Sunil Gatade | Regional parties should change style, narrative

Mayawati may like to project herself as a potential prime ministerial candidate but has hardly ever spoken about international issues

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The Chinese incursions in Ladakh have once again shown that the stereotype about regional parties that they do not have much interest or concern on issues of foreign policy and national security is by and large true.

This is despite the fact that some regional parties project themselves as national like the All India Trinamul Congress, the AIADMK and the Nationalist Congress Party, to cite just a few.

BSP supremo Mayawati may like to project herself as a potential prime ministerial candidate but has hardly ever spoken about international issues.

There might be some exceptions like the Dravidian parties such as the DMK, which have a firm view on the Sri Lankan Tamil question, Katchthivu island and problems faced by fishermen in the sea near Sri Lanka.

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav always believed that there is no bigger danger to India from China, a view publicly voiced by firebrand socialist George Fernandes when he was defence minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government some two decades back.

In fact, the Chinese incursions have once again brought to the fore the limitations of regional parties in upholding national issues, despite the fact that 20 Indian soldiers made the supreme sacrifice while defending the motherland.

This is because, barring the Shiv Sena, hardly any party thought it fit to pose searching questions to the Narendra Modi government in this hour of national crisis, when a belligerent China under President Xi Jinping is in a tearing hurry to become the world’s biggest superpower.

The Shiv Sena’s stand is no surprise given the fact that it has always sought to project that it is one up on the BJP on matters of national security, more so since Narendra Modi gained centrestage in May 2014. How much it has succeeded or not is a different matter.

The only non-BJP chief minister who bluntly told the Prime Minister that India could not remain a passive spectator to what had happened in the Galwan Valley did not belong to any regional party but to the Congress. Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh is also a former Armyman and a military historian.

Amid charges and counter-charges between the BJP and the Congress, NCP supremo and former defence minister Sharad Pawar has pitched for “leaving it to the experts” the job of dealing with China, which is moving strategically. He has also called for the convening of an early session of Parliament to send a message of national unity to Beijing.

What has been witnessed in the past 20 days since the Galwan Valley clash is that the regional parties remained content only by underlining that they are backing the beleaguered government, apparently to be in the good books of the powers that be. That this suits the Narendra Modi government just fine is a different matter.

But the tragedy is that these regional parties, during uncertain political times, have always attempted to punch above their weight nationally.

They have played a role at the Centre in some way or the other since 1996 and had two Prime Ministers H.D. Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral heading governments supported from outside by the Congress.

Ahead of the last Lok Sabha elections held over a year ago, the idea of a Federal Front was floated but had failed to get much traction when the issue of national security became uppermost in the minds of voters in the backdrop of the Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent Indian Air Force strikes in Balakot across the border.

The idea of a Federal Front was not only to bring the regional parties together to form a government, but it was also projected as a reply to the centrist focus of national parties, where it was argued that the Union government become stronger at the cost of the state governments.

The proponents of the idea had insisted that it was to strengthen the states so that they can progress. At the same time, it would also make the Union stronger.

What has happened during the last 40 years is that the Union has strengthened itself so much at the cost of the states and is still doing so. That should come to an end. That was the alternative idea of the Federal Front, it was argued.

But the idea was stillborn, apparently amid the conflicting claims, influence and ambitions of the regional leaders, who failed to project a national alternative. In fact, the idea simply failed to take off and remained a pipe dream.

The irony is that time and again the regional parties have shown that they like to live in their cocoon, and generally do not like to move out of their comfort zones. Wittingly or unwittingly, they have left the national issues in the domain of the Centre, with the ruling party lording over it.

Besides the Shiv Sena and to some extent the Samajwadi Party, hardly any party, besides the Congress, has taken a position on the incursions.

The Aam Aadmi Party was not even invited to the all-party meeting. The Congress, rightly or wrongly, did raise some searching questions. The Left parties may be inconsequential, but they did raise hard questions.

The job of the Opposition in a parliamentary democracy is to oppose, expose and depose. The trend seen since the saffron surge of May 2014 is that most of the regional parties want to be the loyal Opposition.

The BJP’s politics under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah have made the regional parties wary, despite the fact that the BJP is gradually losing ground as seen in state polls in Haryana, Maharashtra, Delhi and Jharkhand, even after achieving a spectacular comeback at the Centre in May last year.

All in all, the regional parties will have to change their style and narrative in the coming years to avert growing marginalisation at the national level, where the Congress has remained a laggard for the last six years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had once caustically shown his disdain for any Third Front experiment, insisting that it would turn India into a third-rate nation.

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