Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s observation that regionalism is distorting the national agenda is timely and relevant because there is an urgent need to usher in balanced development in the country. Regional parties have often obstructed the best of the plans, forcing the Centre to change its stance on vital issues for its survival. The national-regional clash has become more pronounced, especially after coalition politics became the order of the day.
Even parties declared as ‘national’ outfits by the Election Commission often behave like regional parties due ideological considerations and compulsions arising out of their areas of influence. This conflict between the Centre and the regional outfits has retarded development and has also led to political instability. Both the UPA and the NDA have suffered due to the growing influence of regional parties.
The PM’s remarks assume significance since they were made days before the start of the winter session where the Indo-US nuclear deal may be debated. The observations could also have a bearing on the forthcoming one-day session of the All India Congress Committee to be held in New Delhi on Saturday.
Remember how the TDP led by Chandrababu Naidu had held the AB Vajpayee government to ransom and forced it to extend extraordinary concessions to Andhra Pradesh at the expense of other states? The UPA faces a similar situation: it has become hostage to the demands of the Left on the nuclear deal. Allies like the DMK have also forced the government to go slow on some of its other plans.
In addition, parties with regional bases like the RJD, NCP and the PDP continue to flex their muscles since they have started believing that the onus of running the coalition is more on the Congress even as the general election approaches. These parties want to maintain a neutral stance on the eve of an election and keep a safe distance from whatever is perceived as negative policies of the UPA. In the end, the Congress is expected to bear the brunt of these political foxtrots.
In addition, the secular space that the Congress had hoped to capture is becoming smaller thanks to outfits like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. They can beat the Congress at its own game. In fact, the Congress may now be understanding that an overemphasis on minority politics is not getting them minority votes, except in extraordinary situations like in Gujarat. In fact, it is alienating the party from the majority community. The caste politics unleashed by Mandalisation has thrown up new problems that no political party including the Congress can solve.
Ideally, national development and regional aspirations should go hand-in-hand. Instead, regionalism with caste combinations is making things easy for only those castes which have supported the outfit at the expense of others.
Long-term goals and targets are being neglected. As far as the N-deal is concerned, the UPA constituents (minus the Congress) seem to be of the view that remaining in power is more important than the future of the country.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s remarks at Jhajjar in Haryana (later played down by her party) that those who were opposing the nuclear deal were opponents of development need to be viewed in the proper context.
The Left seem to be more interested in preserving their ideological stance against imperialistic forces without realising that in this country. The Congress track record in this respect is better than the other players.
The Congress was never comfortable with coalition politics and most regional parties have their origins in anti-Congressism (including those who are in the UPA). The BJP thrived on it and successfully formed the NDA. The Left is banking on the same formula now. The PM’s observations on regionalism are important because they indicate the desire for taking the country towards a two-party system. In a democracy, plurality of opinion is very important but a strong country is more important if India wants to become a global player. Indira Gandhi used to often warn about ‘Balkanisation’ and termed the ‘sons of soil’ theory as pernicious. Regionalism in our country, in most instances, is taking the country towards these two ends. Every party has to realise that no politics is above the country and, therefore, to harm the progress of the country is not in the national interest. There are also doubts about whether the two-party system can exist but two formations — the NDA and UPA — had provided broad indicators towards polarisation, which continues to be fluid with the Left having its own agenda coupled with others who could be part of the potential third front.
It is also to be seen whether the Congress after being let down by its allies on the Indo-US nuclear deal goes in for a fresh strategy and aspires once again to come to power on its own steam. The AICC session may provide a glimpse of the party’s future agenda. The PM has spoken the truth and it is for us to give up narrow perspectives and allow the vision of a modern and powerful India to become a reality. Between us.