The Congress has long benefited from the bankruptcy of ideas within its main opposition front, the NDA/BJP. It is now looking like it will benefit from this bankruptcy in the other parts of the opposition as well. For if one were to consider the “centripetal” forces that could possibly bind Mamata’s imaginary third front together, one would see that they are nothing but negative forces – anti Congressism and anti-BJPism. As if this were enough to get people to vote!
Maybe the 3rd front leaders should look at the condition of the BJP to understand this better. The principle opposition party, the BJP itself appears to have no positive agenda. I still don’t know what the party offers to us as an alternative to the Congress. All we hear is “better governance” and “faster decision making”. Understood, but what kind of decisions, and what form of better governance? Should we expect the BJP to be right-of-center on economic policies? Because that is not what the party is saying clearly. Actually, the party is saying nothing at all. Should we expect them to scrap “burdensome” subsidies like the food security bill? No way, for the BJP is in fact, crooning from the rooftops that its state governments run even more expansive food security programs. Should we expect the party to support FDI – at least in sectors other than multi-brand retail? But again, that’s not what we are hearing, for they seem to be opposing the Congress’s plans of the same nature. This same lack of clarity continues from one sector to another. We simply don’t know what the BJP stands for. Except of course that it is anti-Congress!
Maybe this is indeed the real picture of the state of affairs within the BJP. Maybe the party genuinely doesn’t know what it stands for. Maybe that explains why during the first NDA rule (all of six years), the GDP growth was lower than in the preceding and following six years. If this is what the BJP can be expected to give us economically, then that would justify their singular focus on generics like governance and decision making, and absence of clarity on specifics like economic preferences.
Unfortunately, faster decision making and better governance are functions of Parliamentary strength; and not of a leader’s vision or character. There is no dearth of visionary ideas in the PM and Chidambaram. Both know exactly what has to be done. Both want to liberalize, and unleash the “animal spirits” of the country. But both are held back by political forces. The Congress is being restrained by its “friends”; leave alone the foes. Mamata Banerjee, the perpetual nay sayer eventually left the alliance because she simply couldn’t agree with anything that the Congress proposed. It’s the same with governance as well. Remember it was Manmohan Singh who thought of, and eventually implemented, the auctions policy for the coal sector. In the interim period, when existing laws had to be changed, no one supported his zest. Most of all, the opposition refused to co-operate. This interim period - this long period – is the genesis of the CAG’s misinformed “Coalgate” report. Surprisingly, the one who sought to bring in the changes suddenly found himself politically accused of corruption.
If governance is going to depend on political strength, then what can we expect from the BJP? For, by no calculation is the BJP (as a single party) expected to get more than the Congress. In the big six states which account for nearly 2/3rds of the seats in Parliament, the BJP barely manages 20 odd seats. It is not even present in some of them. In fact, it is not present in most of the country itself, save for the West, and partially the North.
What is true for the BJP is also true of the front proposed by Mamata. What is its agenda going to be, once the rhetoric of anti-BJPism and anti-Congressism is taken out? Apparently, the eastern states have a set of “common problems”. What are those problems? What kind of policies will this front make that are different from what the Congress and BJP government have made? I find it difficult to believe that this front can out-do the Congress’s “inclusive” socialist agenda; and that is precisely what the East requires – more socialism. It could of course drift towards complete communism; for that’s what would politically appeal in these states. But can the leaders of this proposed front please tell us this upfront? And if that is true, how will they be able to keep the Left out? Not that the Left wants to be any part of any Mamata formation anyways. This is the tragedy of the third front. It simply doesn’t have the cohesion to stay together. This is the kind of lazy political gimmickry that gets my goat. This is irresponsible politics. This is harmful politics. This is just a blatant display of the hunger for power.
The Congress in the meantime is gloating over the prospect of the NDA being cut down from its already inadequate size. The JD(U) is almost certainly out. The Shiv Sena surprisingly also doesn’t seem excited with Modi’s dalliance with the MNS. The UP parties are unlikely to tie-up with Modi, though the BSP is unpredictable. None of the Andhra parties want any piece of the NDA. With Advani sidelined, and Modi at the fore, whoever the fence sitters were, are now clear. They will have to choose between supporting the Congress or go with the 3rd front. The UPA could actually end up getting a lot more than it got in 2009! If that doesn’t happen, and if the NDA somehow cobbles together a majority, or if the 3rd front does the same, then we should be looking at fresh elections in 2016. (a view that Sandipen Deb of the Mint first offered in one of his rare political pieces).
The real truth is that negativity drives Indian politics. To the extent that it starts to harm the very proponents – the opposition parties – of such politics. The ruling party has to do nothing….but sit smugly, waiting for the others to implode. For all of those who curse the Congress’s sustained rule over the country for so many decades, now you have the answer! There really is no alternative to the Congress….because there really is no party with an agenda of its own.