Friends and Foes

Realignment of parties in par-liamentary politics is not a new phenomenon. It is normal for alliances to become strained over time and for coalition partners to fall apart before the next election. But of late there have been tentative signs that strange new friendships are struggling to be born and earlier antagonisms may turn into new affinities.

An intriguing example is the open expression of support for Kamal Hassan's foray into politics. Three different parties have extended their hand of friendship to his fledgling venture—the CPI (M), the Telugu Desam and the Aam Admi Party. The Chief Ministers of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi are as different from each other as can be imagined; and yet they find Kamal Hassan worthy of public endorsement and unhesitating support.

On closer examination, however, there is a faint commonality that can be detected between Messrs Vijayan, Naidu and Kejriwal—all of them are anti-Congress and anti-BJP.

The CPI(M) is at daggers drawn with the Congress in Kerala State politics—literally so, judging by the stabbing incidents that periodically take place between workers of the two parties. The CPI(M) in West Bengal may have a different perspective and has teen yearning to keep its seat sharing arrangement with the Congress alive in the state in order to confront the Trinamool Congress. But the Central Committee resolution in mid-January has put paid to all such hopes. As of now the Prakash Karat vision is the official party line—no truck with Congress under any circumstances.

As far as Arvind Kejriwal is concerned, he has no option but to treat both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress as his mortal enemies. The truth is that the decision does not lie in his hands. The Congress party in Delhi is merciless in criticising him with all the vehemence at its command.

Even though it is obvious to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that the BJP under Modi has launched a vicious persecution campaign against the AAP government in Delhi, the Congress remains unmoved and unsympathetic.

When sixty policemen barged into the Delhi Chief Minister's residence recently, on the pretext of searching for CCTV footage of an alleged slapping incident, the Congress did not express outrage at the horrendous misuse of the police by the central government.

Normally, one would have expected the Congress to condemn this as yet another astounding act of oppression by the BJP regime smacking of high-handedness and even fascism. Instead, Kejriwal was castigated for behaving like an anarchist and told to apologise or quit.

In other words, Kejriwal has no choice—both the Congress and the BJP are out to get him, by fair means or foul. If he wants friends and allies he had no option but to look elsewhere, even if his search takes him to far away Tamil Nadu where only a political tenderfoot like Kamal Hassan will allow him to sit on the same stage.

Chandrababu Naidu, on the other hand does have a choice. In fact, he has multiple choices. As a hitherto trusted ally of the BJP and an exalted partner in the NDA coalition, he can easily choose to remain where he is and opt for the status quo. Instead, he has been of late making growling noises and flexing his muscles in a hostile manner, threatening to sue for political divorce on grounds of criminal breach of trust on the Andhra special status issue.

Unless the Modi government caves in and pacifies the Telegu Desham supremo with a few dollars more of aid and sustenance, Chandrababu Naidu looks set to look for new allies and to forge new friendships. However, apart from the little-known Jana Sena Chief Pawan Kalyan, there are no obvious allies in sight. TDP insiders insist that Pawan Kalyan would be a big catch that would more than make up for the break-up of the BJP alliance.

What worries Naidu more however are distinct possibilities of Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress joining hands with the BJP. With Jagan Mohan facing multiple probes by central agencies, there would be obvious benefits for the YSR leader to seek Modi's protection if TDP walks out.

These are just some of the straws in the wind in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha elections and the high-stakes battles in some States. Politics as they say makes strange bed-fellows. At the heart of the dilemma many regional parties are facing is the declining image of the BJP under Modi and the simultaneous indications that Congress under Rahul could be on the comeback trail. The time is ripe to find new alignments and indulge in partner-swapping. That's what realignment is all about—political survival depends on the ability to accurately read the tea leaves and swim with the new tide.


Vol. 50, No.37, Mar 18 - 24, 2018