February 16, 2014

The Emerging Alternative

Prakash Karat

AS the Lok Sabha elections draw near, it has become clear that the electoral battle will be between not two but three combinations – the Congress-led UPA, the BJP-led NDA and the non-Congress non-BJP combination of parties. NO TWO-WAY CONTEST This was not what the BJP or the Congress had envisaged a few months ago. After Narendra Modi was anointed as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP with the intervention of the RSS in September last year, there was a veritable media blitz of the Modi for PM campaign. After the Congress decided that Rahul Gandhi would be at the helm of the Congress campaign, the fight was portrayed as one between Modi, the doer, versus an inept Rahul Gandhi. This was an ideal combat for the BJP with all the odds in favour of Modi. However, the falsity of such a staged contest has become apparent in the past few weeks. This is not going to be a contest between two leaders, or two parties, or even two alliances. The run-up to the Lok Sabha elections is taking place in the background of a deteriorating economy. Rampant price rise, loss of livelihood of poor peasants and agricultural workers and the growing ranks of the unemployed are accompanied by miserable living conditions with health, education and housing facilities beyond the reach of the poor. These are the results of the neo-liberal policies assiduously pursued by the Manmohan Singh government. Loot of natural resources and massive corruption are its outcome. The social impact of this rapacious neo-liberal regime is seen in the widespread and horrific attacks on women and the brutal repression on people fighting for their rights. The responsibility for all these rests squarely on the Congress and the UPA. The Congress is, thus, fast losing ground among the people and is faced with an electoral debacle. The popular anger against the Congress is sought to be capitalised on by the BJP. But the cure offered by Narendra Modi is worse than the disease. He champions an aggressive capitalism which will only worsen the plight of the people. Underpinning his “growth” agenda is a vicious majority communalism which feeds on the discontent spawned by the corrupt Congress rule. But the reach of Modi and the BJP is limited not only by the latter’s organisational influence but also by the fact that in a number of states, there are parties and forces who are in opposition to the Congress and contending to win over the people by offering alternative political platforms other than that provided by the BJP. ALTERNATIVE POLE The recent efforts to bring together the non-Congress secular opposition parties have drawn attention to this alternative pole in Indian politics. The regional parties constitute the bedrock of this emerging alternative. When combined with the Left parties, it acquires the shape of an all-India alternative. In the last two Lok Sabha elections held in 2004 and 2009, the combined vote percentage polled by the Congress and the BJP was below 50 per cent. It was, in fact, 46.7 per cent in 2004 and 47.4 per cent in 2009. Since then, the state assembly elections in various states have shown the strength of the regional parties, which were able to win substantial support and form governments. These parties like the AIADMK, the Samajwadi Party, the Biju Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) have decided to be part of the non-Congress, non-BJP combination. They also include other regional parties like the Janata Dal (Secular), Asom Gana Parishad and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. It may be recalled that on October 30 last year, a Convention was held against Communalism and for People’s Unity. This was attended by fourteen parties. Except for the NCP, which is part of the UPA, all the other parties share a common goal of fighting both the BJP and the Congress. Of these, eleven parties are represented in parliament. It is these eleven parties which have decided to come together to present an alternative to the Congress and the BJP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. They may be joined by some other parties who are today not in parliament. VIRULENT BJP REACTION The announcement that these parties are coming together to constitute what is called by the media as the “third front” has alarmed the BJP. There has been a spate of statements and speeches by the BJP leaders attacking the third front as “illusory”, “a failed experiment” and “unacceptable to the people”. Narendra Modi has attacked the third front as “third grade”. The reason for such a virulent reaction from the BJP is evident – as long as the electoral battle was framed in terms of “Congress versus BJP” and “Modi versus Rahul”, the BJP was riding high on the expectations that all the anti-Congress discontent of the people could be harvested by it. But with the emergence of an electoral alternative to the Congress and the BJP, the whole equation has been upset and the BJP’s hollow claims are being exposed. In contrast to the BJP’s projection of an authoritarian leader based on majority communalism, the non-Congress secular opposition combination is based on a totally different paradigm. The Left and the regional parties are strong votaries of the federal principle. This will be reflected in the coming together of parties, whose separate identities and autonomy, will be respected. This will also enable the Left parties to utilise the election campaign to propagate the alternative policies which are a counter to the neo-liberal policies. JOINT DECLARATION The eleven parties have decided to hold a meeting after the current parliament session where they will announce the formation of this alternative. There will be a declaration which will set out the basic framework, the principles and the direction of this alternative. Given the nature of the parties that are getting together, it is not necessary that there should be an electoral alliance or seat adjustments between all these parties. Since many of these parties are state based, it is not feasible to have seat adjustments with other constituent parties in other states. But all these parties can pool their strength from their respective states for an all-India combination. Such a combination which sets out a framework of political positions and policies as against the Congress and the BJP will strengthen the efforts of the constituent political parties in the elections in their respective states and areas. Such a non-Congress, non-BJP platform is going to provide an alternative to the people who are fed up with the Congress and will also effectively counter the BJP’s claim to be the alternative. The emergence of such an alternative is going to be the rallying point for all the secular-democratic forces in the country who want to see an end to Congress rule and who want to prevent the party with a communal ideology coming to power at the Centre.