Moving towards new federalism
It’s a cliché to say India is a vibrant democracy. With two rounds of elections every year caused by different state Assemblies going to polls at different times, politics continuously overshadows governance.
Given the short gap between the two elections a defeated leader becomes the victor in six months. This has seldom given an opportunity to discuss what shape the Indian polity has taken with frequent elections in the past decade or how these elections and their results have impacted our democracy.
Frequent polls have led to a situation wherein party leaderships are focussed on short-term gains and party top brass in concentrating powers in its own hands. With the exception of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left, if it still matters in national politics, most of the parties are running in proprietorship module. Today’s Notebook will try to examine the future of some of Indian polity in light of the frequent elections.
In more than a dozen major states today, regional parties play a dominant role and in the important states of Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, they have completely dwarfed the role of the two national parties –BJP and the Congress. In the several other states the regional parties are forces to reckon with - and in the case of Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, they are the ruling party.
In states like Punjab, the Akali Dal is in power in alliance with the BJP, whereas in neighbouring Haryana, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has held power in the past. In Jammu and Kashmir, the regional outfits - National Conference and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have been ruling the state alternatively in association with the Congress and now the BJP.
South of the Vindhyas, in Maharashtra since the 1990s, the power has rested with the national-regional party coalitions. First, it was the BJP-Shiv Sena, then the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP, and now again the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition. In Karnataka next door, the Janata Dal (Secular) is more of a regional outfit than a national party. They too have had Chief Minister in past in alliance with both the BJP and the Congress. In Jharkhand as well, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) of Shibu Soren continues to be a force to reckon with as Soren and his son Hemant have held the Chief Ministerial chair.
The underlining feature of these parties is that either they are family enterprises like the Samajwadi Party, Akali Dal, JD(S), Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, INLD, Telangana Rashtra Sangha , Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh, and DMK in Tamil Nadu, or proprietorship ventures controlled by one single leader like J Jayalalitha's AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, Mayawati’s BSP in Uttar Pradesh, and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal, who may not be overtly promoting their family.
These parties, in several cases, have closely identified with a particular community, which has formed their core vote bank. In other cases, they have promoted regional ethnic issues to come to be considered as guardians of regional sub-nationalism. This has worked effectively for them and in some cases, the mantle has been transformed to next generation. For parties like PDP, National Conference, and BSP transfer of power was smooth while others like AIADMK and Telugu Desam saw bitter political battles before succession was settled.
Parties like the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, BJD and TRS are still being led by their founders, thus, the issue of succession is still to gain centre stage, though by making Akhilesh Yadav the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh has indicated about his choice of heir. In the case of BSP and AIADMK, their supreme leaders have kept the succession line close to their chests.
A quick look at the composition, history, and leadership of these parties clearly show that given their limited areas of operation and influence, they are better run in the unitary model than creating a federal structure. To delegate power and how much is something which should bother a leadership only when it’s in the expansion mould and acquiring a national face.
Given the presence and influence, there are just two national parties today – the ruling BJP and the principal Opposition - the Congress. BJP is on ascendance vis-a-vis the Congress, but it cannot be said to be same when it comes to a challenge from a regional party. The Narendra Modi-led BJP has been successful in electoral battles for the state Assemblies where the principal opponent had been the Congress.
In all the states where there is a BJP Chief Minister, the role of leader of opposition rests with the Congress. Be it Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Assam, Maharashtra, Goa, or Arunachal Pradesh, the ruling BJP has to face the Congress as Opposition. Similarly in Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, which have Congress government, the principal Opposition is BJP.
In some of the states like Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, where the regional parties are in power, the presence of the BJP is negligible. Similarly, the in the country’s politically most significant state of Uttar Pradesh, the Congress as of now is completely on the margins. Though BJP did commendably in the state in the last Lok Sabha poll, the Assembly polls in 2017 would be a litmus test.
This unique division of power between the regional forces and national parties reflect towards an extraordinary trend of power-sharing.
This situation now demands the Union government to get together with the regional governments to have its agenda pushed through. On the positive side, this could lead to putting on the back burner contentious issues like the Ram Temple, but it also has the potential to bog down the Centre by the demands brought forward by regional groups.
This trend can mar interests of national security. For example, the state parties, ironically in association with the BJP, during the UPA regime stonewalled efforts to create security hubs across the country. If the difference in electorate’s choice of parties in the polls for different levels of federal structure continues in the same manner, it would be very challenging for any Union government to prevent shrinkage in its unitary form.
(The author is President Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views are strictly personal.)