File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah
A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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Where are the so-called powerful regional parties of India and their strong local satraps who were, until about a year ago, being feared for their ability to destabilise the polity and threaten national security?

Today, leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Mayawati appear much weaker than just a decade ago. They are routinely dismissed in the dominant political narrative set by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah as destabilisers of a strong, unified India. And yet, India is no stronger or more stable today than before. Not when democratic institutions are weakening across the board at an alarming pace.

The discussion on and assessment of state-level opposition leaders are now in reverse gear. Indian media and its mainstream political columnists ask ‘where’ these leaders are. There is indeed a growing fear about an actual crisis of political leadership, ideology and relevance, given how Narendra Modi and Amit Shah established their hegemony. But it’s only been a little over five months. About four and a half years still remain in Modi’s second term. In that sense, the question – where have the regional parties and leaders gone – is of great significance. So, let us see how one after another, India’s political Titans have fallen or become redundant.

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Opposition’s downfall  

The apprehension before the 2019 Lok Sabha election was that there might not be a strong government with a majority but a coalition of fronts and alliances of regional parties. But while a few stalwarts had died, many of the known satraps had lost much of the significance they once enjoyed in the pre-2014 era. Ever since J. Jayalalithaa passed away on 5 December 2016, the AIADMK has become an orphan, playing second fiddle to the BJP in Tamil Nadu.

Following the death of M. Karunanidhi, the longest-serving chief minister of Tamil Nadu, on 7 August 2018, the DMK has retained its integrity but does not have the same shine to it. TDP’s N. Chandrababu Naidu started becoming irrelevant with the rise of Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.

TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee once held somewhat believable hopes of becoming the prime minister. It now seems she is fighting for her political survival. The Badal family and their Shiromani Akali Dal, who considered Punjab as their fiefdom, do not seem to enjoy much support even among the Sikh community.

Although the Shiv Sena is making noises, the tiger’s roar could never be the same in Maharashtra’s politics after Bal Thackeray’s death in 2012. Maratha strongman, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, has just managed to float in the Modi-Shah tsunami, but he is nowhere close to acquiring power.

Mayawati of the BSP has already become a hollow political force in Uttar Pradesh. And former chief ministers Mulayam Singh Yadav and son Akhilesh Yadav failed to do much for Samajwadi Party since losing power in 2017. Naveen Patnaik of the BJD in Odisha could never emerge as a national political force, just like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is currently trying to balance on a political beam.

Most of these satraps had prime ministerial hopes. Media experts and TV panellists too tossed multiple possibilities of Mamata, Mayawati or even Pawar becoming a PM candidate. But nobody saw the coming extinction of these parties and leaders. 

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BJP without Modi-Shah

So, has the Indian polity become stable in their absence? Has the threat to national security diminished by their political oblivion?

Indeed, has the BJP given Indian politics new leaders from within its own ranks? Much of the politics today, and possibly since 2013, has been about Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. No other minister or leader from the BJP can be seen at par with these two leaders.

In terms of the party’s reach, the BJP has still not been able to establish its presence in the south, except in Karnataka.

Their claims of having successfully “captured” the northeast are vain, particularly in the wake of a messy National Register of Citizens in Assam. Manipur and Nagaland do not respect the political authority of the Centre. The Jammu and Kashmir experiment of allying with the PDP failed miserably while the scrapping of its special status through Article 370 seems to be floundering.

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Rumblings in the Hindu camp

RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat is trying extremely hard to be relevant today. The RSS itself may be feeling a churn. There is fear among some RSS apparatchiks of being marginalised. Strident voices in the RSS support V.D. Savarkar and want him to be given a Bharat Ratna. But some old guards in the Sangh Parivar feel that the Hindu Mahasabha (formed a decade before the RSS was established in 1925) has usurped the Golwalkar ethos of the Sangh. The Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS have largely been hostile to each other.

There is also the realisation that despite the BJP’s majority in Parliament and the unchallenged leadership of Modi and Shah, it might not after all be possible to change the Constitution to make India a Hindu Rashtra. Howsoever glamorous Modi’s foreign trips and images of him hugging foreign leaders or addressing huge rallies abroad are, these are unlikely to solve the ideological issues within the Hindutva camp.

Uncertain present, unpredictable future 

What we are witnessing today is an unprecedented situation. There is a stable, majority government without any challenge from within or outside. And yet, there are widespread concerns, not only among the intellectuals but even in the business community, who have stood with the BJP despite everything. Additionally, there is a rapid decline in the credibility of India’s leading institutions like the judiciary, the intelligence agencies, the police forces, the bureaucracy, the Election Commission and, above all, the media. The civil society movements, too, seem to have disappeared completely.

It is this ideological vacuum that has led to the institutional collapse. Even the disintegration of the opposition and redundancy of the regional parties is a result of this politico-ideological abyss. Not only the future, even the present looks uncertain and unpredictable.

The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal. 

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8 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Nehru & Indira Gandhi ruled India over 3 decades without any opposition parties & Rajiv Gandhi rule 5 years with huge majority. At that time, no Journalis or Media never found any instability in Democracy. Now Bajp has secured Full majority since 2014, now every Journalist & Media making hue & cry on instability. Last 30 years, India had coalition Govt causing instability of Govt,plenty of huge corruption scams & in-decision in taking economic reforms. Coalition Govt in India is not workable due to ideological differences,regional self interest,Vote banking,personality ego. In coalition Govt, Common Minimum Program are mostly based on interest of coalition Party vote bank interest & do not care National Interest so long it does not affect. Communist Party which was coalition partner in Congres lead Govt in 2009-2014 was dead against Civil Nuclear deal with USA which Man Mohan Singh wanted to enter with USA in National Interest. Communist Party which has Russian bias & hate USA & West went against Nuclear Deal withdrew support to Govt despite convincing it for almost two years. India require a Govt with full majority whether it is Congress Govt or BJP Govt for fast decision making & full fill electrol promises. If today Congress & other individual fancy parties are in dire situation because of not fulfilling election promises,taking granted voters & corruption scams. They deserve puniishment.

  2. 1. I do not see how one can blame Modi Shah for marginalization of regional leaders. They have suffered due to their inherent limitations and contradictions. 2. BJP was always run in duo mode – Vajpeyi-Advani earlier and now Mod-Shah. They will find enough leaders to replace Modi Shah when time comes. 3. Surprisingly, Ketkar does not talk of Congress in this article! 4. The fact of the matter is that Ketkar just invents something to write about every week just like the others in the Print Team like Shivam, Jyoti, Naynima etc. The least they can do is to take cues from Shekhar and do better..

  3. Mulayam, Mamata, Laloo, Pawar and mayawati are professional crooks. They are no ordinary thieves. Ketkar is having pains in his heart every night and it will continue for another five years. In this time he will puke one article every week, or more, to cool his heartbeat, all against Modi who has taken the air of their sails.

  4. Kumar Ketkar must put a caveat ,that he is a full time politician of congress and any pretension of being journalist is to be treated lightly

  5. This column is a good fit with last night’s Cut the Clutter, which analysed the next generation of political leaders, almost entirely dynasts, and how few of them have lived up to their promise. There are 132 million votes the Congress received in the last general election, despite the Gandhis being in charge, which are up for grabs. 2. Instead of categorising a government as strong or weak based on its legislative numbers or the state of the opposition, we should judge it by what it can get done. Can it change cropping patterns in Punjab / Haryana, prevent an epidemic of lung cancer among residents of some of the most polluted urban agglomerations in the world, that is what we should be assessing.


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