India has been independent for 70 years now, and its story is under scrutiny now more than ever. Some feel that the years have been wasted, others think that they have been productive. The idea of India mentioned by Jawaharlal Nehru while giving shape to India’s independence was eclipsed the moment it came into being. The reason? No matter how sentimental people are about the concept of nationalism, when it comes to voting, they always put their cultural identity first.
Therefore, our elections have become dependent on castes, communities, languages, dialects and regions.
If you look at the activities surrounding the elections for the 17th Lok Sabha, all the electoral equations are based on these very fundamental elements. For example, Omprakash Rajbhar does not have much base in his state’’s politics. He is a leader of a community which has influence in a particular area of eastern Uttar Pradesh. He is a minister in the Yogi government cabinet and often expresses his disagreement with the policies of the BJP thus creating a problem and at times challenges the image of the government. Despite this, he succeeded in securing government posts and facilities for many of the members of his party prior to the elections.
In the same manner, Anupriya Patel enjoyed power during the Modi regime. But as elections drew nearer she also started throwing tantrums. As a result, she succeeded in getting two seats instead of one. Not only this, the BJP gave the JD(U) and LJP seats as they asked and had to sacrifice five seats in which the party was sure of victory.
The same story was repeated in Maharashtra. Uddhav Thackeray never lost an opportunity to humiliate the BJP government in the last five years but he was also given the seats he wanted. Of course, the saffron party has no special affection for Nitish Kumar, Uddhav Thackeray or Ram Vilas Paswan. The underlining fact is that the BJP wants to win as many seats as it can and it does not want to take any risks.
The Congress was also making the same efforts but it had to work much harder in this regard. It faced no problem in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra but the Congress is now forced to contest alone in Uttar Pradesh, a state which was once its stronghold.
Not only this, in Bihar too it had to face the tantrums of the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav. The Congress wanted to contest on 11 seats while Tejashwi was ready to give at the most eight seats. Not just that, he was leaving only those constituencies which, going by the social equations, were not going to prove beneficial for the UPA. Finally, they reached an understanding.
It’s needless to point out how politically significant Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are. Out of the total of 543 Lok Sabha seats, these states have 25 per cent, that is 127 seats. Out of them, the BJP and its allies occupy 111 seats.
It was an opportunity for the Congress and its allies. They could reap the benefit of anti incumbency of the governments at the Centre and the states. But the delay in striking alliances has made their task more difficult. Contesting elections alone in Uttar Pradesh may bear fruit in the long run, but will the Congress be able to compensate for UP-Bihar in the nine states where it is in a direct fight against the BJP?
Why do the national parties seem so helpless? The regional parties and personalities have given great importance to regional or caste-based aspirations that the national parties are compelled to strike a compromise with them. The BJP is contesting the elections in the name of Narendra Modi while the Congress wants to move ahead under the patronage of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
If the Congress, which has had the longest tenure in the country, moved ahead under the leadership of Nehru and Indira, it always had the support of influential regional leaders. K Kamaraj, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, S Nijalingappa, Ajay Kumar Mukherjee, Morarji Desai, Yashwant Rao Chavhan, Yashwant Singh Parmar and Devkant Barua were among those leaders. The regional satraps of today are the successors of these leaders but now they prefer to compromise with the national parties on their own terms.
No one denies that every region should get representation in a pluralistic country, but when the compromises are based on opportunism, they are not beneficial for democracy. This is the phase which worries me. I do not want to see the idea of democracy meet the same fate as the idea of India.