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Nationals vs Regionals – Time for a BJP-Congress (I) combine

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 17, 2009

Another edition of national elections are upon us. As the political parties try to get the right coalition, there is a peculiar and concerning trend on the rise. There have always been a bit of hanky panky over seats by allies, but this year has seen a definitive rise among them.

On the NDA side, while trying to hold on to whatever ally they can get from their previous government, the exit of Biju Janata Dal was a bit of a shocker. The other main allies, Shiv Sena and Janata Dal (United), have also pushed their weight on the negotiation tables. On the UPA side, with the Left having left their fold, their replacement, Samajwadi Party, failed to commit to the coalition after differences of opinion over seat sharing. Even the reliable Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nationalist Congress Party, who have stood alongside Congress (I) for a while now, flexed their muscle during negotiations. Another newly acquired ally in West Bengal, Nationalist Trinamool Congress, took the bulk of the seats in a state where Congress (I) was the main opposition.

The last few weeks of the election negotiations have seen the regional parties push their limit and bargaining power against their national allies. Even the ragtag Third Front haven’t been without problems. No sooner was the alliance declared, tiffs in the state of Kerala, where the Left has been a strong presence, has brought reasons for embarassment.


In the latter part of my last post, discussing the different national elections in India, I mentioned the phenomenal growth of the regional parties over the last two decades. First, it came out as a part of a declining Congress (I) when the voters looked for another option. With the collapse of the Janata Parivar, the only other party at the national level was Bharatiya Janata Party. But with neither capable of earning a majority on their own, they grew dependent on regional parties – home grown like the various dravida parties and Telugu Desom Party, Janata breakaways like RJD and BJD or Congress breakaways like NCP. The regionals grew on the shoulders of the nationals as they ate into the chunk of their national rivals. And this has lead to the current dilemma.

Unless either break away from their coalition partners, Congress (I) and BJP will not be able to be free from these hassles over power. But without them, the nationals will not be able to form the central governement. The inablity to form a government at the centre attacks the very essence of a national party. With the bigger objective being the national elections, the bargaining power is firmly with the regional parties.

Though on paper the elections maybe viewed as a tussle between the Congress (I) and BJP with Third Front trying to play the kingmaker, the actual battle is between the national parties and the regional parties. And the nationals are losing.

In order to negate the growing effect of the regionals, the nationals need to combine their forces and counterweigh their opponents. A Congress (I) – BJP combine can offset the regional balance, but it is still the proverbial manna of the Indian political system. But with the growing differences of opinion and the increasing bargaining power of the regionals, their survival maybe dependant on just that.

2008 saw PML – N and PPP shake hands and fight together against Musharaff. Although it did not last long (though it can still be retrieved), let us see if their Indian counterparts can do better. Otherwise we can see a third front government formed with BJP support for two years and Congress support for another six months, just like in 1977, 1989 and 1996.

*** I’ve used the same graph as my previous post. The breakup of National, Idealogical and  Regional parties remains the same and so does the disclaimer.


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