Alternatives

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Print edition : March 07, 2014

In Parliament House on February 5, a meeting of leaders of non-BJP, non-Congress parties. (From left) Thambi Durai of the AIADMK, K.C.Tyagi of the JD(U), Deve Gowda of the JD(S), Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M), Sharad Yadav of the JD(U), Ramgopal Yadav of the S.P. and Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

CPI(M) genral secretary Prakash Karat addressing the media along with (from right) JD(S) leader H.D. Deva Gowda, AIFB leader Debabrata Biswas, and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in New Delhi on February 10. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa. Photo: PTI

S.P. supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. Photo: V. Sudershan

BJD chief Naveen Patnaik. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

A non-Congress, non-BJP grouping of 11 parties takes shape and positions itself as a viable, secular alternative to the two mainstream parties in the electoral race to govern India.

THE coming together of 11 political parties on a non-Bharatiya Janata Party, non-Congress platform on February 5 was premised on two assertions. First, this was a political conglomeration aimed essentially at developing a common agenda for Parliament and at coordination on that basis in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Second, people across the country have shown a preference for non-Congress, non-BJP alternatives whenever such alternatives have come up in concrete and credible terms.

What these assertions sought to underscore was that this coming together was not to form an electoral alliance but to formulate and develop common perspectives and joint actions, starting with the last session of the 15th Lok Sabha. They were stated repeatedly by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury and Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav on February 5 and on February 10 when the leaders of some of these parties gathered for a follow-up meeting.

Clearly, this positioning has its basis in the political and electoral experience of these parties in different parts of the country and in the inconsistent track record of some of them. In the past five years, many of these parties registered significant victories against the Congress and the BJP. They include the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which won the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous State, in 2012; the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which returned to power in Tamil Nadu in 2011; and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which, led by Naveen Patnaik, won its third consecutive term in Odisha in the 2009 Assembly elections.

The CPI(M)-led Left parties, who are also part of the current formation, registered their fifth consecutive Assembly election triumph against the Congress and the BJP in Tripura in 2013. That victory gave Chief Minister Manik Sarkar his fourth consecutive term. The Left Front had also held power in West Bengal for 34 years, before it was replaced by the Trinamool Congress in May 2011. The Left parties have also held together a non-Congress, non-BJP united front in Kerala for many decades. As recently as December 2013, the spectacular performance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Assembly elections showed that large sections of the electorate preferred an alternative to the Congress and the BJP.

If these experiences were the basis for the assertion on the electoral potential of the grouping, the leaderships of the various parties were also wary of projecting it as a concrete political formation that would jointly face the coming Lok Sabha elections. The reason for this was not far to seek: many of the constituents had been inconsistent when it came to pursuing a non-Congress, non-BJP political and ideological agenda.

Barring the Left parties—the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc—and the S.P., all other parties in the formation had joined hands with the Congress or the BJP either in electoral alliances or in government. The ruling Janata Dal (United) in Bihar had come to power three times in alliance with the BJP (2000, 2005 and 2010) but parted ways with the party last year. In fact, there were indications that the party and its Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, were actively pursuing an alliance with the Congress as recently as January 2014. Nitish Kumar moved to the non-Congress, non-BJP platform only when it became clear that the Congress would continue to have as its partner the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

The BJD in Odisha and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam, too, had been allies of the BJP for a long time. Similarly, other parties in the formation, such as the AIADMK and the Janata Dal (Secular), have aligned off and on with the Congress or the BJP. The Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), too, had a brief alliance with the Congress in the 2009 Assembly elections in Jharkhand.

The Left parties and the S.P. had given issue-based outside support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the Left during the 2004-08 period and the S.P. from 2004 to the present.

Policy confusion

There is also confusion on the policy front. The Left parties have maintained that for an alliance against the two mainstream parties to be credible and gain acceptance it is essential to have a clear formulation of alternative policies on the economy and on issues relating to development and social justice. Obviously, the parties that came together on February 6 are not bound by such policies.

The BJD government in Odisha is an ardent advocate of the policy of economic liberalisation though the government has carried out welfare programmes with far-reaching impact. The Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government, too, has tried out a combination of pro-economic liberalisation initiatives and welfare programmes that have had an impact. At the conceptual level the S.P. is one with the Left parties on this crucial question, but the practice of its government is marked by pro-liberalisation tendencies in several sectors. Many of these parties in the formation point out that even the conduct of the Left parties was far from resolute on this issue when it was in power in West Bengal.

There are also issues regarding leadership or the leader of the campaign for this grouping. The BJP announced Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate and built up a forceful campaign that revolved around the Gujarat Chief Minister. The Congress named Rahul Gandhi as the leader of its campaign without naming him explicitly as the prime ministerial candidate. The non-Congress, non-BJP formation will not have any single person leading the campaign at the national level. It is no secret that at least two leaders in the grouping—S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav and AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa—have prime ministerial ambitions, though this has not been stated within the grouping.

Given the dynamics within the grouping, there is no chance for an open discussion on these personality-related issues. Against this background, these parties have some way to go before they cement a functional political alliance with clear policy perspectives. By all indications, the grouping’s hesitation to call itself a third front or third alternative is on account of the realisation of its limitations. However, several leaders of parties in the grouping told Frontline that some steps have been taken to address policy and organisational challenges. According to them, a broad policy outline is being prepared and this will be highlighted at rallies and conventions across the country.

Whatever the results of this plan in the elections, there is little doubt that in terms of realpolitik, the combination of these 11 parties is indeed powerful, and their collective strength, if tapped properly, can play a major role in the formation of the next government at the Centre. Indications from the States where these parties have influence point to the possibility of their coming up with significant performances in the elections.

The AIADMK and the BJD appear to be on a strong wicket on the basis of the popular appeal of their welfare programmes. The Left parties and the S.P., the JD(U), the JD(S), the AGP and the JVM which have their own political constituencies in their respective States do pose a challenge to the BJP and the Congress.

Talking to Frontline, S.P. leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said that already the grouping had started causing concern to key players in the BJP and the Congress. “Even before we have discussed and formed a formal alliance we have been called third rate by none other than the Prime Minister candidate of the BJP. This only shows how much it rankles,” he said.

Pavan K. Verma, former diplomat and currently adviser to Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar, believes that the grouping could well be the forerunner to a positive policy-driven political intervention in the country. In the grouping, he perceives the opportunity to have an influence on the Centre, not as a mechanical opposition to either the BJP or the Congress, but by forging an alternative vision to both, based on an agreed agenda of good governance, equitable Centre-State relations, inclusive growth and secularism.

In the opinion of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and S.P. leader Akhilesh Yadav, the biggest challenge for the leaders of the grouping would be to articulate a common political, policy and electoral perspective and to synchronise organisationally. “If the parties are able to score well on these parameters,” Akhilesh Yadav added, “these parties could well have a big say in the functioning of the next government.”

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