There can only be two political fronts in Indian politics!
The Third Front is a passing illusion only!
Parties must spell out their basic ideologies!
Party leaders, prime ministerial aspirants must be exposed on the TV channels and media outfits!
I write this as a long-standing Congressman (I enrolled myself as a Congress party member, as early as 1962) and a party activist and an intellectual.
This is election time. Is this also the silly season, as they say in the West? It looks like that.
Just now I read a newspaper line. It runs like this:
The power of ideas on the ideas of power!
Yes, this is all about what a political ideology is all about. As I write there is a high-power Chinese
Congress that runs on the lines of a National Peoples” Congress. The language of the Congress that has drawn up a renewed political blueprint that would be defining the basic belief system, nay, the very basic political belief system for the people of China.
In brief, the Chinese say that the Chinese believe in one-party rule, the Communist party will be the one and only party and the Chinese would reject Western style democracy, further “liberalisation” (whatever it means) and also the Congress talks in so many words issues of political stability and development, two key words but they mean totally different things in China and also, say in a country like India.
The point here is that in India the basic political issues are totally different. India is based on, let us says openly, on the Western style democracy, a Parliamentary democracy at that and also based on a written Constitution that has stood the test of time.
Our Constitution is very elaborate, unlike other major Constitutions of the world countries, in UK there is no written Constitution, in the USA, and its Constitution can be copied on 20 pages of a size pages, while even the European Union Constitution is very many pages of a bulky volume!
Also, the Indian political system is the largest democracy in the world and now we are in the midst of a General Election that would see 70 crore people voting, the largest exercise of vote in any democracy in the world.
So the stakes are high and everyone who is a leader of the party or parties, major or regional have high stakes.
In India there are so many positive developments. The Election Commission is widely admired. Yet, the recent controversies raised by the recommendations of the Chief Election Commissioner Mr.N.Gopalaswamy and the government’s almost summer rejection of his recommendations and the almost immediate appointment of Mr.Navin Chawla as the next CEC, in the midst of the General Election process on April 21st and the case now pending before the Supreme Court on the same subject-all don’t make for transparency in governance. If any, the very way the government has left the recommendations of many an expert committee or panel to go for a transparent mechanism in the appointment of members of the EC and the CEC, in particular with the involvement of the Leader of the Opposition, all don’t also speak for the sagacity or wisdom of the government. The incumbent Prime Minister also comes in for criticism for his almost subservient role in the coalition government.
Now, coming to the Indian election process under way, we see the political parties taking some adventurous stands. Almost every party seems to have taken the cue that this is the time to have the maximum demands made and the most of the opportunities in gaining more seats and more share in the power cake!
So, we see the bonhomie that seemed to have developed between the UP bosses, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sonia Gandhi had evaporated. For all practical purposes the SP-Congress alliance is over. So too the over-ambitious and over demonstrative ambition of Sharad Pawar is ebbing and lowering almost every passing day. That is the nature of his power games. So too the relations of the Congress, the principal ally and its major partners.
No one is willing to give Sonia Gandhi much room for manoeuvre and she is almost stopped at her doors. Only the DMK, the tired and tainted DMK is willing to concede the wishes of the ally. For the very reason, the supremo is on sick bed and had lost all credibility with the voters and the public and corruption is his major strength and money power seems to have been his major source of voter deception and given his desperate need to survive he might go to any extent to keep Sonia Gandhi firmly on his side.
The only new element in this election seems to be not the pre-poll alliances; it is the post-poll alliance everyone seems to be counting for their future!
Yes, the current alliance-seeking is anything but so opportunistic and so unprincipled. So, every political party, including the two major parties, namely, the Congress and the BJP, seems to be succumbing to very thin ice of somehow surviving on unprincipled alliance partners, if it comes to that.
It is here we like to forewarn on such dangerous alliance-seeking.
Such an unprincipled move is fraught with unforeseen dangers.
Such dangers might even lead to extremist elements, both left and right, nay, even to separatist and linguistic chauvinist elements.
Indian history of the recent past itself is of sufficient warnings.
Even the otherwise, weaker parties like the CPI (ML, now has become bold enough to context some 8o seats on its own! Imagine what the CPI (M), not to speak of the CPI, is capable of doing if the combined Left can acquire enough muscle.
So, let the two major parties realise, it is either the Congress or the BJP that is capable of leading any alliance at the Centre.
Other smaller parties, regional and state level parties realise that it is the post-poll scenario that should lead to a new form of poll alliance. That alliance should be based on the broad ideological paltform, one of left of centre, as the Congress ideological platform is likely to the right of centre, and the BJP led alliance partners would veer around.
Now, what is the principled alliance, if any?
This is a relevant question. A question relevant only for a few days at least, it seems.
Mr.Pranab Mukerjee, the unsung hero of the present government, thoroughly burdened with as many as head of some 55 ministerial committees, he is both foreign minister and the finance minister. One wonders whether Sonia Gandhi is trusting him or just burdening him with so much heavy load with a vengeance!
Now, in an interview to a major economic daily, Mukerjee sets out what he thinks is the major difference between the Congress and its major rival, the BJP.
What is Congress basic ideology? Mukerjee says it is the Congress after independence it is a socio-political coalition. The UPA, says he, has a common minimum programme based on ideological commitment. While the NDA alliance was, says he, based on opportunistic alliance! He also says the UPA alliance is secular while that of the NDA was communal. Centre-state ties are natural in a federal setup, says he. Disagreements give strength to the political system. Fine.
The rest of his interview is replete with wordplays. Government, a facilitator rather than a regulator etc is plain escapism. Rate of growth was the only mantra of the last five years. Unfortunately, now with the international economic recession, even this was denied by the ministers for long and now only at the election time they concede the economic crisis, now no one talks of economic growth rate!
Thank god, Mukerjee is now with the 26/11 and he has no time for anything else.
Now, as for the BJP, it is faced with a new type of dilemma. Many of its trusted allies, including the Shiv Sena, Biju Janata Dal and even the JD (U) in Bihar are not willing to give the BJP and in particular to the L.K.Advani, the chance to take things for granted when the next government formation comes.
Every other senior or regional chieftain is eyeing the Prime Ministerial gaddi.
It is also ironical the Left has developed its own strategy or the tricks of the trade and pitching for at Third Front of regional parties.
Whatever the outcome of the election results, it is clear whether the Congress can form the government or some surprise will overtake it.
Most likely, the Congress might manage to gather around itself many of the regional outfits and who knows the Communists can be brought back to support the coalition government at the Centre.
What will be the most surprising outcome is the possibility of the Congress forced to sit on the Opposition benches.
Then, the chance for a Third front candidate might arise.
If it is the BJP, then also the question would arise how long the BJP government, if at all, might last.
The proliferation of more parties is not a healthy sign. That would only contribute to the instability of the polity at the Centre.
What is needed is a new articulation of political beliefs based on some of the current ideological thoughts as we find in the West, in the USA and the Western European nations. In the USA we saw an altogether new phenomenon of Barack Obama coming as a bolt from the blue with his promise of change. A change was what the American people opted for.
Like that, in India too we need a new change. A radically new change for a more transparent political system, a totally new step to clean politics, gets rid of corruption and criminalisation.
An end to dynastic politics is what the country cries for. Unfortunately, there is return of dynastic politics in almost all parties.
So, if some new wave of disenchantment is created by a new articulation of what ails our polity, then, there is still hope that people might vote for a non-Congress government. That is to be seen as the days unfold and the parties settle down with what is possible with over-weaning ambitions of individuals and their own family concerns.
There are so many causes for serious concern in Indian polity.
Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the oldest party in the country seems to imagine that she would put together again a coalition of parties. What she has by way of a far-sighted vision for India? Almost nothing.
She also seems to imagine that by throwing up the name of Manmohan Singh as the next Prime Minister she can keep the party ready for her son to take over.
This is, in my view, a very dangerous thing to do. And whoever are party to this view, whoever advises her to take this view as the right one are in the same position of those who were once close to Indira Gandhi and who advised her to proclaim the Emergency.
Sonia Gandhi must stop and think about the long-term consequences for taking such a shallow view.
India faces real threats, first from lack of a widely held political belief. The Indian National Congress must sell out its basic political beliefs. It must believe in democracy within the party and within the country.
Now, there is no genuine transparency in the Congress party, the President is already in office for ten long years without any election whatsoever.
So too the selection of Manmohan Singh might have been an excuse last time. Not anymore.
There must be a genuine electoral process.
Let not Sonia Gandhi imagine for one moment to trust the Left as partner.
The Left, along with the new outfit like the CPI (ML) is trying to context very many seats in so many states and if the Left, the CPI (M), CPI and the CPI (ML) combine together they might go for some adventurous steps, even they might dare to suspend the Constitution or take the cue from other countries, they are the admirers or silent supporters of the Chinese system.
So, this is the time to take some clear, principled stand in aligning with the unprincipled and even authoritarian parties. So too the ties with alliances of convenience.
In major states the Congress is now zero. In TN, W.Bengal, in UP and Bihar.
There is a need to think afresh and even willing to lose seats and yet we have to forge alliance with some principled parties.
All this calls for a deeper think-tank like policy making body within the Congress, drawn by people who needn’t be close to Sonia Gandhi. They must have unimpeachable credentials.
The Congress party as the largest with the largest presence rather in all states has much at stake.
Sonia Gandhi alone can’t be left to decide things. She may be seen as a powerful leader. She is not. Her competency is yet to be tested. She is not, as can be seen from a distance, very comfortable in her roles, as a party leader, or as a “king-maker” either. Her choice of leaders, in critical high Constitutional posts are uniformly flawed. The occupants of such offices are all small persons; they have lowered the image of India in the international areas.
India needs a robust presence in the international fora and that can be provided only by people of stature and some intellectual caliber.
Sonia Gandhi hasn’t asked one single question in the last Lok Sabha or participated in any major debate and proved her calibre.
So, the country can’t be laid waste at her command for a long time.
The major political party must be saved from one such unproven individual. The sycophants around her might protest. That is a hallow gesture. That is all.
The Indian state needs a broader alliance of all major sections of the Indian society, all major regions and the people of different beliefs and ideological spectrums.
Our historical legacies are broader. Our threat perceptions to the current Indian state, from terrorists, from threats from across the borders, in our neightbourhood are all real.
We have to contain irresponsible allies and over-ambitious allies and hold them in check.
So, elections might come and go. Our men and women in power must ponder over their own inner motives and ask their conscience. Are they are there just out of some base motives or are they committed to stand up and serve the country in times of deeper crises?
These are not questions that won’t go away by just shutting our eyes and holding deaf our ears!
Indians of thinking types must answer some uncomfortable questions. The time is now and here!
Photo Courtesy : Henri Cater – Busson