Jul 4, 2008

India - When two is company

With Mulayam Singh Yadav set to join hands with the Congress, the doctrine of equidistance from Congress and Sangh parivar is finally and formally dead. It is a different matter that its proponents, prominently the erstwhile Socialists, never practised it faithfully.
Five of the six constituents of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) have had an alliance with the BJP at some point in time. With the Samajwadi Party (SP) inclined to go the Congress way, they will have to make their choices soon, their semantics about staying united notwithstanding. With the Congress and BJP both managing to lead successful alliances — the UPA and the NDA respectively — holding on to any middle ground has become an impossibility. There can only be two fronts.
Mulayam Singh Yadav was the last man standing, among the Socialists. All others have moved to either side already — for instance, the jd(u)’s Nitish Kumar is with the BJP and the RJD’s Lalu Prasad is with the Congress. Both were together for a long time, as votaries of non-Congress, non-Sangh politics. In states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat — where no vestige of erstwhile Socialist groups exists — individual leaders have chosen between the Congress and the BJP. Mulayam Singh Yadav stood till the last, locked in parallel battles with the Congress and the BJP. Now it is almost certain that the SP and the Congress will fight the next elections in alliance, because he finds “communalism a bigger enemy”.
The chaotic fragmentation of Indian politics, that led to numerous parties based on caste and regional identities, is now settling down into an equilibrium. Both at the state and national level, a bipolar system is taking shape. In 2005, in Bihar Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP could not withstand this polarisation; in 2007 in UP, national parties — the Congress and the BJP — faced humiliating defeats when the SP and the BSP emerged primary contenders.
Recently in Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda’s JDS dreamt of being kingmaker in a hung assembly but ended up a distant third as voters gave an almost clear mandate in favour of the BJP. Parties and individuals who try to command influence disproportionate to their support base are increasingly facing the heat. At the national level, the Congress and the BJP will remain the nuclei of two poles, both set to win anything around 150 Lok Sabha seats each. No combination is likely to cross the halfway mark of 273 without including either the BJP or the Congress. Any party that hopes to stay relevant in national politics will have to choose between these two. Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh sensed this reality and jumped in favour of the ‘lesser evil’ at the first opportunity.
The Left and the CPI(M) had sensed this political reality long ago, but unfortunately painted themselves into a corner over the Indo-US nuclear deal debate. When the campaign was peaking for the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, the then CPI(M) general secretary, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, had declared that “there are only two fronts”. In the two-party congresses that followed, in 2005 and in 2008, the CPI(M) called for a ‘Third Alternative’. Ironically, it was the Left that theorised on the ‘lesser evil’ concept also, for instance, while making indirect alliance with the BJP in 1989 to defeat the Congress. Later, they decided that the BJP is the bigger evil and the Congress can be an ally. The Left has been complaining about Congress policies since 2004, but continued with its outside support to the UPA government to keep the ‘bigger evil’ the BJP out of power. Now they have decided to part ways with the Congress, but to what end?
Non-Samajwadi Party regional parties in the UNPA are likely to drift towards the BJP sooner or later. One thought, between the UPA and the NDA, the choice was obvious for the Left. By walking out on the UPA, does the Left want to fade into political insignificance?

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