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Stability is an 18-headed ostrich

Print edition : Jan 10, 1998 T+T-

NOW that the media has all but installed a BJP government - with only the minor hurdle of the popular vote to be dealt with - it is worth looking at some of the main planks of that party's appeal to the upper middle classes.

Especially one.

Instability was and is inherent in a formation like the United Front. The U.F., the BJP has repeatedly argued, is worse than a 13-headed monster. In mythology, the heads of such a horror were united in purpose. In the U.F., the monster's heads fight each other. That in fact makes it easier for the BJP to take on the 13-headed Ravan and give the nation stability and Ram Rajya.

There is of course no reason to believe that coalitions must be unstable. The coalition ruling West Bengal is easily the most stable one in the country. But the BJP has all along raised a ruckus about the inherent instability of coalitions. So it is worth examining what a coalition formed by the party will look like and how it will fare; who will be the constituents and what will be their character.

If the BJP does form government after the polls, it is likely to have in it between 14 and 18 different parties - far more than the number of constituents in the U.F. And the BJP knows this well. Here is Jagdish Shettigar of the party's national executive committee speaking: "We too are now leading 13 to 14 sections." (The Times of India, December 30, 1997). That is 13 or 14, not counting the BJP itself. But Shettigar's use of the term "sections" reflects a sound choice of words. Many of its allies are in fact "sections" of parties broken by the BJP, or by self-seekers with personal agendas.

In West Bengal, the BJP is courting Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress. The BJP's State unit says that it is with Mamata. In Bihar, it is already with the Samata (originally a part of the Janata Dal). In Assam, the BJP is bargaining with Birghu Kumar Phukan's breakaway faction of the Asom Gana Parishad. In Orissa, it has tied up with the Biju Janata Dal, a group that split the State's most powerful Opposition party, the Janata Dal. In Andhra Pradesh, it needs the Lakshmi Parvati splinter of the Telugu Desam Party to keep alive its hopes of winning a single seat there. In Karnataka, the BJP strenuously woos Ramakrishna Hegde's Lok Shakti. The BJP is in alliance with Bansi Lal's Haryana Vikas Party (HVP) in Haryana. Their Government has been shooting farmers dead. In Maharashtra, in a Government led by the Shiv Sena, it seeks to co-opt sections of farmersthrough several means. That effort includes trying to bring the Shetkari Sanghatana's Sharad Joshi on board.

In Punjab, the BJP has partners in the Akalis. In Uttar Pradesh, the party broke the Congress(I) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). It must now satisfy the Loktantrik Congress and the breakaway BSP group in election deals as well as in any government formation. In Tamil Nadu it shares a platform with Jayalalitha's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). That alone brings to 13 the number of its partners who will seek their due reward in any future government at the Centre. So, a 14-party formation already. That does not include minor but potentially pivotal parties of the northeastern region of the country (where the BJP will not get a single seat). Representatives of at least two or three of them will have to be inducted into a government at the Centre. That will happen in order to ensure the BJP's own stability, if not to meet the need to represent that region in the Union Ministry. So accepting the BJP's - and the media's - analysis of the U.F.'s instability arising from there being too many constituents, how does a 17 or 18-party coalition of far more disparate (and desperate) characters help? Remember that apart from this motley group, there are other "partners by association". Some of these, too, will stake a claim to both seats and post-poll plums. There are the AIADMK's other allies in Tamil Nadu - Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy's Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, Subramanian Swamy's Janata Party, V. Gopalsamy's Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and so on.

Several of the U.F.'s constituents are already parties of government: the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Janata Dal. Most of the constituents (and more to come) of the BJP-led front are essentially breakaways desperate for power for a variety of reasons.

The AIADMK has not courted the BJP because of the latter's vote base (less than 2 per cent?) in the State. Jayalalitha senses that the BJP will capture power at the Centre. If the AIADMK enters that government, she could slow the legal processes under way against her. She could also, she hopes, topple the DMK Government in the State. As she told Outlook, "I will surely seek a share in the government if the combine wins" (December 29, 1997).

The breakaway groups of the Congress(I) and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh are excellent pointers to the kind of stability a BJP-led front would enjoy. The party's best buddies in the media are unable to deny (although they do gloss over the fact) the preponderance of criminals and racketeers in the ranks of its new allies. When those elements become Ministers at the Centre, how does that help stability? The U.P. experience shows that if ministership is guaranteed to anyone, it is the dregs of Indian politics that the BJP seems intent on courting.

Moreover, with the basic polarisation of the electorate unlikely to alter dramatically after just 18 months of the previous elections, these alliances will be crucial. That gives considerable leverage to professional political blackmailers and opportunists, dozens of whom will grace a BJP-led Union government. Imagine being saddled with a crew ranging from D.P. Yadav to Aslam Sher Khan and Suresh Kalmadi. That will not be much help to stability. Will the BJP even attempt to control the proclivities of its allies? BJP president L.K. Advani has advanced a new tenet: the BJP will stoutly stick to its principles (such as they are). But these cannot be imposed on its allies. Translation: We're still the good guys, but we need the hoods. We cannot really look at who they are and what they are doing.

So what you are likely to get is not a 13-headed monster but an 18-headed ostrich. One that sticks all its heads in the ground simultaneously. That too on those issues of corruption and criminalisation that the BJP has made so much of all these years. Besides, to form a government at all, the BJP might have to split further what remains of the Congress Party. That will not exactly bring into it a stream of loyal, dedicated followers. The Congress(I) has repeatedly been split by its "loyalists", some of whom have joined the BJP.

WHAT was the BJP's track record on "stability" before this explicit rent-a-racketeer campaign? Pretty bad. Without any of these imports, the BJP Government in Gujarat collapsed all on its own. How many Jan Sangh-BJP governments ever completed five years in the States they ruled? How many were ever re-elected? Its solid majority along with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has not stopped a national discussion of swiftly declining law and order conditions in that State. For instance, after the shooting of 11 Dalits in Mumbai. Or on the absurd number of "encounters" and custodial deaths. Or on the alarming number of physical attacks on journalists.

And before we forget, Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister for all of 13 days. He was not toppled. He resigned ahead of a vote of confidence when the BJP found itself unable to buy the support of a single Member of Parliament. That too is seldom discussed by a press obsessed with the U.F.'s instability. That in 18 months the BJP has repeatedly held out explicit and utterly amoral bribes in an effort to break the U.F. and other formations. That it has actually delivered on its promises to the corrupt, as in Uttar Pradesh. But what is wrong in making a few ganglords Ministers if we can have stability?