Stage is set for a Federal Front
With Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik floating the idea of a Third or Federal Front, and the impending exit of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) looking increasingly plausible, time has come for an alliance of a different kind to take centre stage. And it is certainly not the kind of strategic power-sharing that the Congress or BJP have demonstrated over the long years of coalition politics, with both the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-RSS-combine-led NDA now duly exposed as nothing but opportunistic arrangements following the cold logic of pre- and post-election arithmetic. With coalition politics having firmly established its grasp on the Indian polity, elections and government formations have been reduced to merely getting a share of the power pie at the Centre, rather than parties from different states and representing different interest groups coming together on the basis of shared belief and core principles that cannot be compromised upon. While the UPA loosely flashes the banner of a vague sort of secularism, the NDA, on the other hand, aggregates around the connected issues of religious identity and cultural nationalism overriding any other concern. In this context, the rise of Narendra Modi within the BJP is both a tribute to the growing influence of the federal character within the Indian political system, as well as an ode to a narrow cultural politics that weds a majoritarian dominance (both religious and regional) with an economic model of GDP-driven growth that shuns more than two-thirds of the country’s population. The UPA, on the other hand, albeit having implemented commendable bills and laws, such as the MNREGA, RTI in its first term and now trying to push through the food security bill, while still waiting to bring on the other priority legislation that is the land acquisition bill, is, nevertheless, so deeply mired in corruption scams that the Indian public has lost its faith in the ramshackle entente that the Congress-led alliance has been reduced to, especially after the exit of two important allies in the TMC and the DMK.
In the light of these issues, the Federal Front actually starts looking like not only a viable option, but, in fact, it also appears to be the only path where the players can begin with a clean slate. However, the Third or Federal Front, the idea of which is being vigorously advocated by the eastern bloc, with leaders of the state governments in West Bengal, Odisha, and possibly even Bihar, willing to come under the same umbrella, needs tethering in an ideological coherence that goes beyond the concerns of the respective leaders and their individual states. The Federal Front must come up with ideas and policies that are markedly more egalitarian and effective than those propagated and followed by either the UPA or the NDA, and that includes improving and strengthening the federal character of the constitution and the polity as well. Moreover, issues that need centre-state high levels of coordination, such and food and energy security, defence and national security, or pertain to chiefly to the Centre, such as foreign policy or economic development and fiscal management, also need new expressions.