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People have a wrong notion about regional parties in India. The Telegraph Bihar Debate 2014 — the motion being ‘In the opinion of the House, regional parties have the vision to lead India’ — made it clear that many opinion-makers too are confused about regional parties.

Strictly speaking, one can describe the DMK, AIADMK, AGP, PDP, JMM, TDP, TRS and so on, as regional parties. These outfits, along with the MNS, GJM, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, espouse the cause of the people of particular regions.

But one cannot call the CPI(M),CPI, RJD, BSP, JD(U), JD(S), NCP, RLD, INLD and the TMC regional parties. Apart from the two communist outfits and the BSP, the rest are splinter groups of national parties. The NCP and the TMC broke away from the Congress. The rest were created as a result of the repeated splits that took place within the Janata Dal after 1990. Today, their leaders are known as regional satraps. But the fact is that be it Deve Gowda or Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad, these politicians were once national-level leaders at the helm of the Janata Dal in the early 1990s. Deve Gowda had even become the prime minister. Prasad was the national president of the Janata Dal. Similarly, both Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar were, till the late 1990s, strong leaders of the Congress. Pawar even dreamt of becoming the prime minister when he was in the Congress.

The agenda of these parties is not similar to that of the regional outfits from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. They have been forced by circumstances to adopt a regional approach. In reality, their scope is larger. A quintessential regional party has little scope to expand outside the boundaries of a particular state. But the splinter groups from the Congress or the Janata Dal can certainly expand their base to other states.

Small range

The real regional parties have another problem. Take the case of the Telugu Desam Party. After the creation of Telangana, it has virtually ceased to exist in the new state and has been forced to confine itself to Seemandhra.

What needs to be understood is that in the 1980s, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is expected to emerge as the most powerful party after the 2014 election, was reduced to a ‘regional’ outfit. In the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, it could win only two seats. Its influence was palpable in Gujarat and in a couple of other states. But since its approach was never really regional, it remained a national outfit.

The Election Commission may have its own criteria for declaring a party regional or national. But there are other yardsticks of measurement —not just the number of votes polled in favour of a party. Since the communist parties are confined to West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, we tend to think that they are regional in nature. The truth is that they are not just national outfits but also, in a manner of speaking, ‘international’ parties as there are millions in the world who uphold the Marxist ideology.

The Aam Aadmi Party is another case in point. At present, it is a Delhi-centric party. But it is making efforts to turn into a national outfit. Whether it actually becomes a national party or not in the years to come is a different matter altogether. The fact remains that it has the potential to become a pan-India alternative. Even the BJP faces a serious handicap in expanding its base in the Northeast, which has a good concentration of Christians, and in the states that have sizeable Muslim populations. But the AAP is certainly evoking interest among people who are located far away from the Hindi heartland. It would be better to call non-regional outfits small parties rather than regional outfits.