Both the ruling Congress and the main Opposition BJP have lost considerable political stature and credibility over the past week’s street theatre in the capital. The two parties which had till now claimed the leadership of contending coalitions of smaller regional parties and groups can hardly afford to do so anymore.
Indeed, the real impact of the pathetic lack of leadership displayed by these so-called national parties is that various, far more virile, state-level chieftains may well seize the political initiative in the lead up to what now seems to be a not-so-distant mid-term poll.
The Congress, bolstered by two successive UPA victories in national elections, was hoping to become the predominant party it was once upon a time.
But thanks to a series of juvenile bungles ever since the season of scams erupted late last year, it clearly lacks the moral authority any longer to effectively lead a larger coalition, let alone enhance the party’s reach and standing.
As a matter of fact, the muddle-headed approach by the top leadership of the government and the party — vacillating between guilty acquiescence to mavericks like Anna Hazare and charlatans like Ramdev and brash crackdowns on unarmed sleeping protesters — has ruthlessly exposed the hollowness within the Congress.
At the same time, the Opposition, the BJP, almost like a partner to the Congress in a Punch and Judy show, has further diminished its already fading image. Having ceded valuable public space in the battle against corruption in high places to sanctimonious busybodies openly hostile to the entire political class, the BJP’s belated attempt to clamber on to the Ramdev bandwagon has turned out to be a farce.
In the absence of a towering figure like AB Vajpayee or at least a street-smart politician like Pramod Mahajan, we have been treated to needlessly excessive hyperbole conjuring up Jallianwala Bagh and Emergency as well as the ludicrous jig at Rajghat by a top leader like Sushma Swaraj.
The intrinsic weakness of the two parties is evident from the way they are preparing for their most immediate and crucial political test — assembly polls in the country’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh. Significantly, both the Congress and the BJP, instead of turning to credible local state leaders, have imported failed politicians from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh — Digvijaya Singh and Uma Bharti — to mastermind their election campaigns.
The fact that both leaders have more enemies in their own parties than outside underlines the disarray within the two parties.
In sharp contrast, state chief minister Mayawati has been swift to seize the advantage. Having countered Rahul Gandhi’s foray into land battles in western UP through a radical new land acquisition law, the BSP supremo has further twisted the knife by promptly condemning the police action at Ramlila Maidan, which makes a mockery of Congress criticism of excesses by her own government at Bhatta-Parsaul.
Her simultaneous ban on Ramdev and his cohorts from entering UP to prevent any kind of law and order problem is a lesson for the UPA government on the approach it should have taken to the baba right from the outset.
Similarly, various strong regional leaders like Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik, while being quick to condemn the arbitrary crackdown at Ramlila Maidan, have pointedly refrained from the theatrics indulged in by the BJP leadership.
Others like Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee have virtually ignored the political drama in New Delhi with the latter for instance focussing on striking a rapprochement with the Gorkhaland separatists in northern West Bengal. All these leaders are proactive politicians who do not run away from the responsibilities of power unlike the timid and vacillating leaderships of the national parties.
As the minimalist politics of the Congress and the BJP with their obsolete bogeys of Hindu fascism and Emergency regimes plays out, the time may be coming for more relevant regional leaders to take charge of the emerging political scenario.
(Ajoy Bose is a Delhi-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal)