Rasheeda Bhagat

Regional parties are here to stay

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on March 19, 2012

The statue of the TDP founder and one of India’s most popular regional leaders, N. T. Rama Rao.

The RSS believes that the growing clout of regional parties would be at the cost of “nationalism”. But to call this a dangerous trend is to exaggerate matters.

The growing muscle power of regional parties, demonstrated most forcefully in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections, has sent alarm bells ringing in both the Congress and BJP camps.

Without naming the Samajwadi party that swept the UP elections, the newly-elected General Secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Suresh Bhayyaji Joshi, said on Sunday that the growing clout of regional parties was a matter of serious concern.

Blaming the national parties for failing to check this trend, Mr Joshi said that it was natural that people would be attracted by and vote along local and regional issues that affect their day-to-day lives. But this growing regionalism in the political arena would be at the cost of “nationalism”.

It is understandable that the Sangh Parivar's apex outfit would be worried about the shrinking space of the BJP, as that would tantamount to its own importance in the national arena diminishing.

But to call the growth of regional parties a “dangerous trend” that would hurt our democracy is to exaggerate matters.

Coalition blues

True, the frustrations and tribulations of managing a huge and unseemly coalition at the Centre, because neither of the two national parties is able to get a majority in the Lok Sabha, are only too evident.

In media interviews and post-Budget interactions with industrialists, the Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, blamed all the shortcomings of his Budget proposals on the UPA allies.

He would, of course, like a comfortable majority for his party in the Lok Sabha. And the BJP, which has had its share of headaches in managing troublesome allies during the National Democratic Alliance days, would want the same.

Our experiments with a coalition government began in the post-Emergency era of 1977, but the Janata Party leading that coalition — the first non-Congress government to be formed in post Independent India — floundered and Morarji Desai was forced to resign and Charan Singh, who succeeded him, could not prove his majority in Parliament.

The Janata Party, an amalgam of parties such as the Jan Sangh, Congress(O), Bharatiya Lok Dal, and so on, couldn't hold together as different political ideologies and personal ambitions of leaders pulled it apart.

Their shenanigans, coupled with some excellent political moves by Indira Gandhi — such as her well-publicised visit on elephant back to Belchi to console the Dalit victims of a massacre — ensured the Congress's massive victory in 1980.

But since 1991, when P. V. Narasimha Rao deftly manoeuvred a minority government, single party rule by a “national party” at the Centre has not been possible.

And, election after election in State Assemblies proves this will be the scene for some time at least.

Asserting regional identity

If regional parties — such as the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party after the previous UP election, the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, or the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu — are sweeping the elections in these States, obviously there is a reason for it.

The people of these States are asserting their identity through regional parties, making a strong statement that they don't think a “national” party can serve their interests or needs as well as their regional party can.

Yes, it's great to be nationalist; its great to be patriotic and have pride in your national identity, but let's not forget that India is a single nation of countless diversities.

And these diversities have to do with language, culture, diet, dressing habits and the like.

Beginning with the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s, several southern and other States have felt that Dilli is trying to impose its language, culture and lifestyle on people in different regions.

Tamil Nadu went the Dravidian way and DMK won big on the anti-Hindi platform in 1967 and, since then, the Congress has never been able to rule the State.

Andhra Pradesh took a little more time, but in 1983, the Telugu Desam Party, formed by N. T. Rama Rao the previous year, swept the elections and continued its sway over the state for quite a while.

With Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (U) being the senior partner in Bihar, the BJD firmly entrenched in Orissa, the Trinamool Congress sweeping the elections in West Bengal and the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party being the main players in Jammu and Kashmir, the place for national parties such as the Congress and the BJP is shrinking.

Bangladesh example

It is interesting to juxtapose here what a Pakistani professional, told me recently about the breaking away of Bangladesh. Mr Akhtar Alavi, Advisor, EFU Insurance, Pakistan, maintained that the alienation of those in East Pakistan started from “Day 1, when Mohammed Ali Jinnah said only one state language, Urdu, would prevail.”

While posted as an insurance professional in Dhaka from 1964-69, he was “amazed to find there was nothing common between us… the language was totally different as also culture, dress and diet.” The only common factor was religion, “but that can't hold you together always. And to top it all, we were separated by over 1,000 miles of Indian territory. With all this you are asking for trouble.” To make matters worse, there were frequent military rules.

“A military government by its inherent nature is a centralised setup. There is no Parliament or legislature; the CiC is the boss. He says utho, baitho, left, right, and you have to fall in line! And all the power was concentrated in Islamabad.”

But the main problem, Mr Alavi added, was the language; “anybody's culture is based on your language, whether Tamil, Hindi or Bengali, and then Bengali literature is so rich.” For the East Pakistanis, Rabindra Nath Tagore was the most revered figure “but for our army chaps, it was like ‘ Hindu hai, usko kato, nikal do (He is a Hindu, cut him out) from the school text books.' And finally we paid a price for this kind of nonsense”.

Well, mercifully we are in no such blatant danger, though some of our crazy politicians too have tried to tinker with history and introduce their ideology in text books.

But such attempts have met with stiff opposition. The bad news for the Congress and the BJP is that regional parties have found a strong footing across the country. As long as the voters in different regions feel that their local party will understand their problems better and give them a better governance, the two national parties will only be marginal players in those regions.

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Published on March 19, 2012
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