Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum 2009 arrow Rise Of Regional Elites:PROVOKING POLITICAL PROMISCUITY, by T.D. Jagadesan,20 March 2009
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Rise Of Regional Elites:PROVOKING POLITICAL PROMISCUITY, by T.D. Jagadesan,20 March 2009 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 20 March 2009

Rise Of Regional Elites


By. T.D. Jagadesan

As India’s leading politicians and political parties worry over possible alliances before the General election, it is well to consider that the accent on fragmentation of politics in this country in the past two decades along regional and even caste lines, and the dispersal of power centres, is in no small measure a consequence of the rise of regional elites. To the extent that the latter hold sway, there has been an erosion of the traditional centre of power and patronage as symbolized by the Congress, the country’s grand old party.

Equally, there has been the crystalisation in this period of a rival to the Congress, the BJP, in terms of that party too being a repository of claims to an all-India status. The combination of these factors gives no room for comfort to any set of parties on the eve of a Lok Sabha election. With the regional elites, and the parties that are a vehicle of their politics and aspirations, exhibiting strong tendencies to seek to gain a share in national power, it is not just partnerships before the election that count but also those that may be cynically hammered out after the votes have come in.

With doubts being cast by pundits on the capacity of the two parties that see themselves as all-India entities in terms of their spread as well as ideological relevance – to win enough seats to dictate the course of government-formation, the competition for viable alliances may indeed be more pronounced this time around than in the past. This is also on account of the accretion in the strength of the regional forces.

The wooing of blocks of voters along identity lines (such as dalits, minorities-backward castes) may just prevent the crossing of some absolute red lines at the time of forging pre-poll alliances or adjustments, such as the TDP cold-shouldering the BJP for fear of losing minority votes. But it is hard to see those barriers remaining intact in the post-poll scenario when fierce competition for national powers is likely to engender widespread political promiscuity.

The shape of things is thus hard to envisage just yet. The election result may help the mist lift to a degree, especially if one of the national players in that fray is able to secure a whip hand. If not, then the game will remain wide open and it may not be enough for the first party in the 15th Lok Sabha to be only marginally ahead of its principal rival.

In such a scenario, the regional entities – the Left block, the NCP, the TDP, the two main Tamil parties, the Trinamool Congress, not to mention the SP and BSP of Uttar Pradesh --- could acquire a life of their own, whatever their individual strength in the new Lok Sabha.

At this stage of the game, the BJP-led NDA appears to labour under a disadvantage as in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, it has no viable pre-poll allies. These States account for about 150 Lok Sabha seats, a little over a quarter of the total. The shortcoming can be negated, however, if the Congress is unable to live up to its expectations in States that matter to it.

When election dates were formally announced by the Election Commission recently, it was widely felt that the Congress and the BJP, the two key parties vying for national power in association with their allies, were about evenly-matched. In the wake of Orissa’s Biju Janata Dal disengaging itself from the BJP in a stunning manoeuvre, causing the latter to withdraw its support to the Naveen Patnaik government in the State, it will be a surprise if the Advani campaign can retain its earlier sanguineness.

The BJP and the BJD were allies for 11 years, pretty much from the time that the BJP gained power at the Centre under Atal Behari Vajpayee. Their unexpected separation underlines the adage that interests eclipse friendships in political affairs. The loss that the BJP may feel now is akin to the one that the Left-cajoled United Front would have felt a dozen years ago, when N. Chandrababu Naidu, convener of that coalition, calmly crossed over to the BJP, twitching not a muscle through that act of defection.

After the example of the BJD, which appears to be signaling its inclination for the prospective Third Front, it should be no surprise if Bihar’s JD(U) led by Nitish Kumar, like the BJD a “secular” party gives the BJP little leeway in pre-poll negotiations, or opts to follow the BJD pattern to work toward a coalition of regional parties at the Centre. The Congress may feel somewhat relieved by a rival’s discomfiture. It should be clear, however, that if the action of one regional party can be a magnet for others, then potential allies of the Congress too can be persuaded to follow the BJD’s trajectory.

The caveat here is that they can do so provided the political circumstances of their respective States permit such a move. Were this not the case, the formation of a Third Front government would appear far more certain than it does. It does seem now that all parties both national and regional --- would make the effort to shun extravagant seat-share claims in pre-poll negotiations, and permit a degree of realism to prevail. West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are States where parties appear to have pitched themselves much too hard.

The development in Orissa does seem to have the potential to be a watershed. It also, of course, speaks of Naveen Patnaik’s absence of confidence in his erstwhile ally. Else, it speaks of utter recklessness on the part of the BJD leader, who might even have been persuaded to ponder the possibility of the top job in New Delhi being his if he deserted the BJP. Any way one looks, the new situation is pregnant with possibilities. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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