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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Autumn of the satraps


Tathagata bhattcharya seeks to find if the tail can still wag the dog
Issue Dated: January 24, 2010
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Autumn of the  satraps Any exercise to determine the reason for the declining power of regional forces in shaping national equations of power will fall flat if one fails to factor in the fundamental point that identity politics has largely been rejected by the Indian electorate. While once-powerful forces like the Samajwadi Party (SP) in UP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra have been the hardest hit, even a large national party like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues to reel under this effect. Possibly, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is the only force that has defied this trend. But having said that, the facts that the Congress is swiftly gaining its foothold in Uttar Pradesh and that Mayawati is looking beyond the Dalit votebank are significant pointers as well. Regional parties are becoming limited in their sphere of influence. It is definitely not reaching Delhi as much as it used to.

The Indian democracy, in spite of existing pitfalls, is maturing. The electorate today is more unlikely to be swayed by calls to their identity based on religion, caste, community and language etc than 15 years back. An incumbent government’s performance, its ability to deliver development, security, healthcare and generate employment are more likely to determine its electoral fortunes.

The CPI(M)-led Left Front government’s abject failure in delivering the goodies mentioned above is paving the way for Mamata Banerjee’s expected triumph in the 2011 Assembly elections. The same phenomenon saw the 15-year-old reign of RJD end in Bihar. And till now, the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) government has performed. Notwithstanding the small base, the state government has to be credited for a growth rate of over 11 per cent and return of law and order. The Akali Dal, in spite of mainly representing Sikh aspirations, has become more inclusive and today represents Punjabis in general. And Punjab being an agrarian state, their pro-farmer attitude has helped them rise above identity politics.

However, without going into further innuendos, TSI takes a look at some of these forces and also a few who have managed to buck the trend.

“Similar to ‘Sanskritisation’ in the socio-cultural sphere, ‘Congressisation’ is the most uncalled-for phenomenon in politics and it is the epidemic from which the TDP is suffering most from,” said political analyst Chakradhar Mukkamala, while referring to the burning issue of Telangana agitation as a testimony to the final decadence of TDP. Autumn of the  satraps TDP was founded by the late N. T. Rama Rao (NTR) and came to power invoking insult to Telugu pride because Congress chief minister Anajaiah was berated by Rajiv Gandhi on the tarmac of the Begumpet Airport. NTR was the belated manifestation of the egalitarian dream of the Justice Party of 1910s and 1920s. An advocate of federalism, custodian of underdogs and messiah of the lumpen proletariat, NTR also filled the political void where the Left had failed. ‘Andhra Pradesh politics, till then, was ‘Congressised’, with pampered sections like Reddys and Malas monopolizing political power,’ another political observer Ravinder Durgam says.

The Reddy strongholds, spread over the southern region of Rayalaseema, Nellore and most of Telangana, produced most Congress chief ministers till the TDP was formed. Incidentally, the current CM Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy is also from the Reddy community only. NTR and his successor Chandrababu Naidu demolished Reddy domination, particularly in Telangana by fielding and successfully electing non-Reddy castes. Thus, the backward castes of Andhra Pradesh, particularly of Telangana, were swayed by NTR's egalitarian, socialist vows. But, after NTR’s demise and during the decade-long reign of his son-in-law, Chandrababu Naidu, his caste (Kamma) monopolised political power.

"Reddys and Kammas each comprise not more than 8-10 per cet of the population but have been alternately running the state. The OBCs who add up to nearly 50 per cent of Andhra Pradesh's population have no control over the political parties of the state even though the arithmetic favours them," says Durgam. This led to alienation.

But the actual body blow came when Naidu, took over his self-proclaimed role of CEO of Andhra Pradesh.Inc. ‘Blindly aping the World Bank model of agriculture, Andhra Pradesh, under the aegis of Naidu, had pumped in huge finances to push industry-driven agriculture that has not only exacerbated the crisis leading to an environmental catastrophe but also destroyed millions of rural livelihoods,” Bala Kumar Miryala, of an NGO working for Dalit farm labourers’ rights, said.

Naidu’s Vision 2020’s objective was to promote the commercial interests of the agribusiness companies (read foreign financial institutes and international bankers) and the IT hardware units. Thus, he was swept away by a tidal wave of the angry farmers.

The small and marginal farmers, in tandem with the landless labourers, who constitute nearly 80 per cent of Andhra's 80 million people, gave their verdict. The industry-sponsored economic initiatives of Naidu were anti-poor, he was weeded out in the elections.

Prior to the latest stir over Telanagana, TDP made a significant departure from its known ideological stand on a unified Andhra Pradesh. In its opportunistic policy reversal, the party agreed to a separate Telangana in its election manifesto.

“But, when the Union government made a statement favouring separation of Telangana, the usually media-savvy Naidu, who should have played the role of a responsible Opposition leader, has been in exile to evade clearing his party’s stand, which is the penultimate state of ‘Congressisation’,” Mukkamala said.

TDP is failing to meet the growing aspirations of communities that have been on the periphery for decades. It has failed to deliver development to most of the people it ruled for nearly two decades.

Vadakku vaazhgirathu, Therku Theykirathu (North is developing, south is losing) was the once favourite rhetoric of Karunanidhi, the DMK patriarch. But times have changed. The once separtist Dravidian party of Tamil Nadu has merged into the national mainstream and in Karunanidhi's own words, DMK has become, in the course of the last decade (the years DMK was in power at Centre), ''Dravidian national party". Autumn of the  satraps In the end of the nineties, India saw coalition politics coming into force. Since then, parties from Tamil Nadu have been part of all coalitions at the Centre. The AIADMK was part of the Vajpayee-led BJP alliance in 1998. Then, it was the turn of DMK to lend a hand to whatever government came to power. Even minor parties like Marumarchi Dravida Murpokku Kazhagam (MDMK) and Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) were able to share power.

In 2004, When UPA came in to power, DMK got seven ministerial berths and PMK got two. But in 2009, the situation is totally different.

DMK or any other party from Tamil Nadu was not in a position to demand ministerial berths. A sulking Karunanidhi has to contend with whatever ministerial berths provided to him but he was successful in getting his son M.K. Azhagiri and grand nephew Dayanidhi Maran Cabinet berths. He was also successful in getting A. Raja the same Telecom ministry. But this was mainly due to his personal rapport with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. But the irony is that none of the DMK ministers can take policy decisions on their own. They have to consult a committee set up by the Congress-led government.

"Any party will have its influence based on the number of MPs it has in a parliamentary democracy. But the regional parties coming from states where the Congress or the BJP is weak, will be powerful. Also the interests of national parties also play a big role. As the Congress wants to eliminate communists from West Bengal, Mamata is powerful. At the Centre, the Congress has emerged powerful enough. In Tamil Nadu too, the Congress wants to capture power. But it was Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi's decision that these moves will be initiated only after the era of Karunanidhi," says Chennai-based political columnist Gnani.

''During the last government, DMK Union ministers were able to bring in more projects and funds for Tamil Nadu. But during this tenure, I feel their hands are tied. Though the Congress has a good relationship with DMK, it will not allow any regional party to dictate terms. DMK's influence is waning," comments Thamizholi, a shop-owner in Chennai.

DMK leaders, obviously, won’t agree. “In Tamil Nadu, our party is growing in strength. Most of the AIADMK area commanders have joined DMK. Vaiko's MDMK was started with 9 district secretaries who split from DMK. But now only one remains with MDMK. All others have returned to the parent party. PMK has lost badly in the last parliamentary elections and it is struggling. Actor Vijaykant's DMDK is still a fledgling party and it has no considerable support base," says Pollachi Umapathy, state secretary of DMK's volunteer wing. Autumn of the  satraps Meera Shukla, 48, has been associated with the Samajwadi Party for more than a decade. She was a member of the party's working committee and a spokesperson for the party's women’s wing. She told TSI, “"Every party has its own working style and it is healthy to keep growing with the challenges. Those, who leave one party to jump into another just before elections, are obviously in it for money. As for the current turmoil, all I would say is that it is a personal matter amongst individuals. We live by Lohia's policy that all are equal and have equal rights. We don't believe in competition. In the next elections, we will be a force to contend with."

The defiance falls flat on the face of actual numbers. In 2002, the party had 143 MLAs which came down to 97 in 2007. In the last electoral slugfest in 2009, the party returned only 20 MPs to Parliament as against 35 in 2004. Even today, SP leaders are at a total loss of words when asked to point out Mulayam Singh Yadav’s achievements when he was the chief minister. With Mulayam unlikely to deviate from the policy of promoting his son and kins and with senior leaders openly coming out against the party’s policies, the figures are likely to worsen. The Amar Singh episode, currently playing on as this article goes to print, does not help any Samajwadi cause as well.

Punjab is one state where demography directly influences its politics. It is where one otherwise dominant minority is in majority and dictates the political dynamics. The Shiromani Akali Dal, the oldest regional and the second oldest political party after the Congress in the country, was created to articulate Sikh aspirations and ambitions in the backdrop of the liberation struggle for the Sikh shrines which were under the control of the mahants and were being misused. However, post the early 1980s, the party shifted its agenda to Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiat to the extent that its opponents within the Sikh political stream started criticising it as a Punjabi party.

Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema, party secretary and political advisor to the Punjab chief minister, said, “The Akali Dal stands for Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiat and hence represents the voice of all sections of Punjabi society which bestows upon it the role of defending the interests of the state. The Akali Dal has never ignored development of the state. Rather, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal is identified with the cause of the farmers in particular. Whenever in power, our main thrust has always been on development issues than anything else.”

Given that it depends mainly on support from the Sikh community, the party has had to seek support of other sections of the society and fundamentally different political parties to come to power. “The Akali Dal has been depending upon BJP with which it has an alliance since 1997. The BJP’s stand on certain issues has been contrary to that of the Akali Dal. It is ironic that these two parties in Punjab are dependent upon each other,” commented a political observer.

Since Punjab politics is bipolar. It is wheat-paddy rotation in politics. The Congress competes with the Akali Dal, whose role till now has not been usurped.

Looking at Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, political observer Prakash Joshi says, “The division within the party has been the biggest hindrance to it playing a bigger role in the Opposition. The Mahabharata between Raj Thackeray and Udhav Thackeray has directly and negatively impacted the morale of both the party and its workers. When Narayan Rane left Shiv Sena, the party was shaken to its roots. The parting send shivers down the spines of Shiv Sena workers. It lost the most prominent leader in the Konkan region who actually had mass base.

Besides, Ram Kadam, who came up in the current line-up of the party, is not a very strong leader. So when the Shiv Sena MPs fly to Delhi to attend Parliament, they stand out for not saying a word. Either they are completely out of tune with the proceedings of the Centre or they are deeply insecure about any ruckus that they might end up creating. It is not unusual as the Shiv Sena is known for loud interventions.” While the party has failed to cut any ice with the non-Maharashtrian votebank through its message of intolerance and acts of violence, its core support base of lowly-educated and intolerant masses have been poached by the newly-formed Maharashtra Navanirman Sena. Frequent targeting of actors and specially Sachin Tendulkar for saying he is an "Indian first" have eaten into its Maharashtrian vote bank too. It has also failed to draw any solace from its big brother BJP as the latter itself is in utter disarray. The crisis in BJP has robbed Shiv Sena of any support that it usually expects from its partner.

At the state level, a cartelisation of corruption has so disabled parties on both side of the aisle that while Shiv Sena is quietly abusing its powers to increase more and more burden on taxpayers in Mumbai, the Congress/NCP combine has been riding rough shod over people without fear of any opposition from the old political foes.

Gulam Mohammed, Mumbai-based political analyst, says, ““For the last 6 months or more, common people are suffering from unbridled price rise. In the past, this was an opportunity for the Opposition to intervene and reap political mileage. However, the fact that not a single voice has emerged from any political party points to a tacit understanding.”

Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD losing its national prominence can directly be attributed to lack of performance in the last ten years of his rule. Scams, extravagant weddings, utter lawlessness, zero development had become order of the day. There was a two-year period when every newspaper, national and regional, carried reports of abductions almost every day.

Of course, rubbing the Congress on the wrong side contributed to Lalu becoming a persona non grata.

Ajay Kumar, editor of, the most popular Website on Bihar, does not agree. "If you say regional parties are declining in Bihar, then it would be wrong. There are two major regional players in Bihar. One is RJD, headed by Lalu Prasad Yadav and the other JD(U) led by current chief minister Nitish Kumar. For the last two decades, It will be premature to say that RJD is on decline as its vote bank of Muslims-Yadav combine is intact. Had it played its cards properly and had not angered the Congress in the last Lok Sabha elections, results would have been different. On the other hand, JD(U) has emerged stronger due to the charisma of Nitish Kumar but he does not enjoy a strong vote bank,” he says.

Lalu may still retain his core vote bank in Bihar but he is down to four MP seats. Barring a miraculous recovery, he won’t be in a position to dictate any term to any Central dispensation for years to come.

Regional parties have to innovate to remain in the fray. That's what DMK has done in becoming the "Dravidian National" party. Akali Dal has also gone beyond appealing to Sikhs.

Mayawati is desperately trying to reach beyond the Dalit constituents. Even Mamata Banerjee's All India Trinamool Congress, which has become more powerful than ever before in the last three years, should learn from the other parties as its appeal remains highly regional. Unless regional parties understand the realpolitik of change, the era of the tail wagging the dog may for ever be over. Autumn of the  satraps Bucking the trend

The All India Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal are the only two parties that have grown in strength, chandrasekhar bhattacharjee and dhrutikam mohanty report

Union minister and general secretary of Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mukul Roy says, “We have been in the forefront of all people’s movements in West Bengal — be it in Singur, Nandigram, Rajarhat, Bhangar or the Rizwanur murder case. We could translate these protests into ballots with the help of common people. Apart from this, the unquestionable honesty of our leader Mamata Banerjee placed us on a different pedestal than other political parties. The general perception about political leaders is that they are dishonest, corrupt and vindictive and they do not stand by the people. It is here Mamata Banerjee and TMC scored.”

Buoyed by their Lok Sabha electoral success, TMC is now attempting to establish a national footprint. There is enthusiasm in Assam, Tripura, Mijoram and Bihar. TMC won 6 Assembly seats in Arunachal Pradesh and is now a recognised party there. The party failed to win a single seat but its presence was reportedly felt in Jharkhand. But Roy says, “We are not in hurry to expand and want to go slow.”

But Mamata’s ‘one party, one ruler’ policy may not be in sync with the requirements of a national party. Its appeal is still highly regional.

Swapan Mukherjee, president of Janasanghati Kendra, seeks to outline the meteoric rise of TMC. “The discontent against Left Front was being felt since 2005, although the Front won 235 out of 294 seats in the 2006 Assembly polls. That was due to a division of votes between TMC and the Congress. People’s movements since 2006, specially at Singur and Nandigram, changed the whole atmosphere. Those were spontaneous movements but no political party, except the TMC, led and carried their pulse into the elections. Mamata’s long standing fast on Singur issue, Left Front’s brutal police firing at Nandigram and TMC leader Subhendu Adhikari’s role there were highly applauded. So people voted for them. But, I again repeat, it was the people who took the lead in revolting against the CPI(M). The TMC-Congress combine got the votes as there was no other alternative,” he says. Amir Sarkar, general manager of a leading pharma company, goes further back to trace TMC’s success. “One may start with Singur but I would start from her valiant role since the Bhikhari Paswan disappearance case, protests against police firings in different places, martyrdom of 14 supporters in Kolkata on July 21 etc. People were unhappy about the armed cadre raj of CPI(M). They were looking for an alternative and they formed the alliance, not the TMC and the Congress. Apart from that, credit must go to the conscious intellectuals of West Bengal who intervened and organised a splendid rally against CPM’s cadre raj. Mamata Banerjee’s participation in these forums and willingness to work with open platforms helped TMC. Ratikanta Mondal, a cyclone Aila-affected farmer of Hasnabad, 120 km from Kolkata and presently a security guard in Kolkata, attributes TMC’s victory to the CPI(M) and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s arrogance. “They committed one folly after another. There was no virtual existence of the TMC in our place before,” he says.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) won 103 of the 129 seats it contested in the 147-member Assembly. Along with this huge victory, the party also won 14 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The BJD had been in government for last two consecutive terms (from 2000 to 2009) and to add it, had spurned BJP, an ally of 11 years. In that light, BJD’s thumping wins deserve special recognition.

Political analyst Basant Das comments, “Five factors were responsible for BJD’s success. First, BJD was well prepared to go alone in the elections as the party leadership had commissioned several professional surveys before. Secondly, chief minister Naveen Patnaik made the Rs 2-a-kg rice scheme an election issue. Thirdly, Naveen projected a clean image. Fourthly, BJD spent huge money during elections. Non-imposition of President’s Rule in the state after BJP’s withdrawal of support from the Naveen Patnaik government was the final feather.”
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017