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This out-of-the-box election

How can the Congress and the Left reasonably reconcile their differences?

Written by Ramesh Dadhich |
April 29, 2009 1:08:09 am

With exit polls currently prohibited,the major contenders in this election are issuing their own “feedback” presentations,while the others bask in their own bravado. Frankly,this time,any of the three fronts — the UPA,the NDA and the ‘Third’ Front — could come first,since it is a non-issue election. None of the frontline campaign issues find emotive echoes in popular perception,which is swayed by local issues and equations. And yet,recalling the post-1967 transformative transition of Indian politics repeated every decade—1977,1989,1999 — we know that the post-poll dynamics of the ‘09 election will mark yet another turning point.

The ensuing game will not admit old rules. So,the number one winner may not walk away with the trophy. The numbers will not add up so easily as to get past the half way mark. But a number of certainties can be safely predicted.

First and foremost,though the “who would go with whom” question is unclear,it is absolutely certain who would not go with whom,due to fixed regional political imperatives. This has several dimensions — attempts to bring in an additional ally would threaten the desertion of an existing one,constricting space for political manoeuvrability; between the UPA and the NDA. The UPA or an alternative secular front under a new format would be better placed to enlist more allies by virtue of its ideological positioning; while the pre-poll allies would largely stick together,a few could consider switching sides but only in the last instance of a visible certainty of government formation. The return of estranged allies to theold front would also be guided by similar considerations; and,in the face of no imminent threat of the NDA forming the government,any alliance of the secular parties would not be compelled by the situation but would be absolutely voluntary.

The Left,irrespective of its final tally (which may not be reduced in any consequential manner as is being wishfully expected),shall remain the fulcrum of non-Congress/non-BJP parties. Individual Left-led parties would not go to the UPA since their singular strength will not generate the required majority. Also,even if it secures an impressive tally beyond its expectation,the BSP would not be inclined to be a junior partner of either the BJP or the Congress,nor would these parties prop-up a BSP-led government since they have all gone through the bitter experience of such an experiment at the state level. Hence the BSP shall be constrained to either side with the Left-led front,even without its leadership,or prefer to sit out of all possible combinations and arrangements,only to finally flex its muscle on the floors of the House. Politically,this is the only course that the BSP would undertake,except the wild possibility of its leader acting upon ‘extraneous’ considerations that she is known for.

Thus,in the post-poll ‘09 political scenario marked by overriding rigidities and undercutting flexibilities,government formation critically hinges upon a resolution of the stand-off between the Left and the Congress,and after that,upon the leadership of seemingly small parties such as the NCP,NC or maybe the RJD or the JD(U).

In the line-up of the secular parties,only the Congress and the Left have a long-term pan-Indian strategic view of Indian politics. For the other smaller parties,though with some exceptions,secularism is only a tactical positioning dictated by regional compulsions. Thus,for both the Congress and the Left,this stand-off is not mere grandstanding — it has a strong political rationale rooted not only in immediate circumstances but also in their projections for the next battle.

While the Congress,expecting a saturation of the politics of both Mandal and Kamandal ,aspires to regain its old “multi-factional mass base” and hegemony over Indian politics,as reflected in its uneasiness with regional/caste based parties. The Left has a similar assessment of the decline in divisive politics and sees a rare historical opportunity to build a “Left and democratic alternative” marked by “pro-people policies” and “anti-imperialism”. In the Left’s view,the return of estranged factions back into the Congress is not possible since the pre-Independence “umbrella” of the Congress has fragmented into smaller factional canopies. Hence,if the Congress stood as a “federation of factions” under an apex leadership,and wants to rebuild as such,the present political reality demands a “confederation of factions”,implying greater autonomy to each faction,coming together under mutual interest and functioning under a collective leadership.

In today’s context,the Congress,being the largest party,would assert its logical claim on the leadership of any alliance of these parties. Contrary to this,for the Left,the demand for a non-Congress leadership has become non-negotiable for the simple reason that it would be inexplicable and damaging for them to be part of the same political format which they had almost brought down.

Thus,in a situation where government formation is contingent upon reconciliation between the Congress and the Left,there are only two ways to break the deadlock. The euphemistic formula of the past — “outside support” — whether 1996-98 or 2004,would not be admissible ab initio. The first option entails that the Left agrees to a Congress prime minister,but of its choice. This might be unacceptable to the Congress —to let others decide their leader. The second option would be that the Congress agrees to a non-Congress prime minister albeit of its own choice. This might be acceptable to the Left after initial posturings of resistance. But such a Congress endorsement would depend upon an acute internal churning as never seen before,and would factor in their assessment of its implications for the next battle.

Without such a solution,either government formation will be close to impossible or else we could be in for the worst kind of post poll pandemonium.

The writer is president of the Rajasthan unit of the NCP and professor of political science at Rajasthan University

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