Monday, 23 May, 2022

Minus the Left

If the elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry go the way they are headed right now, they could potentially alter our national political equations, and set a much more interesting stage for 2014.

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Funny we still see 2012 as the most crucial year on way to the big 2014 general election, mainly because Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls early in that year and probably also because a new president has to be elected for the Rashtrapati Bhavan that year. Funnier, therefore, is how nobody looks at 2011 as a year of any great political significance.

Just liberate yourself from the notion that 2012 may be the year of the Congress revival in Uttar Pradesh (rendered outdated after Bihar), and from all the dark rumours in the Lutyens’ opium den about Manmohan Singh being moved up and aside into Rashtrapati Bhavan, and it would not look like such a make-or-break year. That year could indeed be the current one, and here is how.

The five state elections that take place within two months from now (all results come on May 13) are among the easiest to predict in our electoral history in a very long time. You know exactly who will lose Bengal and Kerala. You know that Tamil Nadu will now be a very open election. In Assam, the Congress would still have a better chance of putting together a government and Pondicherry, which the Congress may again win, is of insignificant value. Generally, these elections will leave the Congress feeling much better about itself. And the BJP won’t be feeling much worse either. It has no stakes in these states and it will not look like a loser. And the Left will be devastated. That is why, if these elections indeed go the way they are headed right now, they have the potential of altering our national political equations, and setting a much more interesting stage for 2014.

It is a unique set of state elections where the Congress and the BJP will hardly cross swords anywhere. On the contrary, the Left will be the Congress’s adversary in all the five states, including in Tamil Nadu and Assam where it has a small but significant footprint. These elections will, therefore, have four important consequences. One, they will leave the Congress feeling much more confident, settled. Two, they will give the BJP time to regroup and savour the defeat of its bitterest ideological enemy, the Communists. Three, these will give the Congress and the BJP at least two, if not three, Parliament sessions where they can healthily cooperate and pass some legislations and economic policies on which they have a common view. And four, and most important, this decimation of the Left, unprecedented in recent years, may just push our national politics towards clearer bipolarity.

Ever since the decline of the Congress as an unassailable national force, our politics has carried the peculiar curse of tripolarity. Classically, you would expect two ideological poles in Indian politics, with the more liberal forces (or, to put it more directly, those valuing the Muslim vote) coming under the Congress umbrella, and those that do not particularly need (or expect to get) the minority vote going with the BJP. That is why the DMK/ AIADMK, Hyderabad’s MIM and Kerala’s Muslim League are natural Congress allies, just as the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal are the BJP’s. If this was a clear, two-way division, our national politics would have been a lot more coherent post-1989. But it hasn’t been so because of a third, disruptive factor, aptly called the Third Front. It fulfils the needs of those regional parties that want the Muslim vote and yet have the Congress as their main rival in their respective states; for example, Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP in Andhra, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD in Orissa and even to some extent Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. They cannot go with the Congress because it is their main rival, or with the BJP because that will lose them the Muslim vote. So they gravitate to a third front whose nucleus and ideological and tactical powerhouse is the Left. After the results come this May 13, these parties will need to review their options, because the Left will lose the third pole status it has thrived on for nearly two decades.

This will bring the biggest change and opportunity in our national politics in a long time. These powerful regional adversaries of the Congress will have to make a choice: to stay isolated on the national stage, or to gravitate towards the NDA. The opportunity will first be the BJP’s. If it can moderate its own politics and conduct, if it has the good sense of going to both Naidu and Patnaik with a humble mea culpa on the past and a promise of following the Nitish model in their states, it will have its first chance of rebuilding a credible national alternative post-Vajpayee.

And if it has the wisdom and the large-heartedness to do this, gains will come from elsewhere too. The other Dravida party (other than the one with the UPA), for example. Even, at some point post-2012, Mayawati. Similarly, for Mulayam, Lalu, Paswan, Gowda and other regional chieftains, the Congress and UPA will emerge as their default option with the comforting shoulder of the articulate, English-speaking Left no longer available.

Exactly two months from today, therefore, India will have a rare opportunity to rebalance its politics in a manner that would be ideologically and electorally more logical than what we have had since the beginning of the coalition era. Hopefully then the phenomenon of irresponsible outside support keeping governments unsettled and governance distorted through a Treaty of Versailles kind of CMPs will be behind us, at least for now. But for this to happen, leaders of both national parties, the Congress and the BJP, will quickly need to reboot their own politics. Whoever manages the aftermath of the mini election of 2011 better will have a headstart on 2014. The best thing is, you do not even need to wait till May 13 to start working on that.

Also read: No soft Hindutva, no Left Revolution, Kejriwal establishing a new centre in Indian politics


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