Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Rise of the Regional Political Animal

We started out with one all-India party and that was the Indian National Congress. The Communist Party of India was probably the next in terms of coverage, prominence and a fair bit of sympathy but no political power so to say.

In the first five Lok Sabhas, Congress was the single dominant party and the others were in low double digits. All other parties were below double figures. Similar pattern follows for the second, thru eighth Lok Sabha except for the sixth Lok Sabha which saw a Janata Party government. This position changed rapidly from 1989 onwards.

This indicated an all round preference for a national party.

This period also saw major reorganization of states on linguistic basis. As mentioned in my earlier post, this created space for large linguistic and culturally homogenous groups to be together. Though done with much reluctance, this eliminated all chances of culture, language and other similar emotive reasons from the political platform. This did not create any drift towards regional political parties.

What then contributed to the rise of regional political outfits and why did they get political legitimacy through the electoral process??

One of the first states to move away from national party system to state level entities was Tamil Nadu and the trigger was “imposition of Hindi”. There were widespread riots against the declaration of Hindi as a sole link language and emotions ran high. There was a speech made in Indian Parliament by C N Annadurai advocating the secession of the four southern states into a separate Union. When logic and good sense failed dramatic announcements like this shocked the nation and strongly polarized the electorate in TN. The 1965 deadline for change-over to Hindi was hurriedly kept aside and in the next elections TN was lost to a national party (read: Congress here) for ever.

Shiv Sena, in Maharashtra, was one of the earliest regional political outfits. They gained tremendous support and prominence fighting for Mumbai to be part of Maharashtra and not Gujarat. However, they gained political legitimacy much later than did the parties in TN and have been able to gain power only once. However, along with BJP, they now share almost 50% representation in the state.

Assam witnessed bloody and prolonged agitations during the late 1970s and early 80s. Their agitation was against outsiders – meaning massive influx of refugees mostly Bengali Hindus from the then East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) and complete lack of development and opportunity locally. There was also the emotive issue of “You are stealing our oil”. This bloody agitation eventually culminated in the Assam accord which made several commitments to the rehabilitation and revival of Assam. Most of them were never met by the famous rigid bureaucracy in New Delhi. We have a disgruntled and divided state and the situation made worse after the Congress has blatantly allowed illegal migration of Bangladeshi Muslims in most border districts turning a blind eye to the wider ramifications of narrow political considerations. This gateway to the North-East, hemmed by hostile foreign forces, is on fire and the situation is precarious.

Andhra Pradesh – NTR with his Telgu Desam was essentially born to save the “Telgu pride”. This was the perceived humiliation of Telgu leaders in Congress and discrimination against the state. The result is TDP a powerful regional party where a national party reigned supreme. It now has to share this space with two regional parties in the state. The scales have tilted back in favour of Congress since 2004.

Punjab has been through hell and wounds are still healing. It all began with the propping up of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to pull down independent Congress leaders in the State namely Giani Zail Singh and others. What eventually happened and the cost that the state and the nation has had to bear is only too well known and fresh in mind.

One cannot forget large scale insurgency in Nagaland and Mizoram, essentially Christian majority states whose emotional, cultural and social integration in the Indian main stream has never happened. Whilst these two states live an uneasy peace, Manipur is on the boil now.

The latest headache now confronting many state governments is the armed rebellion by Naxalites.

What we have is a multi-linguistic, multi-cultural, multi-religious social structure coming together for the first time in a political union. This diverse structure is made more complex by a rigid caste system, deep prejudices, wide spread backwardness, lack of healthcare, education, opportunity and so on.

In such a milieu, what was needed was a fair and inclusive governance and emphasis on rapid development.

When one analyses each of these state crises, it is easy to discern

- a sense of callousness and high handedness,

- inability to empathise with local needs and sentiments,

- a political process that is arbitrary, favouring certain groups to the exclusion of all others,

- perpetuating deep rooted economic and social inequalities,

- perception of favaouritism / appeasement towards certain groups (favourite whipping boy of regional parties)

- attempts to initiate hegemony of thoughts, culture and language,

- government machinery perceived as brutal, biased and openly unfair,

- Existence of corruption at every level in society and the administrative set-up.

Against, this backdrop when you have a powerful voice addressing a limited regional group and promising fairness, equality of opportunity or opportunity for locals, resources for development, access to basics of life, value for minerals / raw materials, becomes an instant hero. These regional outfits gain prominence and legitimacy in eventual course. Over a period of time, these groups become political powerhouses.

What we see today is a very fragmented social structure and a fractured political class is only a reflection of the society it seeks to represent.

Post elections scenario

This post was written before the elections and the current wisdom might make this problem small. I earnestly hope this is so but the problems shall not disappear unless the root causes are attacked.

The open unashamed wrangling for seats should have given rise to immense revulsion but I see the gigantic state machinery involved in making the problem less severe than it really is.

There are many serious gaps in Centre – State relations and at the state level the problems are more severe. It will not be wise to say that regional parties have been shown their place. Infact, Elections – 2009 has shown many of them increase their vote share. The quirky nature of electoral arithmetic however, has ensured that they have lost seats.

Far-sighted thinkers and seasoned political figures from both major political groupings should seize this opportunity and, work towards expansion and consolidation of national political parties.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What a week this has been...

First the long break or rather an enforced one due to our broadband connection being down for more than two weeks. The link was restored after some persistent follow-up.

The interim has been virtually a roller coaster ride. The election results threw up surprises. The point, however, not to be missed out is - our expectations have sunk so low that we believe 206 seats for Congress and 261 for the UPA as a decisive mandate. The poor performance of and the role that regional parties will play be a point of much discussion in the coming days. I hope my series of posts on regionalism can add a different perspective.

The results seem to be giving way to euphoria and this has built up hopes sky-high and when this happens they are normally dashed (I hope not this time around). The ghosts of the past will come back to haunt Dr. Singh. We have been profligate and very imprudent in our national finance management and course correction will be a difficult and a painful exercise.

The stock market felt that it cannot be left behind and decided to defy laws of gravity and did an upward triple sommersault to register a classic "Black Swan" event. (To know more about Black Swan please read my post Hope Springs Eternal...). A never-before event of an "upward circuit" as traditional marketmen call it had many investors rubbing their hands in glee and many more sad at being left out.

I now look forward to commencing my journey after a longish pit stop.

Monday, May 4, 2009

One Year since....

...I took my first tentative steps in this vast and fascinating e-universe. It has been a great experience to say the least. A modest output and the fact that I lasted a year gives me a renewed lease of life.

Let me try and jot down a few things that come to mind when I look back at theyear that has gone by and ponder on "What has this one year in blogging given me?...."

The realisation that it takes tremendous discipline to write meaningful posts and, importantly at regular intervals and, further, more importantly be able to sustain the level of passion and interest. I am continually amazed at the output of some of our illustrious bloggers.

That, there are many people who are more intelligent, articulate and better thinkers and writers than me and this humbling experience has shown me my place....Thank God for puncturing my big ego balloon.

That, writing which emerges out of inner reflection is far more satisfying than that done for the sake of filling that post.

That, human creation is awe inspiring and never fails to amaze. Every blog that I have read (and that does add up to a significant number) has some message that touches you in some way or the other. So many million streams of thought all flowing independently and in a creative fashion, but the underlying and unifying thread is the same.

That, so many people are so creative, albeit many behind the cloak of anonymity, it makes me wonder whether we should applaud a few for their creative juices. Amazing stories, experiences, travelogues, political and social commentary, art, photography, health and cooking, personal blogs and what have you...The sheer breadth and depth never fails to leave you breathless.

I would like to thank each one of you fellow bloggers who have come in my orbit and left your indelible mark here. I gratefully acknowledge the value of our interaction and the positive effect it has had.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Regionalism – Spilling over to Politics

In my previous post, I argued that –

“The existence of regionalism is a logical corollary to the idea of India. One cannot imagine a uniform and homogenous country like India. Regional vibrancy and its expression have a crucial role to play in this day and age.”

This was all fine till regionalism was restricted to all matters outside the sphere of politics. The leadership of the day after independence had to give a direction to this young new-born nation and set a broad framework to facilitate this.

The consensus that formed was to give to ourselves a written constitution. A group of political statesmen and men of colossal intellect and integrity came together to put on a piece of paper the hows and the why’s of governing this vast sub-continent.

It is interesting to note that even before states were formed on linguistic basis and regionalism was recognized as existing, these wise men thought that a “Federal” structure of government structure would suit India the best. Unknowingly, were sowed seeds of regionalism and partial autonomy in governance for different regions, whilst the Centre would play a strong and decisive role in matters more national in nature.

Politically, regionalism did not surface till about twenty years after independence. Infact, though there were many political parties, it always seemed as a single party rule in almost all the States of India. The carving of states on linguistic basis had been largely completed by the early sixties.

The Indian National Congress was the prime political party with a pan-India identity and presence. All other parties were small bit groups with little political support. The Communists were the first to capture power in Kerala in 1959 but the government was dismissed before completing its term.

What then contributed to the slow and steady rise of regional political parties? The States were definitely giving enough scope for regional groups to do their own thing within the ambit of the Constitution. Then what was triggering this need for a separate political group that would have done better than the INC in that state.

An analysis reveals that

Inner party democracy became one of the first casualties within the Congress and the Central High Command became very powerful. The irony of the situation was probably never appreciated. We prided ourselves on being the largest democracy in the world but our main political party showed scant respect to the concept and practice of inner party democracy.

This in many ways led to much disgruntlement at the ground level. Leaders were hauled to Delhi for flimsy reasons and were replaced arbitrarily. Much of the newer crop of politicians learned fast and focused on money and muscle power as the means to get the High Command attention. This was a great way to attract all lumpen elements to politics. After all, the perks of power and position far outweighed any possible punishment.

Genuine regional aspirations seem to have been brutally brushed aside. Regional fears were never dealt with to generate confidence, instead we had attempts to divide the people and create problems that ultimately became Frankenstein monsters. Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Assam are mute witnesses to this game.

This has been one long story of endless mis-management, men of straw and doubtful integrity at the helm of affairs, blatant abuse of power, instituionalised corruption, open prejudice, devious games, politics being kept as an exclusive preserve of a few classes to the exclusion of the vast majority, over centralisation, politics of appeasement, imposing social hegemony through language…etc., crony capitalism are just some of the reasons.

The Congress, being the major organized all-India political party has to take much of the blame for this. That is not all. We as a nation also have been mute witnesses to the wanton destruction of our cultural ethos and its utter degradation. Indian society – and that means all of us – has also to be blamed for keeping quiet and worse still conniving in this social downfall.

In my next post, I hope to examine a few such instances and policies which have suddenly made regional political parties appear as saviours.