Thanks to Mr. Anna Hazare, Miss Mamata Banerjee has been saved from pursuing a suicidal, negative poll strategy for achieving clout in national politics. There was a bad botch-up of their announced inaugural joint rally in Delhi. Either through confusion about who was responsible for mobilizing the audience, or through someone’s ineptitude, the rally spectacularly flopped with a ridiculously small gathering. Nevertheless, Mr. Hazare’s refusal to attend the rally due to the thin attendance was unforgivable. The excuse about ill health was transparently false; it was the thin audience that kept him away.
Even for a dozen members of invited audience a professional politician must extend to them the courtesy of addressing them. Miss Banerjee’s decision to address the thin audience, after being used to mega audiences in Kolkata, despite her huge embarrassment, was therefore laudable. She must consider herself lucky and blessed by divine providence that Mr. Hazare exposed his opportunism and lack of commitment as a future ally. Now Miss Banerjee can get back to what she was best positioned to do – maximize her strength in West Bengal. If she succeeds she will have accomplished much more to achieve national relevance than she would have by wasting her energy in attempting to create an instant national party.
The effort of some regional leaders to transform their state parties into national parties is pathetic and exposes their poor understanding of political reality. The formation of a national party must be preceded by a clear agenda, a nationwide movement to propagate it, the creation of a nationwide organizational structure, and finally the party’s constitution and its formal establishment. It requires considerable time and effort. The quick-fix efforts to go national under way by some leaders merely expose how distant TV publicity has driven politics today from ground realities. Ironically, the golden opportunity available to regional parties to create a genuine national alternative has been ignored by their leaders. India sorely needs federalism, which is not quite the same as mere devolution of power. Nor is it the same as coalition politics.
On September 30, 2012 it was stated in these columns:
“The word federal is much misunderstood and misused in India. Federalism does not imply merely devolution of power. It implies most of all a rational division of power that allows each different tier of the administration sufficient authority to deal with subjects that fall exclusively within its jurisdiction. That implies self-rule for all segments at all levels. That in turn implies that the centre also has unfettered authority to exercise power on subjects that affect the entire nation. That is what federal democracy is all about. It is not without significance that in India the word federal is used to denote the powers of the states.
In America the word federal is used to denote the power of the centre. In America the states are more powerful than states in India. In America the centre is more powerful than the centre in India.
The second very common error in India is to confuse coalition with federalism. Coalitions are ad hoc and subject to swift change. Federations are institutionally structured for permanence. That is why Miss Banerjee and other regional leaders must appreciate this difference.
India today is in critical need of stability and coherence in governance and policy. Both the UPA and NDA coalitions denied that to the nation. The envisaged third front will be no different. That is why it is imperative that if the regional leaders are serious about creating a meaningful alternative to the current political dispensation they must commit themselves to a proper federation that delivers genuine federal democracy to the people.”
How might a proper federation, as distinct from a front, be formed?
Very simply by allowing the state units to retain their respective identities at the state level and for the central party to be a united and merged entity contesting the parliamentary election under a common symbol. By doing this the regional party’s recognition as a state party would remain intact, and the proposed federation would gain recognition as a national party on the basis of its parliamentary strength after the general election. The state parties would continue to exercise influence at the centre on the strength of the MPs delivered to the federation from the state, but unstable blackmailing and defection threats would disappear from the federation because of the anti-defection law.
All this had been suggested by this writer long back when time was available to achieve it. Now a pre-poll federation is ruled out. Nevertheless even now if the regional parties unite in a front and publicly declare that after the poll they will take the necessary steps to create a proper federation, it would affect the election and create a real challenge for both the NDA and UPA. Miss Mamata Banerjee, Miss Jayalalithaa, Miss Mayawati, Mr. Naveen Patnaik, Mr. Nitish Kumar, Mr. Jagan Mohan Reddy and Mr. Sharad Pawar would all be gainers. Will anyone take the lead?