Limits of Regionalism

Regionalism has its limits but regional political grouping is a permanent feature of Indian polity these days because of steady decline of so-called national parties or what they call mainstream parties. Too much centralisation of power, both economic and administrative, at the centre over the years, led to the growth of regional outfits in almost all states. And in the process all major parties suffered split and the syndrome of split within split continues unabated. In truth the term federalism in the Indian context is a misnomer. This showcase of biggest democracy in the world is out and out unitary and Modi is destroying whatever remains of constitutional federalism by systematically crippling democratic institutions. States are at worst greater municipalities with limited manoeuvrality.

At one stage the question of internal colonialism gained sufficient currency because the left used to define Centre-State relations in that manner. The communist left articulated the idea with some precision against the backdrop of New Delhi's step-motherly behaviour towards Bengal. Surprisingly, they lost interest in the middle, for reasons best known to them. Strangely enough, they hardly utter a word or two about the Sarkaria Commission Report which is gathering dust for long. The report is all about redefining Centre-State relations. During electioneering no regional party questions the fate of recommendations made by the Sarkaria Commission. Today a number of states are ruled by regional parties but they look too weak and directionless in articulating the aspirations of people. The tendency for these regional parties to use the tag 'all-India' to exaggerate their importance in national politics while bargaining with the Centre, is anything but ludicrous. Having no out-each beyond the frontier of their respective province they want to shape future of the nation without a national agenda of their own!

For one thing the recently held assembly polls in Bengal, otherwise hotly contested, has virtually shattered the myth of invincibility of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), if not Modi magic, and that too by a regional party--Trinamul Congress (TMC), albeit no party really raised major issues, local as also national, during their supercharged election campaigns while continually talking rather vaguely about 'development' or lack of it. The impact of Bengal elections will be far-reaching because of failure of Hindutva politics in this part of the globe. Poll strategists are still busy to analyse post-mortem reports and TMC's spectacular victory. True, the victory margin could have been much higher had not the Election Commission and central forces behaved in a partisan way to help the BJP as alleged by the winner—TMC.

Intellectuals, liberals, human rights activists, civil libertarians and democrats were all worried at the rise of communal-fascist BJP in secular Bengal with a leftist tradition and they campaigned in their own way to defeat the saffron brigade without really asking voters to vote for any particular party. It worked and BJP being obsessed with money and muscle, failed to see the writing on the wall. Top guns of BJP repeatedly insulted the people of Bengal, particularly Bengal's women, in their highly decorated election road shows and rallies graced by film world 'celebrities', only to discover at the end of the day how it boomeranged. Election after election, women voters have continued to ally themselves with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress and this time they rallied solidly with increased number, thanks to Modi and Amit Shah, to make the state a safe haven for Banerjee's TMC, for another five years.

The higher than average voting for the TMC—about 50 percent—meant that the ruling party got a far bigger advantage over the BJP among women than men. For men TMC was ahead of the BJP by six percentage points and among women TMC's lead over the BJP was twice as high at a massive 13 percentage points, as per a survey by the Lokniti-CSDS. Also, this time TMC gave tickets to as many as 50 women, five more than 2016 election. No, doubt a comparatively better representation of women in the TMC party mattered a lot in the final outcome of the much talked about and yet less clarified, Bengal poll verdict.

The point at issue is why the official left, the communist left to be precise, traditionally managed by the Alimuddin Street bosses, is nowhere in the scenario. They have been routed completely across the length and breadth of the state. They never fought BJP politically and ideologically. Even in this heavily polarised election—a dangerous polarisation on communal lines—their main enemy was not BJP. Their oft-repeated rhetoric about BJP's divisive politics is too useless to motivate their own cadres, not to speak of ordinary people. For all practical purposes their tie-up with a party floated by a Muslim cleric just before the polls, was questioned by its own party members. In many ways they are no less communal than BJP. The problem I is here the colour is red, not saffron.

After the huge anti-BJP mandate in Bengal, the moot question that makes round, is whether regional parties can come together and throw a united challenge to the fascist BJP. As things are it is unlikely to happen unless regionalists rise above regionalism and ask people to unite against a common enemy to save India. They can always agitate around the implementation of Sarkaria Commission Report. No, they are unlikely to take so much trouble and the Centre's carrot and stick policy is always there. Money talks and politics of doles is still very powerful to silence voice of dissent when the issue is centre-state relations.

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Vol. 53, No. 47-52, & Vol 54, No. 1 - 4, May 23 - July 31, 2021