Are India’s two major political parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, caught in electoral turbulence?
The BJP was delivered a shock by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) when it broke its 11-year alliance with the party on Saturday over seat-sharing arrangements in Orissa. The Congress may be in more trouble than it admits. Its “alliance” with the Samajwadi Party (SP) was always a doubtful proposition. Now it exists in name alone. This can only mean trouble for it in Uttar Pradesh, where 80 Lok Sabha seats are at stake. It does not have much of a presence in Bihar either where another 40 seats are up for grabs.
This is not merely another situation where regional parties can command a price from the BJP and the Congress. Earlier, electoral alliances were “national” in nature: One large national party would have an alliance with a regional party “across the country”. The situation is chaotic now: The same regional party may be in alliance in one state and in the enemy camp in another. Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is a good example of this phenomenon.
What this adds up to is crass opportunism on the part of all political parties. The BJD said it in those many words: “Winnability” is the key, nothing else matters. If there are “principles” at stake, there are others who are willing to supply credentials and credibility. Take the BJD. After 11 years, it woke up to on Saturday to realize the importance of secularism. The Left was quick to supply it a certificate of secularism. In the end, it does violence to the principle of secularism and little else.
It is still early days and more unpredictable action may be in store, but certain features of the political landscape are clear. The “Third Force” that the Left is trying hard to assemble is likely to be a thoroughly opportunistic alliance. Because of their limited political horizons, all regional parties lack the political vision that would allow them to look at problems from a pan-Indian perspective. As a result, the alliance in question is likely to be a grand distributive coalition and little else. India may witness economic and political turbulence of the kind it witnessed in the last decade of the 20th century.
In this, a large share of the blame must go to the Left parties. They are aware of the problem highlighted above. But they reckon that with a rag-tag coalition, without a large political party as a unifying focus, it is much easier to indulge in populist policies.