Prithviraj Chavan wants LS polls confined to national parties. He and his party need to face the change.
Maharashtra chief minister and senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan may have betrayed his party’s state of denial and desperation, when, in the course of an Idea Exchange with this paper, he voiced the idea that regional parties should be barred from contesting the national election. He claimed this was the case in Germany.
In fact, mixed-member proportional voting in that country means greater political choice, even allowing for a qualifying 5 per cent vote share threshold. Chavan’s preposterous idea was floated earlier by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and it would mean that the Lok Sabha be drawn entirely from six parties with a presence across India, the Congress, BJP, CPI, CPM, NCP and BSP, though its proponents usually reduce it to a contest between the Congress and BJP.
A tectonic shift in Indian politics was made manifest in the national verdict of 1989 and the splintered electoral mandate. As the decades of Congress dominance ended, and regional parties rose in influence, coalition governments became the norm at the Centre. Over the years, fears about the fragmentation of politics, and the policy chaos and instability this would ostensibly bring, have been belied.
There has been a steady holding pattern in the vote shares of the national and regional parties, and voters, by and large, expect and calculate for a coalition government. The compulsion of having to manage coalitions has also tempered political ideas, so vital in a democracy of India’s diversities — for instance, many of the BJP’s core principles, like abrogating Article 370, were quietly set aside by the NDA.
While the BJP actively embraced these partnerships to overcome its lack of organisational presence in many regions, the Congress has been a late and reluctant team player. Though it was relatively quick to bring coalition politics into states — striking power-sharing deals in Kerala, Maharashtra and Punjab — it has not fully internalised the coalition ethos at the national level. It was only after its 81st plenary in 2001 that it decided to pursue coalitions, and only in 2004 that these alliances took tangible shape.
It has still not learnt the art of managing its partnerships with finesse — while the Left had extracted a common minimum programme from UPA1, UPA 2 abandoned regular coordination meetings with its allies, accounting for a lot of the political friction and policy paralysis. Prithviraj Chavan may have articulated the Congress party’s disdain for smaller players, or merely the middle class yearning for a tidier politics. Either way, and fortunately for India, it is wishful thinking.