The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- As coalitions go, the UPA cannot last and the NDA is dying

Indian politics is in flux. The United Progressive Alliance is an alliance of unlikely bedmates, formed to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party out of government. It cannot last. The National Democratic Alliance seems to be dying. And yet this is the age of coalition governments. There is need for at least two national parties around which to build coalitions. But the Congress gives smaller parties get few of the perquisites of power.

The Congress and the BJP are the 'natural allies'. Their economic, security, foreign and other policies are the same. The Congress today talks 'pro-poor' economic policies after the results of the last general elections. The BJP will continue these policies (most were also BJP policies) if it comes back to power at the Centre. But an alliance of the BJP and the Congress is inconceivable. The dynastic Congress will not want to share rule with another powerful national party.

Communist parties today have disproportionate influence. Their ideology is anti-West, a relic of the anti-capitalist ideology of the Soviet era. They oppose any move that brings us closer to the West. They are mindlessly pro-China. They are 'pro-poor', mainly the urban industrial working classes and government servants. They are against efficient administration through splitting large states. They are against modernizing Islamic rules and attitudes. Having encouraged the illegal immigration of large numbers of Bangladeshi Muslims into India over the years and created a vote bank, they will do nothing to alienate it. They are against measures to improve industrial efficiency and global competitiveness. They are for direct interventions by government in the economy to support the poor, but will not countenance attempts to make these interventions efficient in reaching targeted beneficiaries. They support only revenue-raising measures that raise taxes on those who are better off. They oppose any policies in conflict with these beliefs. The Congress is not their 'natural ally'. In Kerala and West Bengal, the two communist strongholds, the Congress and the communists are the alternative parties.

The Samajwadi Party leads in blatantly wooing minority votes. But it has no hesitation in accepting (even negotiating) BJP support in the assembly to retain power. It cannot reliably ally with the Congress for joint governance because they have displaced the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. The Bahujan Samaj Party under Mayavati has only one objective: to enable Mayavati to get power and crown herself Queen of the Dalits. After installing her own statue in Lucknow she now needs the throne. The BSP is an opportunistic and unreliable ally like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the slightly less unreliable Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

J. Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK have wooed and cohabited with both the national political parties and been part of some of the rainbow coalitions that gave us Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar, I.K. Gujral and H.D. Deve Gowda as prime ministers. The DMK, if less voluble, is no different. The DMK may well not survive the political demise (because of physical infirmities) of M. Karunanidhi, which cannot be far away. Other contenders for his place in Tamil Nadu like Vaiko have also shown no particular political principle in their cohabitations with the two national parties.

The Telugu Desam Party had five profitable years supporting the BJP. It will do so again. It is the Congress's natural opponent in Andhra. The Janata Dal (United) is an unprincipled combination that saw no conflict between its 'secular' stance and joining the BJP in forming the NDA. The Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar has no ideology. It is an individualist party that will not survive him.

Almost every party is available for cohabitation with the national parties and the highest bidder. They recognize that, at the Centre, there must be a 'national' party at the coalition's core.

The Congress is vaguely secular, (read anti-BJP). It will not condemn minority communities' actions. Some instances are, ignoring the move by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee to honour Bhindranwale; unwillingness to discipline their Punjab chief minister when he had his legislature pass an act that refused to implement a Supreme Court judgment on river water sharing with Haryana; introducing 50 per cent reservation for Muslims in the Aligarh (Central) Muslim University. The dynastic imperatives of the Congress will prevent any leaders of competence from rising in it. Despite small numbers in parliament the Congress grabbed powerful ministries, innumerable committees, commissions, boards and other top-level appointments. While the communists support it today, the Congress knows that this cannot last forever. This is true of the other supporters as well. The BJP could be as much a 'natural' ally for these different parties (except the communists) as the Congress. But they must lose their anti-minorities rhetoric.

L.K. Advani catapulted the BJP into national prominence with his rath yatra and revival of the Ayodhya temple agitation. He used the most bigoted rabble-rousers from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to mobilize public opinion. It succeeded until people recognized the cynical vote-getting ploy. The realist Advani recognizes that. The 'anti-incumbency' factor will hit the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and even Rajasthan in the next elections.

Gujarat is different. Narendra Modi, despite the national obloquy after the killings in Gujarat, has been recognized as offering the best government in the country. Modi and the BJP will not lose Gujarat elections in 2007, not because of Modi's Hindutva credentials but because of the excellent governance that he has brought to the state. But Modi is not a national leader and his extreme attitudes will prevent him from becoming one.

BJP has one embarrassing ally, the Shiv Sena. But after Bal Thackeray's exit, the Shiv Sena will become gentler. However, the BJP's association with the Togadias and his ilk from the sangh parivar are a dis-inducement to other allies. The cohabitation with BJP, when these loudmouths are active, weakens minority support.

The BJP, after the last elections, has faced a serious dilemma. Its allies in the NDA want dilution of the Hindutva ideology. In government, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani found it convenient to use the allies as excuse for not pursuing Hindutva. To regain power now, allies have to be retained and new ones added.

Advani had cobbled a coalition of disparate parties and made Vajpayee prime minister. Managing a coalition with George Fernandes, both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi (at different times) in one government was an extraordinary achievement. It was Advani's acceptability to the hardliners of Hindutva (RSS, VHP) that made the coalition stable and kept the extremists in check. They trusted him because he had made Hindutva a national cause and they expected that he would, over time, enable them to meet their ambitions. But for Advani it was only sensible political strategy.

Advani's strategy has to change and make the BJP acceptable. He cannot abandon Hindutva. But he can rework his demonic image and win acceptance among minorities. He found the best way in Pakistan. He reminded everyone of Jinnah's non-fundamentalist Islamic credentials and hinted at the responsibility of Nehru and the Congress for Partition and its horrors. This theme will surely be further developed in coming months.

The RSS has always said it is not a political party. For the BJP, the RSS provides footsoldiers, not political strategy. The RSS can work for Hinduism. The BJP will be the Hindu political party that is not anti-minorities. Advani has started the process and will ensure its acceptance. His target must be to create a broad coalition with the Samajwadi Party, TDP, NCP, DMK, JD(U) and other smaller groups. All will want to escape the Congress's dynastic imperative. Advani has logic and past successes on his side.

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