Principles - that is a word you are going to hear a lot more as parties begin re-evaluating their positions on alliances with the 2014 elections looming ever nearer. Now some may want us to believe that they are adherents of Abraham Lincoln who once said, "Important principles may, and must, be inflexible." But I rather think that comedian Groucho Marx's retort to someone who challenged him, "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them…well, I have others," is more apt for our political parties.
In recent times, we have seen JD(U) leader and Bihar's feted chief minister Nitish Kumar telling the NDA to announce its prime ministerial candidate before the year end and also adding rather archly that the candidate must have impeccable secular credentials. Let me say for him what he did not actually want to spell out - Narendra Modi cannot be the candidate even if he is the best bet for the alliance. Nitish may be the darling of the chattering classes and indeed his state's transformation is remarkable. But to insist on secular credentials when the BJP will be the locomotive which will pull the alliance along suggests either extreme naiveté or double standards. Nitish is no political novice. He was and is perfectly aware that a party which holds the building of the Ram mandir dear to its heart cannot be secular in the true sense of the word. Yet, he came into this alliance with his eyes wide open.
Now that there is a possibility that the BJP, the first among equals in this alliance, may plump for Modi, Nitish is all huffy about it. Yet, he says he believes in the NDA and will not leave it. I suspect that this is his way of telling the UPA that it should make him an offer he cannot refuse. But whether the UPA will do so and jettison his bête noire Lalu Prasad is not clear. All I am saying that if you joined an alliance in the full knowledge of its political predilections and principles, it smacks of extreme opportunism to turn around later and act injured if that party behaves true to form.
Similarly, the allies who jumped onto the UPA bandwagon are guilty of the same kind of duplicity. I am astounded by the effrontery of the Left in UPA 1 when it went red in the face trying to prevent the nuclear deal and take a stand against US hegemony and western imperialism. No doubt, time may have stood still in the AKG Bhavan, but the Left's leaders were driven by a desire for power when they threw in their lot with the Congress. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh never said that he is a socialist of the same bent as the comrades and neither did he indicate that he is averse to better ties with the US. Yet, when he pushed forward his nuclear policy and his economic policies, the Left acted like outraged Victorian ladies and screamed blue murder. The result is that it had to exit into near oblivion.
Then we come to our lady of the lamentations, Mamata Banerjee. She knew full well that the Congress was committed to FDI in retail. Yet, when the moment came she thought that a sudden rediscovery of principles would make her the Joan of Arc of Kalighat. The Congress stood its ground and Mamata had to go back home to wreak more havoc on her hapless state.
What parties don't seem to understand is that they also have a duty to allow the government of the day to function. They have a duty to see that governance is the first priority. Their injured sentiments are of no great interest to the people who elected them, rather the voters would be much happier if they got down to the work instead of perpetually airing grievances. There are common minimum programmes which seem to be forgotten soon after the elections. Like in a marriage ceremony, if parties have reservations, they should speak up at the time the alliance is formed or forever be silent.
If Nitish has so many reservations about the BJP without whom he cannot really hope to enter the power structure at the Centre, then he should walk out well before the next government gets going. Similarly, if the DMK is so offended by the Lanka policy or the telecom policy or whatever its gripe of the moment is, then it should absolutely refuse to breathe the same air as the Congress. These second thoughts on the part of allies of both formations are costing the exchequer and the country dearly. Policies get stuck in needless quibbling over principles and ideologies, foreign policy becomes a pawn in internal political games and the economic policy becomes a bargaining chip. Let me say this, no one believes that the allies are motivated by pristine principles when they raise objections to the governments they belong to or support. They are just trying to wangle the best deal that they can for themselves. Which is fine, but please do it before the government is formed and once you are in it, stop acting as though you are a pie-eyed little girl who was led up the garden path. Or we will begin to suspect that you really are guided more by the Groucho Marxian principles than the majestic ones of America's greatest president.