Column | Regional parties chary of targeting centre over China

Column | Regional parties chary of targeting centre over China
Activists of Rashtra Nirman Party (RNP) burn posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese national flag during a protest, in New Delhi, Saturday. Photo: PTI

In the ongoing war of words between the BJP and the Congress over the Chinese transgressions in Ladakh, the BJP leadership is pointing fingers at the Congress saying it should learn from regional parties in supporting the government during a national crisis. While the government denies there is any Chinese intrusion, the Congress insists that the government should come clean on what is happening on the border. But many regional parties, especially those running state governments, have either supported the government or remained silent. Even a bitter critic of BJP like Mamata Banerjee has been very careful with her remarks. DMK, an ally of the Congress, has supported the government on the issue.

As the BJP was happy that the Congress was isolated, except for support of the Left parties, DMK president M K Stalin came with an explanation. Stalin said his party had always supported the central government on overseas and defence issues, except in relations with Sri Lanka where it has a separate view from the centre most of the time. The DMK supremo was responding to remarks that his party had opposed the Congress government as the then PM Rajiv Gandhi sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka but had been supportive of Narendra Modi on issues with China. The DMK and AIADMK which have supported Congress and BJP governments at the centre in the past have always drawn a redline on Sri Lanka policy, especially that involving the Tamil people and their regions in northern and eastern parts of the island nation.

BJP has accused the Congress of cheap politics as the former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has strongly attacked the government on its handling of the triple crisis of COVID-19 pandemic, economic slowdown and the loss of lives of Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley in Ladakh. Congress president Sonia Gandhi too has been very critical and demanded answers from the prime minister.

On the other hand major UPA partners like DMK in Tamil Nadu, NCP in Maharashtra and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkand have been cautious while commenting on the confrontation with China. Among other political parties, major eastern regional parties like Biju Janata Dal, YSR Congress, Telengana Rashtra Samithi and Trinamool Congress have distanced themselves from Congress. Apart from the Left parties, which are generally critical of everything done by the prime minister, the Rashtriya Janata Dal headed by Lalu Prasad has been vocal in attacking the government.

The two major regional parties of Uttar Pradesh - Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party - have adopted different stands. While Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has been attacking the Congress, the Samajwadi Party has maintained stoic silence on the border crisis, even though its seniormost leader Mulayam Singh Yadav was the defence minister during 1996-98. Similarly another former defence minister Sharad Pawar, who heads NCP, has been supportive of the central government.

Both Pawar and Mulayam, when they were in defence ministry had asked the country to be wary of China, even though the then prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao (Pawar's leader), H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral (Mulayam's prime ministers) were negotiating with China. Even Telugu Desam Party which is estranged from both BJP and Congress has been economical with its reaction.

Even if the BJP is happy that the Congress is largely isolated in the opposition space, in electoral terms, these same regional parties would not yield an inch to the saffron party, as happened during the recent assembly elections in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. They opposed the intrusion of BJP into their territories, even though they became soft towards the majority government of Narendra Modi and supported the government in the Rajya Sabha on critical legislation. Similarly, Delhi Chief Mnister Arvind Kejriwal has been supportive of all NDA government decisions from the scrapping of special status to Jammu and Kashmir to the fight with China, even though his party, AAP, had thumped BJP in the recent assembly elections.

If Modi's electoral fortunes were different and if he had to depend on other parties to get majority in the Lok Sabha, the BJD, YSR Congress and TRS would have been willing to support the government, of course on their own terms. Regional parties have given support to minority governments from V P Singh to Manmohan Singh and have extracted their pound of flesh. Similarly Mamata Banerjee, who has not attacked the government on China policy for tactical reasons -- especially as two of her rivals, Congress and CPM, are adversaries of BJP. But she would fight all the three parties in next year's assembly elections. DMK too would stick to UPA as its archrival AIADMK is part of the NDA in Tamil Nadu, and this could be the line-up for next year's assembly elections.  

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