Challenge before Regional Parties
THE BJP conducted a high-voltage campaign in the just-concluded Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) election, the results of which are awaited. Fresh from their victory in the Dubbaka assembly by-election, which they snatched from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the BJP conducted a vicious communal campaign spearheaded by its national leadership ranging from Amit Shah to Adityanath.
The BJP went all out against the TRS and chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. They were accused of being dynastic, corrupt and guilty of Muslim appeasement alluding to the alliance with the AIMIM in the previous assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The intention was clear – the BJP was using the corporation election to target the TRS and its supreme leader, in order to project itself as the only alternative. If the TRS and its leadership were taken by surprise at this offensive, they have only themselves to blame.
Ever since the Modi government came to power in 2014, the TRS has been adopting a stand of not opposing the Modi government. It had supported most of the anti-democratic legislations in parliament. Not only that, it has been conspicuously silent about the Hindutva agenda of the BJP with the sole exception being its opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
By concentrating its fire against a declining Congress so far, the TRS has allowed the BJP to make advances in Telangana. The Lok Sabha election of 2019 sounded a warning – the BJP won four seats and got nearly 20 per cent of the vote in the state.
The predicament that the TRS is facing is similar to what other regional parties have experienced. All the regional parties – whether in power or without – are faced with a rampaging BJP which is threatening to erode their support bases or marginalising them as subordinate allies to the Hindutva forces.
Most of the regional parties are professedly secular in nature but their opportunism, often dictated by the exigencies of state politics, made them ally with the BJP at some time or the other in the last two decades. Except for the RJD and Samajwadi Party, these parties have had some alliance with the BJP at different points of time.
What has happened to these parties is exemplified by the plight of the Asom Gana Parishad. The AGP had first allied with the BJP in the 2001 assembly elections. Since then, its on and off relations with the BJP have led to its decline with its base steadily eroding and shifting to the BJP. The current chief minister of the BJP-led government, Sarbananda Sonowal, was earlier a leader of the AGP, who defected to the BJP in 2011. The AGP is today a pale shadow of itself while sitting in the BJP government as a marginalised partner.
The Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh are two other examples of parties which allied with the BJP to their cost. When the TDP broke with the BJP before the last Lok Sabha election, it saw quite a few of its members of parliament defecting to the BJP. The association with the BJP in the past corroded the image of the BSP as an advocate of dalits and the bahujan.
The Trinamul Congress in West Bengal was a partner in the Vajpayee government and allied with the BJP in the 1999 Lok Sabha election. By unleashing terror and physical suppression of the Left, it facilitated the rise of the BJP. After rearing the communal monster in Bengal politics, Mamata Banerjee now finds herself at the receiving end of the BJP’s ministrations.
The Biju Janata Dal government of Naveen Patnaik in Odisha and the YSRCP government of Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh have a record of cooperation with the Modi government at the centre. They have directly or indirectly supported all the major legislations brought by the Modi government, including the three farm bills adopted in the last session of parliament.
The BJP has already emerged as the main opposition to the BJD in Odisha and it will go all-out to defeat it in the next assembly election. In Andhra Pradesh, both the YSRCP and the TDP are vying with each other to win the favour of the BJP, regardless of the price that they will have to pay for such unscrupulous politics.
Some of these parties and governments are under constant threat of central agencies like the CBI and ED being unleashed on their leaders and families. This has led them to be muted even when the authoritarian centralisation drive of the Modi government rides roughshod over the rights of states and the federal principle.
The regional parties are in a crisis stemming from the challenge thrown up by the new era of one-party dominance of the BJP. Many of the regional parties grew by fighting against the Congress and came to power by defeating the Congress and ousting it from power. The DMK, TDP, AGP, BJD, Akalis – all fall in this category. Despite the emergence of the BJP as the hegemonic force, these parties, with the exception of the DMK, have not been able to reorient themselves to the new reality and continue within the old framework of politics. As a result, given the decline of the Congress in many of these states, the BJP has been able to fill the vacuum without much resistance from the major regional party concerned.
This does not mean that the regional parties should necessarily line up with their old bete noir, the Congress, but to recognise and work against the BJP as their main opponent.
By their stance of not opposing the authoritarian BJP government at the centre, they have made themselves vulnerable to BJP attacks from the flanks. The regional parties, who sought compromise with the Modi government and refused to counter Hindutva politics, must also draw some lessons from what has happened to the regional parties which had allied with the BJP and were part of the Modi government. The Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena, who were longtime allies in the NDA, have quit the government and the alliance. The JD(U) and Nitish Kumar have been cut to size in the Bihar assembly elections with the BJP using the Lok Janshakti Party, another NDA ally, to weaken Nitish Kumar.
The BJP is out to establish its complete hegemony and will steamroller even its allies into total submission. The RSS drive is to homogenise society. All diverse social, cultural and regional identities are sought to be smothered by Hindutva. This threatens the existence of regional parties.
The choice is stark for them – either fight the BJP-RSS combine politically and ideologically, or, surrender and wither away. For the sake of democracy and federalism, the regional parties have a vital choice to make.
(December 2, 2020)