BJP and Congress alone cannot represent entire country, says Jayaprakash Narayan; calls for 'healthy' federalism
When the 'Congress versus BJP' tale, spun in North India, touches the political fabric of the South, it re-stitches the power dynamic between regional parties within a pattern set by New Delhi. Take the case of Tamil Nadu. The state will go to polls in 2019 without its two political stalwarts — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's M Karunanidhi and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's J Jayalalithaa. Both regional parties have formed alliances, the former with Congress, and the latter with the BJP.
Jayalalithaa's AIADMK was the third-biggest party in the country with 37 seats in 2014. While the AIADMK chief had contested against the BJP back then, the ruling party made inroads into the party's machinery and brought it under the NDA umbrella. The AIADMK has given five seats to the BJP, and seven seats more to the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which is influential among the powerful Vanniyar caste in the state's northern belt. In the same state, despite the Congress' poor performance that prevented the DMK from getting a majority, the Grand Old Party has been granted 10 seats. There's a maze of regional equations in southern states where voters are conscious of the north Indian ways in the larger narratives of the two big parties.
In Andhra Pradesh, Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu seems to be eyeing a key role at the Centre and has projected himself as leading the anti-Narendra Modi front nationally. The TDP had snapped ties with the NDA last year, accusing the Centre of not honouring the commitment of granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh. The other big regional party in the fray is the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) whose chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy said he is willing to support Modi if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) falls short of the half-way mark, on the condition that special category status is granted to Andhra Pradesh.
Jayaprakash Narayan, who is founder-president of the Lok Satta Party and former MLA from Kukatpally, Andhra Pradesh, spoke to Firstpost about the need to strengthen federalism without upsetting the unity of the country. "Regional parties must be respected. People who have stakes in the state can serve help serve better. Domination from Delhi is not a very wise thing," he said, asking for unity (between parties) over uniformity. He gives examples of the governance dynamic in southern states.
In Andhra Pradesh, the fiscal crisis and unfulfilled legal commitments made by the government are real issues. In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK and the DMK have a shared legacy of social reform, commitment to state autonomy and fiscal federalism. "Today, despite the state becoming a hub of the automobile industry, its social indicators are not improving," Narayan insists, adding that stimulating investment in local industry is necessary, but not enough. He gives the example of Alandur in the state's Kanchipuram district. "The municipal chairman in Alandur has done a great job and built a great sewerage system. The state has developed in pockets," he said, noting that empowering local leadership can prove to be more effective than pushing a model guided by Delhi.
In Karnataka, beset with a fiscal crisis in the wake of the announcement of farmer loan waivers, the JD(S)-Congress coalition government slashed grants to the Hyderabad-Karnataka Region Development Board by Rs 500 crore. The board was formed in 2013 after the constitutional amendment was brought about to give special status (Article 371J) to the region owing to special development needs of the state. Loan waivers are a critical poll promise at the national level but its repercussions are felt in other areas of governance in the state.
In Kerala, Narayan feels that the social and political institutions are a little more advanced than the rest of India because of a higher literacy rate. The state can't make forays into the manufacturing sector because its landscape is more suited to the service industry. However, the state's robust social movements end up protesting against even minor changes. In Narayan's opinion, regional leadership feels disempowered because of Article 356 that states that the President of India can take control of a state, if the president is convinced that the state government machinery has broken down and cannot function as is. And it was first imposed in Tamil Nadu during the Emergency declared by the then-prime minister Indira Gandhi that dislodged Karunanidhi's government on charges of corruption back in 1976.
"Power has become a game, partly because of the institutional design of post-Independence India that celebrates the personal career of MPs and MLAs. The purpose of power, which is governance, isn’t made a part of the discourse," he says, adding that at local level, power becomes about protecting cronies, punishing opponents by meddling with investigations and collecting moolah in contracts. All power is vested with the person holding the post so it all becomes about winning or losing and not constructively contributing to governance issues across party lines. This method, he feels, has erased policies from the institutional design of politics.
In such a scenario, coalitions with bigger parties may not be result of ideological pairing but compulsions for funding or protection against investigations. Smaller parties generally tend to wish for a hung Parliament for greater say in determining the majority. A weaker government can benefit the political-business interests of small parties.
One of the other factors, that in his opinion, has pulled people away from local concerns is hyper-emotionalism and harks back to the golden era of patriotism. "Saying 'Bharat Mata ki jai' becomes perfunctory if imaginary ideas of pride aren't replaced by notions of human dignity and equality of opportunity," he says, describing radical patriotism as a burden rather than a liberating source.
Another problem that upsets the reality of democracy today, in his view, is that the Opposition has nothing to offer. "They can’t say farmer distress and run away without offering concrete solutions. Other than anger against the opponent, the Opposition has nothing much to offer," he concluded that despite overarching national issues, each state will vote differently.