a year, the UPA and NDA leaders haven’t convened even a single meeting of the coalition partners to discuss issues and the problems plaguing their coalitions.
Instead, lowly deputies who don’t have a finger on the pulse are dispatched to sort things out. When murmurs began of Mulayam, Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan forming a bloc within the alliance, Sonia never bothered to deal with them Shinde: Unfit for job directly and instead sent Sushil Kumar Shinde to sort out matters with Lalu. Shinde who? I am sure that was Lalu’s reaction.
The Congress and BJP leaders believe that alliance partners are dependent on them. In the real world, it is the other way round. A deeply divided house is now a certainty and post May 16, leaders of various parties will burn the midnight oil trying to sew up fresh alliances. I will wait to see who the interlocutors are. Will the same sycophantic “ non official types” have seats on the negotiation table or will they be people with knowledge of the terrain. If it is the former, you can be certain that enemies within are at work in both parties.