The crisis in the regional parties
Hindustan Times 28 May 2019
Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s spectacular victory, and the rout of the Congress, in the 2019 election has elicited most public attention, there is a third dimension to the verdict. India’s major regional parties, and those who see themselves as a possible third front of Indian politics, have also faced major setbacks, throwing many of them into crisis. From the leading social justice parties of the Hindi heartland to regional formations led by veteran leaders in the west or south, there is a sense of shock about the scale of the defeat and anxiety about what lies ahead.
Take the nature of the crisis first. The Rashtriya Janata Dal did not win a single seat in Bihar. Its supremo, Lalu Prasad, remains in jail; there is a feud among his sons; and the man hailed as his natural successor, Tejaswi Yadav, has failed to lead the party in this election. Come to Uttar Pradesh. And despite a formidable alliance on paper, Samajwadi Party (SP)’s Akhilesh Tadav has failed to improve his party’s 2014 tally in the Lok Sabha. The SP has five seats; his own family members, including his wife Dimple, lost; and there are murmurs of dissent. Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati saw herself as a possible Prime Ministerial candidate. She may have improved her tally to ten seats, but her fourth successive electoral loss and the steady inroads being made by the BJP into her Dalit base would be matters of grave concern. In the east, Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee now faces a critical challenge in the upcoming assembly elections. Go west, and Sharad Pawar’s (NCP) final gambit to become Prime Minister now lies in ruins; recovering ground for even the state assembly polls at the end of the year in Maharashtra will be difficult. In the south, another PM-hopeful, HD Deve Gowda, has failed to win his own seat. The Janata Dal (Secular) is struggling to remain in power in a fragile coalition. One of the key movers behind the anti-BJP front, N Chandrababu Naidu, was routed in both the Lok Sabha and the assembly polls. And finally, the Left — particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Communist Party of India — are now staring at political oblivion.
Put it all together and it is clear that Indian politics is going through a fundamental churn. The first assumption — only regional parties can represent regional aspirations and they are set to dominate national politics — is under challenge. The second assumption — caste-based parties have formidable, unbeatable arithmetic on their side — has been shattered in the heartland states. The third assumption — coalitions of regional parties will make them invincible — is under strain in a situation in which the BJP has got over 50 percent of the vote share in over 15 states. And the final assumption — federalism will inevitably weaken the centre — is now coming untrue, for India could well be headed for more centralisation under the second NDA government. The Left, regional parties, and old Mandal formations have a lot to think about.
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