Monday, November 3, 2014

Blackmail by Regional Parties would end..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/November 02, 2014

Blackmail by Regional Parties Would End If Both Gandhis and Modi Stick to Going it Alone

The Congress is out. But its High Command is not down yet. The BJP is in full command of national politics and its High Command is aiming very high. If the signals and posturing of the leadership of both the parties are indications, it is clear that they want to marginalise and manacle regional parties and caste satraps. According to insiders in both the parties, regional outfits in the election-bound states of Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand would not be invited to join as poll partners. Last week, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi decided to assert his authority, as he is wont to sporadically. He directed his team to inform the Shibu Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to take a walk or fall in line. At the same time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his A-Team told Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to show up at Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ swearing-in ceremony or stay indoors forever. Now, by all indications, both national parties will fight the J&K polls without local allies like the Abdullahs-led National Conference (NC) and the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The signs are very clear that India is heading towards bi-polar politics in which regional parties would neither be able to dictate government formation nor dominate the agenda for governance. Modi took the lead by asserting his authority and advising his political operators to ensure that regional leaders did not decide the terms of engagement. Soon after winning an unprecedented mandate in the Lok Sabha elections, he snapped ties with ally Haryana Janhit Congress in Haryana and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra in the state polls. His idea was to test the winnability and acceptability of national leaders and parties in states where local castes and parochial parties played decisive roles. Taking a cue from the BJP, the Congress followed the same principle of setting terms and offering unacceptable deals to local partners. As the BJP dumped its 25-year ally in Maharashtra, the Congress made it impossible for the NCP to continue as a coalition partner. The past state polls turned out to be a battle between regional sentiments and national aspirations. The voters chose Modi and his mission. For the first time in history, the BJP formed the government, both in Haryana and Maharashtra.

Presently, the Congress’ decision on Jharkhand has far-reaching political consequences. By all indications, the tiny state is poised to vote for the saffron party, which has decided to fly solo. Perhaps, the Congress is imitating this principle in order to recapture its number two position and decimate the two regional outfits—JMM and BJP rebel Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. Jharkhand has been most unstable since it became an independent state, carved out of Bihar. Of the three new states, it is the only economically regressive one, while Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh are performing superlatively.

The decision to marginalise regional parties appears to have been taken in the spindrift of the Modi Wave in the Lok Sabha elections. Before that, NaMo was on a binge to forge alliances with anyone and everyone to prove his growing acceptability. He encouraged defections. He struck deals with caste-based parties in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, even making tainted leaders a part of the grand alliance. Soon afterwards, he realised that the NDA won not because of these alliances but solely due to his charisma and promises. Similarly, the Congress felt that none of the regional parties could bring it additional votes, since it had lost its traditional bases already.

According to a recent review done by some prominent Congress leaders, it was found that the party has been shrinking ever since Rajiv Gandhi chose in the late 80s to partner with local parties in the north and the west. The trend started in 1990 in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress struck an alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav, and later with Mayawati. Since then, it has not won even 10 per cent of the total Assembly seats. In each state where it had local frenemies, its vote share and seats nose-dived. The loss of Maharashtra, a traditional Congress bastion, to the BJP has come as big shock. After its recent electoral reverses, the Congress has lost almost all the big states except Karnataka. It rules Kerala as part of a shaky alliance. The party cannot think of returning to power in any other southern state in the immediate future. In the east, it rules in picayune states, while regional parties control the major ones such as West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar. In the north, the forecast is grim. It has no hope in hell to return to power in Uttar Pradesh. It is pitted in a direct fight with the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat. If one surveys India’s political colours, no Congress rainbow shines over 300-odd Lok Sabha seats even though the party rules over a dozen tiny states. On the other hand, the BJP has gained access to over 100 seats, which it had never won in the past. Modi has already chosen a potent and dangerous slogan, which asks voters to vote for the party in the state, which is in sync with the ruling party at the Centre. The voters of both Haryana and Maharashtra fell for this promising postulate.

The Congress has now chosen to mimic the Modi Mantra. After two decades of flirtations with regional leaders to keep the BJP out of power, the Gandhi Parivar has realised that the strategy has boomeranged. Not only has the Congress been forced to vacate its political base for local parties, it also faces the danger of being reduced to a regional party led by a national leadership. Its High Command is not yet reconciled to the idea that a regional leader has acquired a pan-India status with a national following. National leaders like the Gandhis are about to become stateless leaders. The fear of losing their iconic halo has compelled the Gandhis to go it alone. Meanwhile, Modi’s aspirational mission to become a global leader is driving him to decimate his adversaries. If both the Gandhis and Modi stick to their guns, the country would be rid of the pox of political blackmail by regional parties and caste calculations. To achieve this, the Gandhis on their part will have to show the patience of a Sphinx.

prabhuchawla@; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

No comments: