The new Regionalist Dilemma
         Date: 31-Dec-2018
A neo-bloc of regional parties is on the cards. Though the emerging front takes anti-Modi stand, their roots in anti-Congressism does not show them to be part of Mahagathbandhan
A simple take away from the recent polls in five key states prove that local candidates, local conditions and perhaps more importantly the regional issues and aspirations do matter in the heat and dust of the electoral battle. It is due to these factors, in the ultimate, we see Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) doing well in Telangana and in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan—both national parties the Congress and the BJP—falling short of majority of their own by a rather narrow margin.
 
 
TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao with West Bengal counterpart and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata 
 
It was more so in Madhya Pradesh, wherein the Congress fell short of two MLAs to touch the magic figure of 116 and the BJP’s tally hung at 109—that is seven short of the simple majority mark. In the words of BJP president Amit Shah, numerically the BJP polled more votes than the Congress in the central Indian state. Even in Rajasthan with mere 99 seats, the hyped Congress victory in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly is actually only a wafer thin majority. This brings us to the importance of regional parties.
 
Here comes the relevance of caustic remarks from Arun Jaitley, a think tank member in BJP leadership, who says that these regional forces are in effect “tried, tested and failed” forces. Who can dispute this?
Yet, the democracy offers these forces ‘yet another chance’ to play up their anti-BJP and anti-Congress politics—depending on what suits them where. It is in this context, sources said, a section of the TDP leaders have cautioned party supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu to tread cautiously the ‘path’ of his new found friendship with Congress president Rahul Gandhi. “We are not sure, whether we can have TDP-Congress alliance in state polls in Andhra,” he said.
 
 
TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu 
 
In fact, another TDP leader and a key Rajya Sabha MP admitted that the “rout” of the TDP-Congress-TJS-CPI Mahagatbandhan in Telangana could have to do with “anti-Congressism at the mass level in Telangana”. “We played a political gamble in the form of alliance to fight K Chandrasekhar Rao, but the voters did not approve of it. In some political hubs of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there is still an element of anti-Congress feelings among the voters and it is pretty strong,” says the TDP leader.
 
Now given the antagonism to BJP, some of these regional parties are pursuing a front with the Congress. These include TDP and the likes of DMK, which was marginalised in 2016 assembly polls in Tamil Nadu. There are others too—like KCR-led TRS. They want to have a ‘genuine front’ of anti-Congress and anti-BJP forces. Thus, a neo-bloc of regional parties is on the cards and among others K Chandrasekhar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is set to take the lead in cementing a unity of such forces. “I will announce the birth of a new front or a confederation of regional parties soon,” said Shri Rao, who returned to power as Chief Minister of India’s nascent state stunning the pollsters and with an enhanced mandate than in 2014.

 
BJD chief Navin Patnaik 
 
Riding the ‘Telangana Pride’ and new found statehood in 2014, the TRS had humbled all its rivals and especially decimated the Congress winning 63 assembly seats. But in 2018—after advancing the polls by about five-six months, TRS supremo KCR proved the prophets of doom wrong and won as many as 88 seats in 119-member assembly. KCR-led outfit’s vote share saw a quantum leap from 34.3 per cent to 46.9 per cent.
 
Shri Arun Jaitley, who has been BJP’s poll managers in many states in the past including Bihar, Delhi and Gujarat, said the TDP’s experiment with Congress has come a cropper in recently held Telangana state. “The coalition of rivals was swept away in Telangana,” he said in reference to Congress Party’s utter failure to make impact in Telangana through its alliance with TDP, CPI and a newly floated TJS. “The big message from these is, you can fool some people some time; but you cannot fool all the people, all the time,” the Finance Minister said.

 
 
Jaitley’s jibe at TDP
Shri Arun Jaitley has pointed out that the TDP was founded by the legendary actor-turned-politician NT Rama Rao as an ‘anti-Congress outfit’. “See the paradoxical situation today, the leader of the same anti-Congress TDP Chandrababu Naidu is telling Rahul Gandhi that he will be the Sarthi (charioteer) of the opposition Rath. I am told many a times, that these forces are ‘sidhantvad’ (with principles).....anti-Congress is also a principle; and even secularism also becomes their principle. In both the situations, they are with the self-styled principles,” Shri Jaitley said taking a dig at outfits like Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, Mayawati’s BSP and also Andhra Pradesh-based outfit TDP. “Some regional parties at times go to the extent of blackmailing the power centre to a level that they seek to transform India’s political character from union of states to confederation of states—wherein the Centre will be weakened,” Shri Jaitley said.
 
 
Eventually, Shri Rao has emerged a key player in months to come. It was, hence, not without good reason that Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 11, 2018 wasted no time in congratulating the TRS supremo for the convincing victory. “Congratulations to KCR Garu for the thumping win in Telangana....,” Modi wrote in the micro blogging site. Does it indicate KCR’s arrival?

 
Rahul Not Acceptable
More than once, Samajwadi Party has indicated that it is hardly comfortable to do business with Congress. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has virtually snubbed DMK chief MK Stalin and said Rahul Gandhi as ‘prime ministerial’ candidate was not acceptable to him. He also rejected Congress demand for Public Accounts Committee on Rafale. Notably, DMK’s suggestion for Rahul as PM was snubbed by Trinamool. Even the Congress demand for JPC on Rafale came a cropper when Sudip Bandyopadhyay clearly dissociated his party from the Congress demand on the floor of Lok Sabha. CPI-M is also going cautious on Rahul as leader of united opposition. Thus, importantly, it must be noted, besides TRS and Biju Janata Dal there will be a few more parties. TRS leadership has kept things close to its chest. KCR says, “The concurrent list—in division of powers between states and the centre—must go. And the role of the Centre and the states must be clearly defined”. This can be a possible cementing factor!
 
Meanwhile, Shri Rao lately got in touch with the Odisha’s ruling outfit Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and also spoke to BJD’s Parliamentary Party leader Bhartruhari Mahtab and sought to give further push to his mega agenda to galvanise 'like-minded regional forces'. Shri Mahtab has declined to field questions on the matter. But Naveen Patnaik’s BJD is also playing up its games. Thus, his colleagues are reaching out to some of the regional parties. “We are also in touch with regional parties. BJD delegations are meeting various party leaders. Our meeting with JD(U) leadership was very encouraging...,” says Mahtab.
Caste Factor
In 2007, BSP chief Mayawati had crafted an envious social engineering winning Brahmin votes. But that was short lived. Regional players’ game also rests a lot on caste factor. Therefore, as there was erosion in support of Brahmins for Mayawati, she was gradually sidelined in UP’s political arithmetic. In fact, BSP stood decimated in 2017 assembly polls in UP and hence will be a key player to watch. It’s alliance making with Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) too could not make any headway. So, does the Chhattisgarh mandate mean some of these forces have vanished or lost their importance?
 
 
A group of BJD leaders is already in touch with the DMK. “Our leader and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has written letters for all regional party leadership to take up women reservation issue more earnestly than it has been done so far,” says Mahtab. A BJD delegation also met Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut in Delhi.
 
Anti-Congressism
Closer scrutiny of these developments reveals a more important feature—a powerful section of regional players are not comfortable with the Congress. This realisation has already made things difficult for N Chandrababu Naidu, who wanted to emerge a neo-priest of ‘anti-Modi opposition politics’. According to some BJP insiders, this may not work at all. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has done it well to underline what does these ‘opportunistic and holier than thou’ regional forces try to give the impression. Addressing 'Vijay Lakshya 2019'—a two day workshop of the BJP Yuva Morcha in Delhi, Shri Jaitley said: “Yeh bahut adhik, rajnitik drishti se ghumney phirney waley log hain (In political sense, they have shifted allegiance from one end to the other)”.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)