Small minds can create big dislocations in a democracy. When Prakash Karat says that the CPM's purity cannot be diluted by association with bourgeois parties, when Sharad Pawar fields 72 candidates in Gujarat knowing that he cannot go beyond single digits, when Mayawati, who put up 163 candidates in 2012 and scored zero seats, fields 165 candidates this time, when Samajwadi Party pours money into the campaign knowing that it will get nowhere — when such things happen, what we see is ego superseding basic political commonsense.
Everyone from Karat to Mayawati wants the BJP defeated because of its communal extremism. The basic political commonsense then is for them to field common candidates so that votes won’t be split leading to the adversary’s victory. But conceit won’t allow them to do that. In the 16-seat Surat area, the NCP is contesting in nine seats and the local chief agreed that votes in those seats would get divided to the BJP’s advantage. It’s as though politicians are happy to cut the nose to spite the face.
Small parties get smaller as a result of such egocentric policies. Under Prakash Karat the CPM has become an inconsequential party. Not that it was very consequential before he became general secretary. But his predecessor Harkishan Singh Surjeet had enabled the party to punch above its weight. An amiable networker, he had excellent personal relations with all parties and all leaders which made him a key player in times of crisis and controversy. Under him the CPM, despite having no power, wielded great influence.
Karat proved to be the very opposite of Surjeet, considering himself ideologically superior to all others and confining his contacts to a handful of party cronies. He not only witnessed the loss of West Bengal which the party had ruled for more than three decades; his petulance led to the party losing an effective voice it had in the Rajya Sabha. Sitaram Yechury was popular. Perhaps for that reason Karat turned against him and ensured that he was not given a third term. In the name of ideology he refuses contact with the Congress. The BJP won’t even thank him for the assistance thus provided.
Uttar Pradesh VIPs are even more thick-headed. Exhortations have appeared in the media emphasising that Akhilesh Yadav is the natural opposition candidate to take on Narendra Modi in 2019. As a Samajwadi loyalist put it: Rahul Gandhi may not be acceptable to others as the face against Modi, but Akhilesh will be. He conceded that his party could have friendly relations with the Congress, but not a joint programme; “Akhilesh against Modi in 2019 will be a winner.”
Most other parties ignored this proposition. Naturally. But Mayawati’s admirers won’t let such a claim go unnoticed. Naturally. A BSP spokesman quickly dismissed Samajwadi pretensions. “Behenji is the only leader with a pan-India presence. If there is to be a prime ministerial candidate from the opposition, it has to be Behenji.” The advantage with UP leaders is that they know that the sun rises in Ballia and sets in Ghaziabad of which Delhi is a suburb.
A new entrant to this game of “me-first” is Asaduddin Owaisi, the Muslim entrepreneur from Hyderabad. His home seat has been a fortress for him for long. But the rise of Telangana and BJP’s deliberate inroads into his bastion have raised new challenges. In a frank admission, the articulate Owaisi said recently: “If we are silent our identity will be wiped out from Indian politics”.
So he contested 35 seats in far-away UP. He did not win even one. (He got a consolation prize when he bagged 29 of the 78 seats in UP’s municipal elections). He split Muslim votes and contributed to the massive victory of the BJP. The effect of splitting was dramatically illustrated in Deoband, a Muslim-majority area and seat of a famous Islamic centre. The BJP’s Hindu candidate won there. The BSP’s Muslim candidate and the Samajwadi's Muslim candidate together won more votes than the BJP candidate.
Refusing to learn the lesson, Owaisi is fielding candidates in the forthcoming election in Karnataka where the BJP is exerting every muscle and every rupee it has to regain power. The Congress has a fair chance to win, but splitting of votes can eliminate that chance. Those with short sight won't care. This is how small minds help their enemies and create dislocations that harm themselves and the larger polity. “Behold, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed.”