Premature Ambitions of a Federal Front Are Affecting Opposition Unity
Regional parties going ahead with intentions of keeping both BJP and Congress out of power could only end up helping Modi.
The decline of the Congress party across many states, coupled with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) limited geographical appeal across the country, has created a situation where many regional parties are leading players in these states now. Besides, there are other states where regional parties are opposed to the BJP and its allies, but they were traditionally bred on anti-Congressism. The number of these states — and their share of parliamentary seats — make these states critical to the outcome of the coming general elections.
Due to the Congress’ historical presence and some individual candidates, it still has a notable presence in either some sections of the electorate in these states, or in certain specific constituencies in these states. Moreover, it carries the imprimatur of a national party and the leading anti-BJP force in the country. That makes it an important player in these states.
While the Congress looks at getting a respectable share of seats in these states, it hopes to get a major share of seats in the states where it is in a direct contest with the BJP. This, it seems, can lead to a situation where a new UPA-kind of coalition can be formed which is led by the Congress and supported by other regional parties. But going by the evidence of their demands for seats to be contested in the states, many regional parties are clearly not enthused by that idea of a new UPA. They seem to have gone back to the idea of a 1996-model of a United Front government — let’s call it Federal Front as it now has only regional parties – where these regional parties will cobble an alliance which will be supported by the Congress from the outside. The reduced influence of the Left parties has taken away the ideological anchor and a pan-India presence from such a front now: it would only be a conglomeration of regional parties.
The whole process of negotiations for seats is a clear indicator that while all these parties want to defeat the BJP, they do not want the Congress to win and take a lead position either. This is reflected in BSP-SP allocating only two seats to Congress in UP or RJD limiting Congress to half the seats it contested in Bihar in 2014. The pressure on Congress to go with AAP, which may ensure some seats for the Delhi party without benefitting the Congress, is also an attempt to increase the numbers of the imaginary Federal Front.
It is worrying that these parties seem to be working in concert with other regional parties like Mamata Banerjee’s TMC and KC Rao’s TRS or Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, who would have no qualms in allying with the BJP. Unlike a Laloo or Left parties, they have allied with BJP in the past and can do so again. Personally ambitious and without any clear political ideology, these leaders are, in fact, not even mouthing platitudes about allying with the Congress. They are intent on creating a scenario where Congress should give in fully in each of these states, restrict itself as a parliamentary party to less than 100 MPs, while allowing these regional parties to maximise their numbers and share the spoils of power in an imaginary Federal Front.
This is a dangerous ploy at a critical moment in India’s political history. Regional parties should not get ahead of themselves in visualising the outcome of 2019 general elections for an imaginary result which keeps both BJP and Congress out. It could only end up helping Modi.
Javed Ansari is a senior journalist and a political analyst. He tweets at @javedmansari.