Regionalism And Opportuism

Whither Grand Alliance?

Mala Jay

Independent Day is as good a time as any to take stock of the state of the nation's political parties and leaders. With advance surveys predicting Congress victories in three Hindi belt States where assembly elections are due this year-end it is safe to say that Narendra Modi's bluff of a Congress-free Bharat has been well and truly exposed.

Indeed, the last nine months have been a time of resurgence for the Congress party particularly since the close contest in last year's Gujarat elections and the installation of Rahul Gandhi as the new president.

Rahul himself has busted another myth—that he is an inarticulate political novice. In his public speeches inside and outside Parliament he has shown he has the ability to make stinging verbal attacks when he wants to and with each passing week his oratory has only got better and better. Another remarkable aspect of his leadership profile is his youthful energy and mobility—lately there has been virtually no newsworthy event, whether tragic or celebratory, where he has not been actively present.

Prime Minister Modi on the other hand gives the impression of having lost some of his luster and bluster—his reply in Lok Saoha to the no-confidence motion was indisputably boring apart from being too long-winded. Even his election rally speeches, especially during the Karnataka poll campaign, lacked the earlier ability to create a wave as was evident from the cold fact that Bharatiya Janatar Party (BJP) is not in power in the State.

The weight of responsibility seems to have eroded his self-confidence at least to some extent, more so because of his government's failure to deliver on the many rosy promises he had made four years ago. Despite his propaganda team's insistence that all is well and the promised achche din (better days) have arrived, the reality on the ground is that the youth are jobless, the farmers are agitated and the Dailt community is simmering with suppressed rage.

As things stand, that is the scenario on the occasion of the last Independence Day before the next general elections. The ruling dispensation still firmly controls the levers of power with an iron hand—but the image of invincibility in a free and fair electoral contest is no longer a certainty.

Sensing the increasing vulnerability of the BJP, the Opposition parties have begun to flex their muscles and to devise new strategies to prevent Modi getting a second term.

However, the endeavour to forge a unified front, a mahagatbandhan (grand alliance) against the BJP and its NDA allies is proving more difficult in practice than in theory.

Apart from the Congress, each of the other parties involved in the unity effort is regional or caste-based. About the only glue that keeps them together is antipathy towards the RSS Hindutva ideology and to Modi's authoritarian style of functioning.

In some cases that antipathy is deep-rooted—as in the case of genuinely secular parties like Trinamool, RJD and the Left.

In contrast, Chandrababu Naidu's new found aversion to Modi is barely skin-deep—till a few months ago his Telegu Desam was very much a part of the BJP-dominated NDA alliance.

In Uttar Pradesh, both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are essentially leaders of caste-based political entities. Their decision to join hands was as astonishing as it was sudden and is founded on purely arithmetical calculations and driven by the compulsions of political survival.

There is no telling what the DMK under MK Stalin will decide in the post-Karunanidhi era. Today, the Dravidian party is an integral part of the would be mahagatbandhan—but that is largely because the rival Dravidian party is in Modi's good books. Tomorrow, if the political climate changes, it will surprise no one if the DMK joins the NDA just as Nitish Kumar's JD(U) in Bihar did. The late Kalaignar had developed a theory that it is essential for a regional party government in a State like Tamil Nadu to have a stake in the central government irrespective of whoever was in power. The son is very likely to follow the teachings of his father whenever the situation arises.

The same line of thinking is behind Navin Patnaik's equations with the Modi government. Nine MPs of the Biju Janata Dal voted in favour of NDA nominee Harivansh Narayan Singh in the election to the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman. The 18 or so BJD MPs in the Lok Sabha had earlier abstained from voting with other Opposition members, in the no-confidence motion.

That tells its own story. The mahagathbandhan, if and when it becomes a reality, will be Minus BJD. It will also be Minus TRS (Telengana Rashtra Samiti) whose leader and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has no intention whatsoever of joining any anti-BJP formation.

When illusions are shed, therefore, it is easy to see that, apart from the Congress, the only genuinely anti-BJP parties in the proposed mahagath-bandhan are the Trinamool Congress and the CPI-CPI(M). Given that Mamata Banejee and the Left are at daggers drawn in West Bengal, there is virtually no unity to be expected between those two adversaries.

Even in the case of NCP in Maharashtra, there will always be the lurking suspicion that party supremo Sharad Pawar is only waiting to see if the Shiv Sena actually breaks ranks with the BJP and the moment that happens the NCP will fill the void in the NDA.

In other words, Independence Day is as good a time as any for the Congress party to take stock of the real motives of potential friends and allies and also potential allies who might turn adversaries overnight.

On the road to the upcoming Assembly and Parliament elections, it is also the appropriate moment for the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi to ponder deeply about long-term goals and objectives.

To tell the truth, the Congress does not need allies like TDP and TMC or even BSP and SP. Alliances with regional parties are always counter-productive for national parties. It stifles growth and demoralises the local workers and leaders. Above all, caste-based parties like the Bahujan Samaj and the Sarnajwadi are propelled by doctrines that are inherently contradictory to the all-embracing national vision of a party like the Congress.

Rahul Gandhi's rapid evolution into a formidable political leader is unstoppable. He has already demonstrated his potential. He heads a grand old party whose ideological world view would only be hampered by alliances with sectarian or regional parties for short-term gains. Age is on his side. He can afford to wait.

In any case, the Congress is poised for a dramatic revival in 2019 even if it goes it alone and fields its own candidates in all or most of the constituencies.

Vol. 51, No.9, Sep 2 - 8, 2018