Politics today is like the Sensex. It goes up and down almost every minute in the prevailing pandemonium of the 2019 Ballot Bazaar, which will decide whose stock will be up and whose will plunge. However, unlike the stock market that is dominated by 30 super duper blue chip companies, the political market is ruled by bantam regional outfits. God forbid any of them should get a cold, since it’s the national parties that start sneezing, spurring political analysts to spin their intellectual roulette wheels to explain why and how the chips fell.
Like with every big bull, a leader’s moxie is the barometer to forecast a party’s electoral fortune, irrespective of its local or national status. Such political prognostications are randomly calculated without empirical data or past behavioral indices. If the seasonal variations in the market are explained using selectively convenient data, political mergers and acquisitions are seen through the contradictory and illogical prism of unconnected developments or statements made by leaders thirsty for publicity and bargaining power. The Lok Sabha elections are almost six months away. Yet the obituaries of some satraps and the coronation of others are already being decided.
Undoubtedly, Battle 2019 will not be 2014 Redux when a regional raja from Gujarat rose like a Titan and captured Raisina Hill. The countdown has begun. Once again national parties are chasing regional outfits to help them recapture or reclaim the throne of Indraprastha in spite of no single regional nabob having the clout to make or unmake the Prime Minister. The 45 picayune parties headed by 40 little leaders with Himalayan egos will demand their share of velvet.
What will influence the final outcome the most –communal polarization or coalitions at binary levels? The answers vary depending on the political affiliations and ideological identities of the players. BSP chief Mayawati’s announcement of flying solo in the upcoming state polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was hyped by skeptics as the unraveling of the yet-to-be-quilted Mahagathbandhan (mega alliance) of non-BJP parties.
Lost in the white noise was the fact the BSP is not a national party. In the current Lok Sabha it has zero presence. Barring UP, it is a negligible force. Yet Behenji’s outburst is treated by the BJP and media as a proclamation on behalf of the total non-Congress Opposition. Her tantrum was music to the ears of the BJP leadership which perceived it as a strong rebuff to the Congress, which is seeking an alliance with the BSP. For the Congress, Maya is definitely a ray of hope.
Middle level leaders feel the party can revive its fortunes in some states with the BSP as its electoral partner. But they are unwilling to concede much space to her in spite of never having led a political party or played a national role ever. Even some of Rahul’s closest aides feel the Congress shouldn’t run after local parties that dented its original constituencies of Dalits, minorities, farmers and youth.
The Congress president is yet to define his political strategy to make his organization nationally relevant again. Barring acerbic and vicious attacks on Prime Minister Modi, he is yet to display his connectivity skills with likeminded political parties. Even after his mother’s withdrawal from everyday politics Rahul has confined his energy to the Congress. He has inducted young leaders but has abstained from assigning interlocutors for meaningful dialogues to bring all Modi opponents together on one platform. He hasn’t reconciled to the reality that most Opposition leaders are either former Congressmen or Congresswomen like Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee, who are also his political seniors. They have survived and thrived after quitting their political alma mater.
Leaders who are lost in dreams of past glory oblivious to the perils of the present are assured of a future fraught with nightmares. The Congress that won India its Independence is no longer the moral and political force it was in 1947, and its president Rahul is no Nehru or Indira. Antagonizing BSP chief Mayawati may be just an initial step in the dance of alliances; perhaps such posturing is part of the game since the top honchos have not criticized each other so far, but the consequential perception that regional parties cannot trust the Congress questions the credibility of the proposed grand alliance.
With the lower castes turning volatile against the ruling party, it would be pragmatic for Rahul to accommodate India’s Dalit Diva. In the larger scheme of things, ten seats here or there shouldn’t make a difference: A true marathon runner doesn’t count the kilometers first. In the 1980s, the Congress party’s national stature gave it the confidence to take on rising regionalism. One of the first major political decisions Rahul’s father Rajiv Gandhi took as general secretary was to get the Telugu Desam government of NT Rama Rao in Andhra dismissed by puppet Governor Ram Lal in August 1984.
NTR came back with a thumping majority in the subsequent polls, giving the Congress its first-ever drubbing by a regional party. Since then regionalism and caste have rejigged the national formula of alliance politics. Rahul has to accept the harsh reality that the Congress, a national party in name with just 44 MPs, would be the junior partner in a tie-up with powerful regional outfits like SP, BSP, RJD, DMK, AIADMK etc. In 1978, his grandmother Indira Gandhi mocked the Janata Party as a khichdi. Today’s irony is the Congress is the lead chef of the Mahagathbandhan khichdi. If it has to be served at the high table, the dish better be palatable to all, including Mayawati. SP boss and Rahul’s former poll alliance partner in UP Akhilesh Yadav, who has authored his own strategically-vital alliance with Mayawati had bluntly remarked, “The BSP is not scared of anyone. The Congress is the national party. The onus of (ensuring) the alliance is on them”.
The Grand Old Party can revive and survive only if Rahul Gandhi drops his humungous hereditary halo of Gandhi genealogy. With age on his side he is sure to gain much more by becoming a follower of experienced leaders or powering them from behind rather than attempting to lead from the front and failing.
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