Originally Published 2012-03-15 00:00:00 Published on Mar 15, 2012
Regional parties should not think of federalism merely in terms of anti-Congressism. This seems to be the tendency, with regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa hyphenating regional concerns with their own political goals.
Federalism is a reality, not a shibboleth
The election results of UP, Punjab and Manipur have once again reiterated the growing relevance of regional parties in India’s politics and the dismal condition of national parties. While the analysis for the debacles and triumphs will continue, the fact that national parties are out of sync with regional realities and aspirations has clearly come to the fore.

In fact, even before the verdict of the elections was out, recent developments in the realms of India’s foreign policy and counter-terrorism policies, such as setting up of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), clearly bring to the fore the vast chasm between the Centre and states and emphasised the increasing influence of regional parties on issues which were earlier considered the prerogative of the central government. Otherwise, the NCTC would have been up and running by March 1. A January 11 order of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had approved the creation of the agency to maintain data of terror modules, terrorists, their associates, friends, family and supporters.

In the realm of foreign policy, chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and Nitish Kumar of Bihar have been assertive - though in different ways. While Nitish Kumar wants to project his state as a bridge between India and Nepal, Mamata Banerjee with her aggressive stance on the Teesta treaty ensured that the treaty had to be shelved and that the Union Government faced international embarrassment. On counter-terrorism too, states, especially non-Congress ones, have opposed the government’s move. The main opposition party, the BJP, supported the concerns of all these states, saying that the NCTC was a threat to federalism.

More recently on the issue of water, the Supreme Court has given a judgment in favour of interlinking of rivers, which was a brainchild of the erstwhile BJP-led NDA government. The fact that the BJP understood Chief Minister’s concerns on the issue of NCTC while supporting the linking of rivers is extremely ironic since many states, most notably Punjab, have been opposing it. SAD, an important ally of the BJP, has also opposed it. This raises an interesting question.

Was the BJP’s opposition to the NCTC based more on political calculations for the 2014 polls rather than a genuine respect for federalism or was it a means of wooing regional parties to the NDA alliance for the 2014 elections - in a fashion similar to the crass minority-wooing tactics of the Congress Party? And this also brings us to a larger question: of whether national parties have reconciled to the growth of regional parties, as a consequence of the latter being more connected with regional aspirations, or do they still hyphenate regional demands with the compulsions of coalition politics.

At the moment, the answer to both seems to be in the affirmative with both the national parties, more so the Congress, being out of sync with regional aspirations. Here, it is not only regional parties who are at variance with them but even their own state units. There is no better example than states such as Andhra Pradesh and Punjab where the state units of the Congress party took a different stand on issues pertaining to Telangana and water disputes. So rather then blame the compulsions of coalition politics and the narrow thinking of regional parties for all the ills which afflict governance it is time that national parties try to connect more with the aspirations of individuals living in far-flung places from the national capital.

Similarly regional parties should not think of federalism merely in terms of anti-Congressism. This seems to be the tendency, with regional satraps such as Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa hyphenating regional concerns with their own political goals.

It is thus time that all political parties learnt their lessons. The Congress should realise that being patronising won’t do any good. The regional parties should realise emotiveness won’t pay electoral dividends, as is clearly evident from the UP election results.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: tehelka.com

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