Column | Northern regional parties know their limits; to lie low in Assam, Bengal

Column | Northern regional parties know their limits; to lie low in Assam, Bengal

Even as big political parties are jostling for space in the upcoming state assembly elections, several north India-based regional outfits have decided against even a token electoral presence in a big state like West Bengal. These parties which are strong in a single state often try for electoral alliances or at least field a minimum number of candidates outside their regions so that it helps them to attest before the Election Commission that they have a pan-India presence.

But big regional players like the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Nationalist Congress Party, and Shiv Sena, which are either in power or are the main opposition in their home states, have told their regional units that they would rather support the Trinamool Congress. While JMM leads the coalition government in Jharkhand, Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party are the major partners along with Congress in the coalition which rules Maharashtra. Samajwadi Party and RJD are the recognised opposition parties in the legislative assemblies of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, another major north Indian outfit, has so far adopted a low profile in West Bengal and Assam, even though its leader Mayawati has not even announced support for any of the three main contenders in these states. In the south also regional parties like the Janata Dal (Secular) and the NCP would be in the electoral fray only if they have a seat adjustment with one of the main players in Kerala or Tamil Nadu.

These parties have taken such a stand now as the Election Commission has made more transparent the criteria for according recognition as a national or regional party. Their leaders know they have got enough vote share in their home states to be recognised as regional parties.

At the same time changing electoral dynamics also has affected the tactics of minor parties. As a single party or coalition is increasingly securing big majority in recent years, smaller parties have got themselves squeezed out of even small vote shares they had been getting earlier. They have learnt the lessons that migrants from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh who may look big in population charts actually do not have votes in the states to which they have migrated. Even those who manage to get new voter registration in places where they have migrated for work prefer locally strong parties.

The BJP factor

With its rise from 2014 onwards, the BJP has managed to attract migrants in a big way in Assam and other north- eastern states as well as in Maharashtra. It is also banking heavily on getting majority of the non-Bengali Hindu votes in Bengal, thus giving very little room for parties which are based in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

But it is also a fact that Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has told these regional parties that it is better to support her party rather than the BJP or the Congress-CPM combination. The only one leader who is a facing a conflict of interest is Hemant Soren, the Jharkand chief minister, whose state shares the border with West Bengal where there is a big population of tribals. Soren heads a ministry which has Congress representatives, but Congress did not invite him to join its alliance with the CPM. Mamata on the other hand wants Soren to actively campaign for her candidates in the border districts. Mamata would also like to invite Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party has had a few notable successes in the recent civic elections in Gujarat, to campaign in Kolkata and other major centres. But Kejriwal, who has his own all-India plans, has stayed mum so far.

Grand vision of two southern legends

It was former Tamil Nadu chief minister M G Ramachandran who had a grand vision for his party and prefixed the words 'All India' before the name of his party to make it 'AIADMK' or the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. But barring Tamil-speaking areas of Karnataka like the Kolar Gold Fields, about 100 kilometres from Bangalore, the AIADMK could not take root anywhere other than Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

N T Rama Rao, the founder of Telugu Desham, was so elated by his electoral victory in both Lok Sabha and assembly elections of 1984 in undivided Andhra Pradesh that he thought of floating Bharat Desham to politically conquer the rest of India.

Other leaders too dared, but...

Even NCP leader Sharad Pawar when he broke from the Congress had ambitions of having strong state units, but could succeed only in his home state of Maharashtra and in colleague late P A Sangma's home state of Meghalaya. Sangma's children have their own National People's Party which rules the tiny state. Though it calls itself 'National', its influence is only partially in neighbouring Manipur.

When the Janata Party kept dividing regularly, its founder president and one time prime-minister Chandrashekhar said these factions and leaders could not even cross a river even though the dominant caste on either side was the same. He was referring to former prime minister Charan Singh, who was strongly supported by the Jats of western Uttar Pradesh but could not get the support of this community in Haryana across the river Yamuna. Similarly, Mulayam Singh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh and Lalu Prasad Yadav of Bihar could not cross the Ganga at their state borders politically.

Latest bold forays

While bigger regional parties do not dare, there are many smaller regional parties like the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musilmeen of Asaduddin Owaisi and the Republican Party of India run by Union minister Ramdas Athavale which are fielding candidates across the country. While Owaisi is depending on getting a fraction of Muslim votes, Athavale is banking on the Dalit vote bank, which somehow have not favoured him so far.

The Shiv Sena which had dreams of being the countrywide Hindu party like the BJP has now realised that its writ does not run beyond Maharashtra, even into Marathi-speaking areas in Goa and Karnataka. But small parties are also hoping that the pre-2014 politics will return and there won't be any single dominant national party breathing down the necks of smaller players.

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