Litmus test for India’s Third Front

Regional parties are the integral components of Indian democracy, will they survive this scorching summer?
Litmus test for India’s Third Front
Representational Pic

Indian constitution amalgamates remarkable features of various democratic establishments. It guarantees its people Westminster parliamentary system with single member plurality elections.

Political theorists Siana Glouharova and Oliver Heath write,"In a seemingly major challenge to Duverger's laws, India has developed a large multi party system despite its SMP electoral system.

Part of the answer is that the extreme multi-party system in the all-India parliament masks the nature of party competition. Electoral competition can be thought of as a series of different regional level two-party contests." But first two decades of twenty first century saw strong undulations towards dual party system. India's third front is also undergoing several transformations to fight for their existence.

Losing Ground

Identity politics centred at PM Narendra Modi has done agreat harm to the regional parties of North India. In 2014 General Elections,Samajwadi Party's (SP) vote share declined by 0.05% while Nationalist CongressParty suffered a loss of 0.58% in vote share. Oppositely, BJP's vote share withthe face indentity of Narendra Modi saw a jump of 12.20%.

The recent trend observed in Northern India is the politicsof alliance. The alliance here doesn't mean any allegiance to centralcoalitions like BJP led National Democratic Front (NDA) or INC led UnitedProgressive Alliance (UPA) but of regional parties which are sectionallyallying to counteract BJP.

Once staunch opponents in the state of Uttar Pradesh, SP and BSP have now come condensed for a merger.  This has significantly divided voters on the ideological ground. BSP supremo Mayawati has given maximum tickets to Brahmins.

Party think-tank believes that this attempt will give a profit over the BJP and also prevent caste swing towards the Congress. But this stands against the ideology with which Kanshi Ram started a new party–to stand for Dalits. Giving away the political power to people of dominant castes, like Brahmins or Thakurs, will alienate voters belonging to traditionally oppressed castes like Jatavas or Chamars.

Nepotism is an issue still alive among voters of new generation. AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, which has for long targeted the DMK for dynastic politics, has now fielded kin of its leaders in General Elections 2019.

This has drawn public criticism. Drawbacks like this are set to determine voter's orientation in a progressive era like ours.

Hitlerian Rash

A journalist was arrested in Odisha for offensive comments on Konark Temple. Another journalist was detained in Manipur under draconian National Security Act for calling CM Biren Singh a Modi puppet.

Odisha is under the rule of BJD, a regional party, and Manipur's government is also a coalition government of regional parties headed by BJP. Bhobishyoter Bhoot (Ghost of the Future), Anik Dutta's fourth film, was taken off in West Bengal because it allegedly made strong remarks against Mamata Banerjee's TMC, again a regional party. Incidents as such indicate how dictatorial regional parties could be. These are certainly not segments of democracy and may distance vote capital.

Political incorrectness

Janata Dal (United), led by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, brokeaway from Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in 2017 as BJP allegedly threatened JD(U)with CBI probe in a two decades old murder case. Ex-BJP strongman Uday Singhtold me in an interview that Nitish couldn't afford fate like Lalu. Regionalparties in India usually suffer vindictiveness at the hand of national party atthe centre, many concur with the incumbent leadership.

The role of regional parties

There have been many times when the role of regional partieswas strictly evident. India saw several inter provincial disputes, notablyNarmada and Godavari River disputes. The disputes surfaced because of presenceof strong regional political forces which were opportunist but democratic. TheRiver water disputes like Narmada and Godavari emerged because of failed mutualadjudication.

For instance, in Cauvery dispute, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka led by regional forces confronted each other for their water share available in the Cauvery basin. Tamil Nadu unhappy with Karnataka's response to the demand of three-fourths of water sought Supreme Court's intervention.

Tamil Nadu pleaded that its farmers needed more water for the cultivation of samba. The Karnataka government responded by saying it wouldn't be able to release any more Cauvery water, as low rainfall during the monsoon had left its reservoirs half-empty.

However, SC didn't rule in the favour of Tamil Nadu. But the importance of regional parties, no matter chauvinist, was apparent. If there had been any national party ruling both states, cauvery dispute might never reach any resolution leaving farmers in dilapidated state.

The fate of Independent(s)

With regional parties, independent candidature is a majorrepresentation of regional voices. Only three independent candidates could beelected to 16th Lok Sabha in the house of 543. The vote share faced adepreciation of 2.17%. Philanthropists like eminent director Prakash Jha (in2004) were defeated because of their independent candidature. In presentsituation where Modi wave is not a myth it will be next to impossible forindependent candidates to gain ground.

Young political icons like Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan (basedin UP) and Jignesh Mevani are being seen as accepted leaders of Dalitcommunity. Ravan has announced to challenge Narendra Modi in his constituencyand BJP bastion Varanasi. The people independent of any dogmatic leaning onlyhave the ability to become leaders and challenge the powerful incumbents. Themotive of such independent leaders is welcoming. This independent cadre maystitch the chasms of regional diplomacy.

Fund Crunch: A major issue

The political mobilization of corporates towards India's twolargest parties- BJP and INC, and their amicable capital treatment of thesepolitical parties hint at a larger picture in making. It is quiteunderstandable that the political dynamics of this century is a trade war. Intruth, industrialists will only favour those who are capable of making governmentand mitigating their difficulties. Regional parties usually suffer creditcrunch and this alleviates their pain and obstructs their campaign.

To deal with this, regional parties are now changing theirfunding models. For instance, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was seen organizing dinnersand lunches to raise fund. DMK which finds base in Tamil Nadu has developed astrategy of honouring maximum contributors; M. Karunanidhi, in 2014, gave goldrings to the secretaries who contributed maximum election fund.

Parties of Jammu & Kashmir have been allegedly receivingfunds from secessionist sources. Even miniscule hint at it may invite flak fromcentral government which doesn't want presence of any dissident parties in thevalley.  The recent crackdown on Jamaat-e-Islamiand JKLF is a testimony to this fact. Parties based in J&K and India'seastern states concomitant to chaotic turbulence have to revise their fundingtechniques and adopt strong measures to maintain ledger accounts, hence toavoid censure because of any biased scrutiny.

Regional parties despite of their oddities add colours tothe world's largest democracy, their existence will determine the existence ofIndian democracy.

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