A clutch of regional parties from across the country,most with a history of being fiercely anti-Congress,came together on Wednesday saying they wanted to fight communalism,with their target being the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
Although none of them predicted a political realignment before the 2014 elections,the convention against communalism attended by 14 parties – including UPA constituent NCP – was silent on the Congress and the UPA government.
A brainchild of the Left,the convention was the first attempt by parties to find a common slogan unlike in 2009 when the Left parties had made a half-hearted attempt to foist a Third Front. Between them,the parties have 101 seats in the present Lok Sabha.
But the leaders,be it Nitish Kumar or H D Deve Gowda,made a conscious attempt to dispel the notion of the grouping being an electoral front,knowing well that all of them have their options open and many who could switch sides.
Kumar,who has been attacked strongly by Modi and the BJP,said the parties should remain united to fight “communalism,fascist mindset and terrorism”. But,he seemed to be aware of the political compulsions in a fluid situation.
“To defeat communalism,fascist mindset and terrorism,we should remain together to the extent it is possible and practical. I am saying to the extent possible because we all know one or two will disappear,” he said.
“We are being asked whether a new front is being formed. It is not appropriate to speculate. As of today,there is nothing. But we will have to think and unite against communalism,terrorism and fascism,” Kumar added.
The CPM’s Sitaram Yechury resorted to a cricketing analogy,saying,”There is nothing like a Third Front but this is a ‘doosra’ of Indian politics.”
SP leader Ramgopal Yadav said,”This is the beginning…you will see a lot in the coming days.”
The grouping had many potential prime ministerial candidates and their own agendas. The TDP,which has been moving closer to the NDA,did not respond to an invitation to attend the conclave,it is learnt. The Left wanted to reassert its relevance at a time Mamata Banerjee has floated the idea of a federal front and reached out to Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar. Mulayam Singh Yadav had to reaffirm his “secular credentials” after Muzaffarnagar while Nitish has to embrace Muslims – a key votebank of Lalu Prasad Yadav – after the split with the BJP.
Kumar linked communalism with terrorism,arguing both thrive on each other – advancing an academic as well as a political narrative.
Significantly,none of the leaders barring CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat targeted the Congress or its government at the Centre and issues such as price rise and corruption. In fact,only Karat and the CPI’s A B Bardhan named Modi while attacking him while Kumar,Sharad Yadav and the BJD’s Baijayant Jay Panda targeted the Gujarat chief minister without naming him.
Karat and Bardhan slammed Modi for calling himself a Hindu nationalist.
“RSS is at the forefront of the communal ideology. It is the RSS which decided the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Narendra Modi says he is a Hindu nationalist. Can there be Hindu nationalists,Muslims nationalists,Sikh nationalists in this country? There can only be secular nationalists,” Karat said.
Although AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa sent her representative,her speech read by M Thambidurai,was silent on Modi,the BJP or the Sangh Parivar.
Jayalalithaa extolled the virtues of secularism – calling it a pillar of the constitution and arguing it seeks to negate discrimination and tension based on religion – and said communalism is rising.
She said the “Indian state is often seen to be acceding to the pressure of both minority demands at one time and to majority demands at another,which has fuelled the activities of various groups and encouraged them to engage in ‘one gunmanship’ in their search of loyalty to the issues being embraced by the majority and the minority groups.”
Kumar justified his party’s decision to part ways with the BJP and the effort of his government to punish the perpetrators of the Bhagalpur riots. “The idea of India is unity and diversity. What Bharat are they talking about? What model of governance are they talking about? All want development. The question is whether it is the development of the corporates or the common man,” he said.
Mulayam said the SP had a track record of taking a stand against communalism since 1987. “I was abused to the extent where it was said that either my father or mother is a Muslim,” he said. Referring to Muzaffarnagar,Yadav said the Ayodhya parikrama was an attempt to trigger communal violence and riots. “They were not successful,but they were successful in Muzaffarnagar,” he said. Mulayam said since none of the leaders are taking names,he too would refrain from naming his target.
The BJD’s Panda too attacked Modi in a veiled fashion. He said there is an attempt to advance an argument that either you can have secularism or governance. “Those who have assembled here have all in their states delivered governance and upheld secularism. As the handling of the cyclone by the Odisha government has shown,secularism,governance,development and growth can all go hand in hand,” he said.
NCP general secretary D P Tripathi said there was nothing to be surprised about his presence at the convention. “It is asked how come you are here when you are part of the UPA government. That we are part of the government does not mean that we cannot be against communalism. We have always been opposing communalism. In fact,for the last ten years,NCP has been part of the Left front in Kerala,” he said.