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Those smaller big players

If there is any lesson from the 2011 polls, it is the arrival of regional satraps on the national stage. All the powers of old India had entered into a holy alliance to exorcise the spectre of regionalism: the Congress and the BJP, their local satraps and their proxies.

india Updated: May 21, 2011 07:10 IST

A spectre is haunting India — the spectre of regionalism. All the powers of old India had entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the Congress and the BJP, their local satraps and their proxies.

Where are the opposition parties that have not been decried as regional parties by their opponents in power? Where are the opposition parties that have not hurled back the branding reproach of parochialism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?

The assembly elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have once again confirmed that in the more ear-to-the-ground hustings of state legislations, the dog that wags the tail is the one whose nose is set close to the ground.

To put it plainly, regional parties decide the architecture of alliances, which in turn lead to poll outcomes — and not the national parties sending emissaries to firm up deals for their sole benefit.

Take the case of the stunning victory of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. The fact that Ms Banerjee called the shots in terms of pre-election seat-sharing was not only about geographical propriety. According to that logic, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) would have been able to command over the Congress and hammer out a better deal in Tamil Nadu for itself.

But with the state in which the Tamil Nadu electorate viewed its familial skimming of the exchequer’s money courtesy the A Raja facilitated 2G scam, it was not in any position to haggle with the Congress for which it now, after a thumping defeat against Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), will solely depend on for political oxygen.

At least for another term before it gets in position for its traditional turn.

The Trinamool Congress had been waiting for its turn to take over the reigns from the Left Front government for years now. It is the duration of the period that the latter has been in power — a full 34 years — that may have provided the illusion that Ms Banerjee has suddenly arrived to provide a choice to communist rule.

But the fact of the matter is that the Trinamool Congress had been rushing into political spaces where the Congress (Ms Banerjee’s original party from which she jumped ship in 2007 to sail her own freighter) had for decades feared or had been unwilling to tread. The Trinamool example highlights the fact that just by being a regional party an entity doesn’t become a force to reckon with at the state level.

As in the case of local units of national parties, regional parties too must engage in firming up their identity and political space. In this department, the Congress-led coalition, despite a last minute surge from a VS Achuthanandan-led Left Democratic Front, has made the grade.

Which brings us to the blinkered approach of arguably the most centralised party of them all, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Perhaps because of the till-now winning formula of the Left Front in West Bengal, the central committee has kept its nose of praxis out of the state unit.

No such luck in Kerala, where party general secretary Prakash Karat did the long distance damage by initially opposing the chief ministerial candidacy of VS Achuthanandan by misreading matters in the state.

The fact that Mr Achuthanandan was solely responsible for totting up the numbers for the CPI(M) to become the single largest party in Kerala — and stalling the usual anti-incumbency wave — speaks volumes for his ability to play almost catch-up.

For parties like the Congress and the BJP, the elections were a reconfirmation of who the cart is and who the horse.

And as Tarun Gogoi in Assam has shown by returning to power for the third time on the trot by using the peace and security card, empowering local franchises and ‘letting them be’ can gain dividends for the national party.

A possible lesson for the assembly polls next year in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab.