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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 16 New Delhi April 7, 2018

“. . . . . . . . . Mukt Bharat”

Saturday 7 April 2018

by Sardar Amjad Ali

In the present political scenario of the country, the battle the Congress under the leadership of its young President, Rahul Gandhi, with the guidance and inspiration of Smt Sonia Gandhi, is fighting, is certainly a very difficult one. It is a battle, in my estimation, not only against a divisive force in the guise of a political party called the Bharatiya Janata Party but also with its cohorts as well, having a common agenda of a “Congress Mukt Bharat”.

Looking at the political composition in different parts of the republic, one cannot lose sight of the emerging regional political formations emphasising upon their regional demands and making the federal government a common target for redressal of their regional ailments so as to ultimately capture it. In a republican form of government, guided by the provisions of a written Constitution, the sphere of duties and responsibilities of the federal and regional governments have been clearly defined. Yet on many occasions the regional parties, conveniently or deliberately, cross the constitu-tional fence, obviously for making more advances for expansion of their horizon beyond the State territory to seize the ultimate power-scale. Conversely, the Union Government also, very often than not, takes undue privilege not only to encroach upon the constitutional privileges of selected State governments but also, if necessary, to throw them out of power by hook or crook. Such unwelcome actions certainly are not naive but well-thought-out moves on the part of both the players. The Central Government, if composed of one or a number of political parties in the form of coalition entity, cannot be expected to act against its own political agenda. As a result, in an era of coalition politics, as the status of India is at present, contradictions, sometimes confron-tations, are bound to occur in Centre-State relations. One cannot ignore that such a situation is now prevailing in our country.

Diverse political interests, in a federal structure such as ours, more often than not, run counter to the overall national interest. But it is almost an unavoidable phenomenon when regional interests tend to overreach the national agenda. The country has been passing through coalition governance for quite a long time since 1977. Regional parties have shown their own strength within their geographical limits with their regional agenda as the predominant consideration in government formation. The Indian National Congress party was the single largest ruling party of the country but it has, for various reasons, disintegrated, thereby leaving a deep void and helping the regional outfits to grow.

In the past, though in electoral arithmetic, the Congress could not achieve the magic number on its own, yet then it could impress upon others the skill and expertise it had to run a federal government for long, long years. It convinced other smaller parties to join hands with it to form a coalition government with a consensus on the common minimum programme.

Coalition governance is not of course a brand of public governance that only India has to entreat. In fact the political history of all the five continents leaves before us umpteen number of examples of such a brand in different countries. Mature parliamentary democracies like the United Kingdom, France or Germany had testified to such a system.

Questions may come up for an indepth political debate as to whether the people or political parties are responsible for such a system. There may be varied responses of the political scientists in favour or against. But the fact remains that when a single party, failing to form a government on its own, ropes in the support of other smaller parties to rule, an era of coalition governance dawns.

In such a political scenario, the most pertinent questions that emerge, in my opinion, are:

1. Which party amongst others will be the most viable one to carry forward a coalition government?

2. Who amongst the numerous political leaders of coalition partners will be the best choice to lead the coalition considering the political background, acceptability to the partners as well as the people and his/her flexibility in moving with the others.

If we gloss over the political parlance of contemporary Indian politics we notice a new political order churning the national as well as regional politics since 2014. After a successful bidding, the BJP, though lately emerging as a major national party with its own strength, did not, as a political strategy, ignore the smaller regional parties, with whom it fought the elections of 2014, in coalition governance at the national and even at the State level. The strategy, as I earlier said, is to decimate the strength of the other national party, namely, the Indian National Congress and present the country with a “Congress Mukt Bharat” under the leadership of the BJP.

A “Congress Mukt Bharat” is a lullaby not only of the BJP alone but also of the other regional players in the National Democratic Alliance headed by the BJP as its “Big Brother”. That the catchy slogan has its consumers across the length and breadth of India is a reality that cannot be ignored. It is also equally true that all the regional satraps are not addicts to this symphony. Either overtly or covertly, even non- NDA parties, albeit not all, contribute to the concept of a “Congress Mukt Bharat”, by their action of omission and commission. Of the non-NDA parties, the Left conglomerates, the Trinamul Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Janata Dal (United) and Telugu Desam Party have their past history of being BJP associates either to fight an election battle against the Congress or in coalition governance, although in the 2014 general elections they kept themselves away from the BJP chessboard.

The NDA, under the leadership of the BJP, having proved itself as a national alternative to the UPA, led by the INC, has been on the turf for the last four years. The basic tenets of coalition governance with the BJP as a national party under the charismatic and articulate leadership of Narendra Modi appears to have left an impression not only upon the political outfits but also upon a considerable percentage of the Indian population that the NDA formation is best suited for India, presently moving through a coalition era. So far it was moving in its anticipated direction until such time as the BJP, the major partner, with its all-powerful leader, the Prime Minister, took the spineless surrender of the Ministers not only from his own party but also from others as guaranteed, and laid his unchequered control through his office (PMO) over all the departments, virtually making the entire administrative mechanism of the coalition government the handiwork of a singular person. And there started a submerged despondency. Together with such dissatisfaction, the economic and social policy the Modi regime was bent upon to vigorously persuade for adoption by the nation, had gradually shaken the enigmatic “Modi Magic”. The failures of Modi’s electoral pledges, unscientific, unrealistic and grossly unproductive policy of demoneti-sation and GST schemes, religious intolerance and unbridled hate campaign, increasing unemployment, farmers’ suicides, writing off public debts of crony capitalists, plundering of bank reserves by “favoured customers” and their safe transit with the booty, saffronisation of education policy, induction of RSS nominees in cultural, educational and administrative institutions, failures in improving international relations started raising diabolic signals to cause popular disenchantment about Modi, the BJP and its associates. Modi’s charred charisma left burnt scars in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh so deep that these could not be covered up by a run-over at Tripura or the Meghalaya jamboree or Nagaland’s unwholesome wedlock.

When politics in Lutyens Delhi was getting clouded, the regional players started pulling off their masks and run afloat in the polluted air of public discomfiture either to settle scores with Modi or to get installed into and sanitise his sullied seat. To win a war of ‘Modi Mukt Bharat’ by any of the regional chieftains, be it of the east or the west, by their own charisma and strength is nothing but a capricious attempt of building a cloud castle.

Hence, the slogan of a “Third Front” or a “Federal Front”.

The harbingers of the Third or Federal Front are, of course, well-known seasoned politicians of long standing. By no stretch of imagination, however, one can say that they represent their political outfits beyond their own territories or cater to outstanding political visions or subscribe to missions of all-India ramification. Experiences, of course, of some of those enthusiasts in public administration, may merit worth mentioning. But, even on that score their individual score-card, to convey with deep respect to each one of them, is not that elegant as it should or ought to be, for governance of a nation of 135 million people of diverse cultural, religious, linguistic and racial genres, besides cognisable identity of transborder recognition. Notwithstanding such limitations, the Third or the Federal Front-walas show a jingoistic zeal to give a “Modi Mukt Bharat” in 2019 but in their war cry they are not as openbreasted as Laloo Prasad’s RJD or Karunanidhi’s DMK that in a battle against the BJP, a “Congress Mukt” congregation of political parties will be an ideal political formation.

The role of the regional political heavy-weights may be of relevant consideration in grooming up a coalition. Let us scan it.

To arrest erosion of his political party the most honest and non-intriguing Nabin of Odisha, maintains as yet a seemingly non-committal stand, although in some of the parleys his BJD had shown up its face. He seems to have no ambition of being an ardent architect of a Third or Federal Front like a few others.

Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, though once had smeared himself with the BJP’s ministerial nectar, is now compelled to chant anti-BJP slogans courtesy Mehbooba Mufti, the Chief Minister of Jammu-Kashmir’s coalition government of the BJP and J&K People’s Democratic Party.

The “Maratha strongman” Sharad Pawar had not maintained a uniform stand in the coalition climate. As the seniormost politician he deserves, as is understood, primacy in a process of political permutation and computation. His Praful Patel moves to Bengal’s ‘Nabanna’ as Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had gone on an earlier visit to Sharad’s hometurf.

Of the South Indian parties, leave aside the DMK pledging its support to the Congress, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, CPI-M and its allies in Kerala, AAP and MGP in Goa, TDP of Andhra and TRS of Telangana appear to be in no mood to participate in a Third or Federal Front with the Congress presence in the ring. With vigour and exuberance for forging the unity of non-BJP State parties to form a Federal Front, Ms Mamata Banerjee has been trying to take the centre-stage since long. Let us not be forgetful of the fact that there is already an anti-BJP Front known as the UPA under the leadership of the Congress. In the UPA, besides the Congress, there are a number of State parties. There are also State as well as national level political parties unattached with either of the formations, namely, the UPA or NDA, led by the BJP.

We all know that Ms Banerjee’s party, though it carries its signature as the All India Trinamul Congress, is truly speaking a State party. In such a political contour one has to analyse as to how far Ms Banerjee’s strike will be lethal for the BJP. Ms Banerjee, in her exuberance of forging the unity of non-BJP State parties, has apparently made a serious move. Whether her endeavour is a bonafide move to bring an end to Modi’s regime, as she aspires, is too early to predict. Her 1:1 formula and a party with strong base in a State to lead the anti-BJP electoral battle and the weaker ones to follow, sounds a good strategy but in a politics of ideological diversity, intra-party power equations, regional niceties and leadership criteria are likely to cause unexpected casualties.

Ms Banerjee has to convince the weaker political parties to play the role of subservient entities to their Big Brothers and be contented with the dole given to them to contest the election.

It would certainly be a gala time for the pioneers of the Federal Front if Ms Banerjee’s strategy gets ratified by those who want a “BJP Mukt Bharat”.

Ms Banerjee has to steer clear from the two “Chandras”, of the TRS and TDP as also from Sharad Pawar, Laloo Prasad, Akhilesh Yadav whether they want a Front with or without the leadership of the Indian National Congress. She also has to get unqualified support, without any rider, from Akhilesh, that his “Bua” Mayawatiji will lead the election battle of 2019 in UP with his SP as an appendage, in Karnataka, Hardanhalli Deve Gowda, the former PM, with his JD(S) will agree to act as a pageboy to “the Pious”, Yeddyurappa. Similar equations elsewhere are also likely to be addressed by Ms Banerjee.

Added to such baffling questions, Ms Banerjee owes political as well as ethical responsibility to respond to some more pertinent questions. These are:

If she wants the Congress in her “Modi Badh Yagna” would her fellow travellers, the TDP, TRS, AAP, JD, JD(S), AIADMK agree to offer their oblations conjointly with the Congress?

Should she decisively dictate and the Congress would indolently accept to participate in her yagna minus Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President, as she publicly demonstrated?

Does she expect the BJD, AIADMK, AAP, TRS, TDP, SAD, LJP, to join with the Congress in her jamboree of Federal Front on a 1:1 basis?

Should the Maharashtra Congress be as generous to accept the NCP as the major political opponent to the BJP as suggested by Ms Banerjee?

What does she expect of the role of the Left alliance in Kerala and in her own State?

Even if, for the sake of argument, though contested, her theory of State vitalities of the parties are accepted, the Congress, with 52 seats in the 2018 Lok Sabha, has to be confined in those pockets only in the 2019 electoral battle for 542 seats. Does Ms Banerjee expect the Congress to swallow such a sugar-quoted cyanide?

Ms Banerjee’s anti-Modi role is marked by her opposition to the economic policy, though not entirely, as pursued by his government. Demonetisation, GST, inadequate Central financial assistance to the States, discrimination in financial grants from the BJP vis-a-vis the non-BJP ruled States in developmental schemes and at the time of natural disasters, unemployment are the most talked about issues she addressed. Those are, no doubt, pertinent issues. But what about the specific issues? Congress President Rahul Gandhi has been agitating about Modi’s naked encouragement to his chosen few crony capitalists, such as, Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, the Tatas, the Dhoots, the G. V. K. Reddys, the Jindals but this did not figure in her tirade against Modi. Rather, she is prone to make some of the Modi-favourites her saviours for giving succour to her industrial desert in West Bengal.

She is conspicuous by her silence about the unfathomed corruption of Vyapam of Chouhan, grant of public largesse without tender by Pankaja Munde, the Gir forest land deal of Anandi Behn’s daughter, the enormous increase of assets of Amit Shah’s son and Jayanta Sinha, the son of former BJP Minister Yashwant Sinha. Is there any subjective consideration to keep these issues under the carpet for a hidden bargain?

Ms Banerjee’s target is to rope in her dreamy Federal Front the NCP, or DMK without seeking to convince the BJP-supporter State parties to leave the NDA. This clearly shows that her strategy is to weaken the UPA, help deplete the anti-BJP votes which would ultimately help the BJP.

Interesting enough is to note that Ms Banerjee feels comfortable with the Shiv Sena and Ahom Gana Parishad, both famous for having narrow parochial programmes.

Surprisingly, Ms Banerjee finds in the BJP good people like Vajpayeeji, Rajnathji, Gadkariji, Sushmaji compared to Manmohan Singhji or for that master Rahul Gandhiji.

Good enough, that Ms Banerjee deprecates Modi’s decisions to sell Air India, a ‘national asset’ in her own words, but shockingly ridiculous is to see her in the company of the duo—Yashwant Sinha, the former BJP Financr Minister, and his former Cabinet colleague, the erstwhile Company Law Minister, Arun Shourie, famous for selling the public sector hotels and some blue-chip companies in the jubilant execution of a policy called “Disinvestment”.

Ms Banerjee must have her responses to such apparent contradictions.

But, while taking centre-stage to get anti-BJP political entities under one umbrella, the abrasions in her strategic move, it appears, are likely to give more advantage to the enemy she wants to crush.

The question as to would lead the Third Front remains an enigma. It may be recalled that Modi, before taking over Gujarat as its Chief Minister, was one of the powerful General Secretaries of an all-India party. Having served in an all-India outfit for a good many years, he went to Gujarat as the Chief Minister. By his articulate, strong leadership for a period of five years in Gujarat, he was chosen as the leader of an all-India political party with the support of a number of other regional as well as national parties to lead a front. Ms Banerjee, though had served as a Minister in a BJP formation and thereafter made the Congress her ally before ultimately leaving that association too, raises the eyebrows of many. Her fighting spirit is certainly to be recognised, but her political inconsistency is no less a factor to be considered, if one is called upon to decide regarding her acceptability as the leader of an all-India political movement to bring about a “Modi Mukt Bharat”.

The author is a former Congress Member of Parliament; he served in both the Lok Shaba and Rajya Shaba.

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