Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The rise and rise of regional parties

The great game of searching for alliance partners is on and regional parties are being wooed arduously by the Congress and BJP alike. I hear much tut-tutting over the rise of regional parties. Somehow, there is a perception that regional parties' support or dominance leads to instability and weak governance and only the two national parties, Congress and BJP, can provide stability and good governance. So, take your pick- the secular guy or the commual guy.

Alas, life is much too complex and messy to conform to the preconceptions of the Indian elite. There is no stopping the rise of regional parties, as I note in my ET column, Fear not the regional parties, and, more importantly, there is no reason to get jittery over this phenomenon.

Regional parties have shown themselves more responsive to caste and regional aspirations and this has inevitably eaten into the vote share of the national parties. This will continue until a more homogenised and prosperous nation emerges with the middle-class being truly middle, meaning accounting for, say, more than 5% of the population, as is the case today (depending on what income level you want to take as a cut-off).

As political scientist, CP Bhambhri, writes in a companion piece in ET, regional parties have found it necessary to capture power at the centre in order to better cater even to regional aspirations because, in the Indian federation, the centre still calls the shots. In the process, regional parties are compelled to develop a national perspective. That is the beauty of democracy: it causes political actors to modify their behaviour in ways that generate wider support and hence leads to more acceptable behaviour.

There is much condescension when it comes to regional leaders- they are not as savvy or well dressed as their national counterparts and so the inference drawn is that they may not have the skills to run the nation. Nonsense. If you have run UP or Tamil Nadu and done so more than once, believe me, you have what it takes to run the nation. I quote a distinguished bureaucrat in my column as saying nice things about Deve Gowda. TSR Subramaniam, former cabinet secretary, expresses the same sentiments about Gowda. Outlook editor Vinod Mehta wrote recently that the most impressive performer from the Indian delegation at a Davos conference he attended was Gowda, not one of our high-profile businessmen.

So, let us not deride regional parties and regional leaders. Instead, let us welcome gracefully the changes being ushered in by our marvellous democracy.


Raj said...

I am not convinced,Ram. If ‘national interest” = sum total of various regional interests, then what you say might be true. But it has to be more than the sum of its parts. So far, I have not seen any evidence of regional heads removing their blinkers to see a larger picture. Those who have been able to gain a national perspective and distinguish themselves ( eg. P.Chidambaram) are ones who do not have any political base or aspirations of their own at the state level.

amreekandesi said...

Also, even the so called national leaders are forever clamoring for projects in their home states, just so they can build on their existing base that got them to power.

Case in point - Laloo Prasad Yadav and the many Bihar bound trains he keeps introducing year after year.

Another example is Mulayam Singh who says that all he cares about is a government that will dismiss the Mayawati government in UP. If people with such narrow minded aspirations end up becoming home ministers, what good can that serve for the national interest?

Arby K said...

Thought I agree regional parties have a role to play, I disagree with their effect on the national polity. Their primary concerns are regional and not national and in my view, they are unlikely to give preference over the nation at the cost of their regional votebank.

Will a regional group of parties be able to reach a consensus on national policy and work for the betterment of the entire nation than just their regions? Consensus formation will be the first hurdle seen by the difficulty of the Third Front in coming up with a PM candidate.

Secondly, if a region do not have representation in the government, will they get an equitable representation in the government? Will such a government be able to safeguard national integrity or will it be in their interest keep a consolidated nation, given the inverse relation of weak economy and strong political power of certain states of India?

Anonymous said...

If you have run UP or Tamil Nadu and done so more than once, believe me, you have what it takes to run the nation.

Believe me Professor, you don't know how the nation should be run ......believe me :)....

Sankt Ingen said...

States in a federal structure should be units of governance and administration and not politicking. Not to typecast, the angle of vision for a national leader is much wider than that of a regional satrap. Today is the day of reckoning (vote counting)- let the two largest parties call shots for forming govt. and the regional king makers shed dreaming of demanding ' outside support' from majority players. Thats is such fooling the whole nation. They spend all the time securing their hard earned pelf and power.

lucifier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lucifier said...

Sir ,Mr. Nitish Kumar openly said that he would support that party which gave special status to Bihar isn't this regionalism at its extreme ? It proves that he cares for only Bihar.

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