Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi addressed his party workers in the BJP central office. He said that the Congress had in fact been finished in 1967 but opposition parties failed to perform and kept it alive. He said that now finally the whole nation had voted for change and given its mandate to the BJP because it wanted a national party to govern India. From his tone and tenor it was clear that the PM considered his government to be a strong central authority that would look after the states and replicate the power and authority that characterized the first Nehru government.
The PM also met with all the general secretaries of his party. He instructed them to prepare for assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana later this year and in Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar next year. He told them to also prepare for assembly elections of 2016 in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. He wanted them to secure a BJP victory in all the states. Clearly, the PM is working towards creating a single party that might govern the centre and all the states. That is a good sign. He is focused on consolidating a strong centralized national party.
However, the PM glossed over one fact while addressing his party workers. He attributed the recent poll results solely to the nation’s yearning for a strong central government. In fact the results indicated a very strong anti-incumbency wave. The BJP performed spectacularly well wherever it had a significant presence, including in UP and Bihar. But the performance of the regional parties was as spectacular where the BJP presence was minimal. For Mr. Naveen Patnaik to win 20 out of 21 seats in Orissa, for Miss Jayalalithaa to win 37 out of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu and for Miss Mamata Banerjee to win 34 out of 42 seats in West Bengal was no less impressive. Mr. Modi has made his intentions clear. He will do everything possible to uproot the dominant regional parties and replace them by the BJP. How will the regional parties respond to this challenge?
Presently regional leaders are approaching the PM with requests for bigger financial aid packages or for granting special status to their states. One is sure the PM will be sympathetic, perhaps even generous. Right now he needs the votes of the regional parties in the Rajya Sabha. But eventually, what? Can there be any doubt that a strong adversarial attitude of the BJP will surface in each state with the attempt to wrest power? And would not this be the only sensible approach for a strong national party? Eventually even the NDA partners will by attempt be either swallowed wholesale or get marginalized like other regional parties. That is the rational and understandable logic of Mr. Modi’s long term strategy. Therefore if regional leaders also care to think long term they must decide. Are they prepared to eventually disappear, or will they fight to challenge the new centralized national party? And if they choose to fight, how might they proceed?
In fact the regional parties have a lot going for them. The Congress party is wiped out even though there are 44 disgruntled and demoralized Congress MPs in Lok Sabha. All together the AIADMK, TMC, BJD, YSR Congress in Seemandhra, and TRC in Telangana account for 111 MPs. If a part of the Congress group if not the entire contingent can be persuaded to join it would create a block of around 150 MPs. But forming a bloc will not challenge the BJP but merely vindicate Mr. Modi’s assertion that there is no credible alternative to his party. A challenge to the BJP will emerge only if the 150 or odd MPs form a party to take on the BJP both inside and outside parliament. To accomplish that, the following steps need to be taken.
First, a meeting of all the regional leaders should be convened to discuss the issue. They should agree that nothing must be done to dilute their respective authorities and powers in the state, but at the same time a credible formation at the central level is created to provide a real challenge to the BJP. I have often pointed out that the natural and healthy ideological polarization in Indian politics is between centripetal and centrifugal forces. The impulses of both centralization and decentralization have validity in federal India. The constitution of a federal party that allows autonomy to state units and achieves cohesion at the central level needs to be approved. The draft of such a constitution can be made available in a day. A policy agenda for the new party that addresses the systemic reforms required will also be required. The draft of such a policy agenda can also be made available in a day.
Secondly, if agreement is reached on these two points all the regional parties should launch a nationwide movement to propagate the highlights of their agenda to attract new recruits to their future party. There are across India thousands of members of defeated parties waiting for a chance to get active again. The movement should create a strong organization through appointment of conveners and executive committees in each state, each parliamentary constituency, assembly constituency and primary level unit.
Thirdly, the movement should hold a national convention to launch the new federal party, adopt its constitution, appoint its president and office bearers, and chalk out its schedule for the future. This entire process can be completed within one year. The new party should at the outset resolve to function strictly according to procedure and norms laid down in the party constitution and avoid the ad hoc and arbitrary approach adopted by the so called high commands of Indian political parties so far.
To achieve this is a tough call requiring self discipline by regional leaders. It remains doubtful if these leaders can achieve it. But if this were done, not only could the BJP be seriously challenged at the next general election, but there would be even chances that it could also be defeated. India would get a genuine two-party democratic system. That would help the government, help the BJP, and help the nation. So, will regional leaders quietly surrender, or will they fight?