Budha can smile
By H.K. Dua
THE results of the Assembly elections are important not only for the governance of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam; these are also going to have a bearing on national politics and policies during the next few years.
The CPM-led Left Front has won a massive mandate in West Bengal, which it has been ruling for nearly three decades, and at the same time snatched Kerala from the Congress. If Budhadev Bhattacharya has reason to smile all the way at his and his party’s performance in West Bengal, the DMK’s Karunanidhi can go in for full-throated celebrations for dethroning none else than Jayalalithaa, who always managed to project a larger-than-life image and often looked invincible. The scriptwriter has outsmarted the actor in Tamil Nadu’s filmi politics this time.
Generally, the dynamics of the State politics works differently than that of the national politics, but there are times when the message emerging out of State elections cannot be ignored by parties having ambition to rule at the Centre.
A clear message from the Assembly elections is that while parties which are strong in States can keep the national parties at bay, a national party like the Congress has to travel a long distance to recapture power at the Centre on its own.
A serious shortcoming in the Congress party is its failure to recapture its pre-eminent position over the years in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s victory in Rae Bareli with a record margin, besides boosting the party’s morale, may encourage it to launch a massive campaign against the Mulayam Singh government in its attempt to win Uttar Pradesh for the Congress in the next year’s election in the State. The noises the Congress has begun making on reservation for jobs and admissions for OBCs are a pointer to the party’s electoral ambitions in UP and ultimately in the parliamentary polls.
The Congress-led UPA government at the Centre is in power with the support of the CPM which has further strengthened its hold in West Bengal and expectedly regained Kerala. With 63 MPs in tow in the Lok Sabha, the CPM can become more strident in making policy demands on the Manmohan Singh government than earlier. The party may choose to apply brakes on some of the economic reforms of the UPA government during the remaining three years of the life of the present government at the Centre.
Even some of the Congress MPs’ enthusiasm for reforms seems to be waning because of electoral compulsions. The temptation to go in for populist policies can become irresistible for the Congress party during the runup to the next Lok Sabha election. This, in turn, can affect the government’s effort to achieve a 10 per cent growth. With the Congress lacking absolute majority in the Lok Sabha it may find it difficult to make economic policies autonomous from the electoral arithmetic in the House.
The CPM’s success in West Bengal is indeed heady, but the party has to learn some lessons from Budhadev Bhattacharya’s choosing to depart from the Marxist dogma and attract private investment. Not that the CPM will give up its Marx, but already some of its second-line leaders are justifying Budha’s changing party line by giving the dialectical argument that their ideology essentially values the need for change.
Whatever the internal contradictions of the CPM, its leadership cannot lose sight of the economic realities in West Bengal which Budhadev Bhattacharya has rightly understood. His softer image, policies and personal appeal have helped the party win praise and the vote of the middle class in Kolkata and other cities in the State. Even the hardliners in Kerala may have to learn from Budhadev Bhattacharya and possibly change tack.
Marx and his followers have never gained a foothold in the Hindi belt, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Among many reasons is certainly the strong influence the caste is continuing to have in this crucial area which sends one-fourth of the MPs to the Lok Sabha.
This explains why Prakash Karat emphasises the value of forming a Third Front before the next election, possibly in collaboration with such men as Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, if he delinks himself from the BJP. Even Marx apparently does not mind a piggy-ride on the back of caste, if it extends the CPM’s influence in the Hindi belt.
More is likely to be heard about a Third Front in future, whatever the fate of the past experiments in this connection.