India’s political journey towards regionalism marched ahead uninterrupted in these elections, as various regional parties dominated the electoral battlefield in almost all the states. All the major regional party leaders are optimism personified, for they believe that the next Indian prime minister will be one of them.
Many see regional parties as breeders of political fragmentation, instability and power-mongering. On the contrary, their role is quite beneficial. Regional parties have promoted federalisation of Indian politics in practical realms. Our quasi-federal Constitution, intrinsically biased towards centralisation, has been made region-friendly in the contemporary political dynamics. Earlier, as there was a fundamental dichotomy between various regional parties and the ruling Congress, the former constantly opposed the federal arrangements of our Constitution, demanding a complete overhaul. But the increasing penetration of regional parties in the national political edifice in the last decade has eliminated that historical trend and no aggressive postures against prevailing the federal framework have been articulated. Though in letter our Constitution is quasi-federal, in spirit our country’s politics is federal.
The political ascendancy achieved by assertive regional players has, to a large degree, incapacitated the ideological strength of separatist movements. All the erstwhile disgruntled regions where the secessionist streak was strong have seen a sea change in the last two decades. The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have proved to be regional bulwarks of national defence against the hydra-headed creatures of sectionalism and secessionism.
Their participation in coalitional arrangements in this multi-party system has made them realise that it was not necessary to stick to the regional power calculations. When one can govern all of India, why would you want to get away from it? When the whole ocean is at one’s disposal for navigation no one would prefer to sail into a pond.
In many places the regional parties have acted as forces of fusion and national cohesion. The competitive politics between, and among, regional parties in a state do not always precipitate the emergence of sectarianism and narrow parochialism. On the contrary, intense rivalry among regional parties injects moderation in their extremist postures and principles. If there is more than one regional party in a state, they are forced to enter into electoral alliances with a national party like the Congress or the BJP to register electoral success. Due to this compulsion they have to necessarily inject moderation in their ideological rigidities.
The regional parties have provided space for greater and wider political participation, thereby enhancing the political legitimacy of our democracy. By appealing to regional and emotional issues and interests like language, caste, culture and territory, they have succeeded in arousing political enthusiasm. Significantly, the electorate in far-flung areas and the bottom layers of the social ladder are brought into the democratic mainstream by these aggressive political parties. They have nurtured a participatory political culture in the country. They have also proved to be a source and a reservoir of fresh, rural, semi-urban, lower caste-oriented leadership. A whole generation of nativity-centric leadership has emerged, thereby deepening the democratic roots of our system.
Liberalisation has strengthened the political hold of the regional parties in many ways. Earlier, in the mixed economic period, all the regional party-dominated states lagged behind national party-ruled states in economic investment. But the introduction of economic liberalisation has removed the roadblocks and bottlenecks faced by the regional parties in adopting economic resource mobilisation drives. Tamil Nadu, which lagged behind the Congress-ruled states in industrial investment in the Dravidian phase of its politics, has leapt far ahead of the Congress-ruled states in the liberalisation era. The positive role of regional parties can be adduced as one of the crucial factors for the relatively better governance and economic development prevailing in many states. In the 21st century, they have definitely metamorphosed into the new iron pillars of an ascendant India.
P. Kanagaraj is a Reader in Political Science, Government Arts College, Coimbatore.