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While seeking to position the INDIA bloc as a politically correct counterpoise to the BJP and its ‘flawed’ vision of the nation, its leaders and apologists make it a point to claim on a high moral ground, which is hard to reality check.
The core political narrative of INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) is that coming together of an assortment of non-BJP parties, however disparate they may be, is a historical necessity to defend the country’s democratic, secular and inclusive ethos enshrined in the republican constitution, which is increasingly under threat due to majoritarian, exclusive, disruptive and hegemonistic ideology of the BJP regime.
This self-indulgent grandstanding, however, is based on weak foundations, since most partners of the opposition alliance themselves are poor practitioners of internal democracy. Nor are most of them wedded to sustained ideologies rooted in the cherished values of the democratic and republican polity.
The politics of regional outfits, which make up much of the 28-party demi front which is still a work in progress, is driven by permanent interests rather than permanent ideologies or deep concern for values, about which top leaders of the bloc wax eloquent.
The Indian National Congress, the lead component of the alliance, itself cannot acquit well on this count. The only national party of the grouping having a footprint across the country, for decades the Gandhi-Nehru family has been the ultimate power centre of the Congress. True, the present president of the Congress, Mallikarjuna Karge, was democratically elected to lead the party through one of the most trying times of its long history. All the same, the party is run on the writ of the family when it comes to key decisions, whether in and out of power.
Apart from the Congress and the two communist parties, and, to an extent, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), almost all other partners of the bloc are regional political formations. Though the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena (UBT) and All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) have nominal claims outside their home turf, their sphere of influence is confined to their respective home states.
Regional parties justify their relevance on the claim that they alone truly reflect regional aspirations. They have carved out spaces of their own in many states by deftly cashing in on the failure of the national parties to live up to regional aspirations. However, after gaining ascendancy in political geographies across the country, they have tended to be leader-centric, dynastic, opportunistic, and in a few cases, caste-oriented.
Many of the regional parties have been in and out of power for decades, with founding leaders, their scions and the immediate circle of courtiers fattening themselves by ravishing the spoils of power. Structurally, they are totally incapable of practising internal democracy and clean politics.
What is really astounding is that regional parties, despite their long presence, have hardly been subjected to any incisive auditing by the media or independent political arbiters.
The participation of regional parties in the INDIA alliance is the result of compelling circumstances they are faced with, rather than any deep concern for democratic and secular values.
Long-surviving regional parties like DMK in Tamil Nadu and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra got well-entrenched in their respective states decades back by deftly exploiting the search for alternatives to the centrally-controlled Congress.
The Congress, when on a strong wicket at the Centre, had allegedly discriminated against the opposition-ruled states, in devolution of funds and awarding of big projects. This led to the formation of parties like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in undivided Andhra Pradesh. Now that much of the Congress’s space has been cornered by the BJP, the regional outfits are deeply uncomfortable with the saffron party, whose centralising tendencies are much more pronounced than that of the Congress in its heyday.
It is evident from their posturing that regional parties are apprehensive that their survival will be threatened gravely if the BJP returns to power for a third term in 2024. Though they are at loggerheads with Congress in many states, regional parties see the BJP, with its hegemonistic approach, as a more dangerous foe. Also, the BJP’s track record of winning allies and keeping them within the ambit of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is rather unimpressive.