The trend of corporate mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances are experiencing a sunset moment. Instead, the season for political mergers and acquisitions has opened. Such opportunistic deals are occuping primetime news hours more than corporate alliances of the past. With market leaders like BJP and Congress exhibiting zetetic zeal in acquiring new caste and community markets, the price of picayune political outfits have hit the roof. The market capitalisation of sinking political organisations has exceeded their net worth, thanks to massive demand from national parties. Prominent brand masters like Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are desperately seeking alliances to either retain their market share or expand it by gobbling up small players. Neither national party holds more than 40 per cent of the electorate market. In spite of pan-India visibility, neither has a significant presence in states that send over 250 MPs to Lok Sabha. Even some regional parties are scouting for trophies as window displays to attract fence-sitters. As the countdown to battle 2014 begins, it has dawned on all that battles of the ballot cannot be won on banal ideological and individual-driven charters. The new mantra to win the Lok Sabha polls seems to be ‘Forget Development, Welcome the Caste and Community Coalition’.
After acting pricey, both Rahul and Modi have realised that any dream of capturing 7 RCR will remain a mirage unless regional satraps and caste/community leaders join them in selling their brands. Surprisingly, BJP initiated the first move. It was under the illusion that Modi will move the market like Dhoni, Bachchan, Salman or Priyanka do for brands they promote. After addressing 70-odd rallies from Kerala to Tripura, Modi and his sponsors seem to have realised that he alone is not enough to convert visible popularity into votes. BJP needed local leaders and vote mobilisers to go that extra mile to the booth. After having failed to win over any of the big leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Chandrababu Naidu, BJP decided wooing failed caste leaders is the only option to erase impression that the party isn’t able to garner new allies. The total worth of BJP’s new acquisitions and mergers is unlikely to create a winning tally. For the past four months, it has hawked Modi as the panacea for all ills that plague Indian politics and economics. Through expensive tech campaigns, Modi was projected as the leader who would pull India out of a mess. The feedback from huge rallies and small groups of targeted audiences had given Modi and sponsors the impression that BJP and its PM candidate don’t need alliances. Rajnath Singh told me in an interview that NDA needs no allies to form a government because Modi’s leadership was enough. The next day, however, he and his messengers were striking deals with all and sundry. Nitin Gadkari wooed Dalit leader Ramdas Athawale to join the NDA bandwagon. For the sake of a fading Dalit satrap, the party denied Rajya Sabha re-nominations to dedicated leaders. The best joke of all was the induction of Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar, which the BJP claims to be its new bastion. The two leaders collectively do not count for more than 4 per cent of the total vote. In Tamil Nadu, BJP has been panting to get Vanniar caste-dominated PMK to join NDA, ignoring pending criminal cases. It brought back former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa to regain Lingayat votes. The clear fiat to BJP’s state leaders is to spot fringe parties to be shanghaied to NDA.
Both national parties have used corporate and NGO interlocutors to bring SP, TMC, AIADMK, BJD and TDP closer, but none of the regional outfits have bothered to return calls. Instead, Mulayam Singh Yadav took the lead in corralling most of the non-national parties on one platform to forge a pre-poll alliance. None of them are in competition in any state. It is only the Left, which stands to gain if such an alliance is midwifed because it would then get seats in states where it lacks a chance. Since forward and dominant castes in the big states show no interest in either national party, BJP is randomly picking up leaders known not for their achievements but for their caste or symbolic value. The party readmitted backward class leader Kalyan Singh not for his track record but considering his caste pull. It is an irony that the party which began its campaign as one that stood for decisive leadership and good governance is now chasing tainted and failed leaders.
Meanwhile, Congress and its supreme leaders don’t mind giving tickets to those whose reputations are sullied by judicial action and investigation. They represent only caste and community and are not responsible for transparent governance. BJP to prove its USP, has embraced superannuated controversial civil, police and army officers. If those who do not honour democracy and transparency become prominent instruments of a party’s growing acceptability, it reflects badly on its popular commitment. In the past few months, over half-a-dozen retired babus have joined the party. All the state mongers are beneficiaries of UPA’s liberal munificence and even got plum postings. Unlike AAP, which is recruiting and co-opting those who have rebelled against the system, BJP and Congress prefer the brotherhood of compromisers and opportunists. While the former nets fair weather birds, the latter has so far failed to acquire new parties or even discredited caste and community leaders. The trend is clear. The maximum leaders now depend on minimum fuglemen to succeed.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla
Corrigendum: In last week’s article, former Union finance minister C D Deshmukh was wrongly mentioned as erstwhile Bombay state’s finance minister. The error is regretted.