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19 March, 2012

Decline of national parties

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Indian democracy is in a state of transition. The decline of the national parties has created a situation which encourages the regional parties to play an increasingly assertive role.

The National Democratic Alliance, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Atal Behari Vajpayee, which was in power from 1999 to 2004, was a coalition of more than 20 parties. It was able to complete the five-year term. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, which replaced it, too, was able to complete its term even though it had to rely upon some parties which were not members of the coalition for survival.

With two of the Congress party’s major partners in a rebellious mood there is speculation on the ability of the second UPA government, which is now in its third year, to complete its term.

Since the All India Trinamool Congress ousted West Bengal’s Left Front government, headed by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which had been in power continuously for more than 33 years, last year its mercurial leader, Mamata Banerjee, has been throwing her weight around much to the discomfiture of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Her opposition has forced the central government to go easy on the globalisation programme. She is among the chief ministers who have come out strongly against the central government’s move to set up a national anti-terrorism centre, arguing it goes against the federal character of the republic.

Last week she embarrassed the Prime Minister by demanding the immediate replacement of her party man Dinesh Trivedi as Railway Minister who earned her hostility by proposing to revise railway fares and freight charges.

As party chief, Mamata Banerjee undoubtedly has the right to decide who should represent the Trinamool Congress in the Central government. The Prime Minister cannot, therefore, reject her demand. He is, therefore, confining his efforts to persuade her to let Trivedi stay until Parliament approves the Railway Budget which he introduced.

The Trinamool Congress, which has 19 members in the Lok Sabha, is the UPA’s second largest constituent. Its pullout from the coalition will not bring down the government. However, the Congress party has to factor in the mood of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the third largest constituent with 18 members in the Lok Sabha.

The DMK has been sulking ever since its Cabinet ministers, A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, were hauled up by the Central Bureau of Investigation to face criminal charges in connection with the 2G spectrum allocation scam. Kanimozhi, DMK MP and daughter of party chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi, also figures as an accused in one of the cases.

If the Trinamool Congress and the DMK combine forces the UPA’s parliamentary majority may be in peril. However, political observers believe the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which have 23 seats and 19 seats respectively, will be willing to sustain the UPA in office.

The SP and the BSP are already extending support to the UPA government from outside. The BSP was in power in Uttar Pradesh when the present UPA government took office. In last month’s Assembly elections, the SP ousted it from power. Though rivals in UP, the two parties have developed a common interest in the UPA’s continuance in office at the Centre.

The Congress, which had a vote share of 28.55 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and the BJP, which had a vote share of 18.80 per cent, are the largest national parties. The BSP, with a vote share of 6.17 per cent and the CPI-M, with a vote share of 5.33, are way behind them.

The UP Assembly elections have been a damper to the Congress and the BJP, both of which failed to improve their support base. If the electoral outcome is taken as early indication of the emergence of a two-party system in the state, it means the major national parties are doomed to remain in the fourth and third positions respectively in this state, which accounts for 80 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.

The CPI-M, which played a catalytic role in the formation of non-Congress governments at the Centre in the past, believes the time is ripe to revive its idea of a third front.

Some opposition parties have called for fresh parliamentary elections in the wake of the Congress party’s poor performance in UP, but they do not appear to be serious about it. The Congress certainly is in no great shape but then there is nothing to indicate that an early poll will benefit its opponents, including the BJP and the CPI-M.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 19, 2012.

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