Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Face the Elections: Power bigger than ideology

By M H Ahssan

As the race for the 15th Lok Sabha gains momentum, political posturing, too, is picking pace. Allies of the two major national parties – Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have been bargaining hard and some of then have even walked out of the alliances.

While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has shrunk from a 23-party coalition to just six now, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is in no better shape. After the seat sharing fiasco in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Congress has decided to go alone in the two states even as the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Lok Jan Shakti Party and Samajwadi Party on Thursday decided fight the elections as one block.

In more bad news for the Congress, Union Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss's party, the Pattali Makal Katchi (PMK) with six Lok Sabha seats, has switched sides once again. PMK will contest the elections in partnership with J Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

With new alliance being formed every day, CNN-IBN’s Face the Elections debated: Alliance mela: Do the 2009 elections show an end of ideology?

The panelists included Congress leader and Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences Kapil Sibal and BJP MP and Spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad and the debate was moderated by Senior Editor Sagarika Ghose.

At the start of the programme 81 per cent agreed while 19 per cent disagreed that the 2009 elections show an end of ideology

The Congress, which was sitting pretty just a few days ago, is now left with allies who are either fickle (Mamata Banerjee) or eyeing the top job (Shard Pawar) or are losing support (M Karunanidhi).

Kapil Sibal did not agree and instead claimed that it is the BJP which should be worried about allies deserting it.

“I think the Opposition should be more worried than us because at least those we are fighting in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have publicly stated that they will continue with the UPA. Ultimately they will be with us. So I don’t think we have lost anything. It is the NDA which has lost because from 23 coalition partners they have been reduced to six. We are not worried and frankly we have had an additional alliance with Mamata in West Bengal. So we have not lost anybody other than the PMK. I am sure the PMK is like a stream out of river and it will join the river back after the elections,” claimed Sibal.

Congress seems confident of getting the support of many parties who have left it as they have already backed Manmohan Singh’s candidature as for the post of prime minister. However, in the NDA not many want LK Advani as the prime minister. After Biju Janata Dal (BJD) walked out of the NDA in Orissa, the only major alliance partner is the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar. So Bihar must deliver for the NDA even as there have been miniscule gains in Haryana with the Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Lok Dal (NLD) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam.

Prasad began by giving a breakdown of the UPA partners claiming the Congress-led front was steadily losing ground.

“I can understand that Kapil has to undertake some self-consolation as it is a bad time for Congress. The UPA which was an opportunist amalgamation created in 2004 has disintegrated completely before the 2009 elections. Congress was give just nine seats in Uttar Pradesh (six) and Bihar (three) combined out of the 120 seats. In entire Eastern India they have just Mamata who is in alliance but not an ally. In North India they have no alliance; in West they have Sharad Pawar who is not an ally because of his prime ministerial ambition. In South except for Karunanidhi they have no alliance,” Prasad said

“As far as NDA is concerned, JD (U) is with us, Akali Dal is with us, Shiv Sena is with us, Chautala and AGP have joined us. UPA’s PM candidate is still uncertain but here it is Advani,” added Prasad.

The Congress has also been accused of not treating its alliance partners as equals. Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday in an election rally in Puducherry said that it would be “detrimental for Congress to fight elections with allies like RJD and Samajwadi Party in Bihar and UP”. So should words like detrimental be used for key allies like the RJD, and should not the Congress be more equal with its allies?

Sibal retorted by saying that the Congress is a national party and always cannot bow down to its alliance partners.

“It is misrepresentation of what Rahul said. In Bihar we fought four seats last time and won three. This time with any reference to us we were handed just three seats. If a regional party in Bihar wants to make sure that the national party has no presence in the state it means they want to pressurise the national party after the elections for many things. If we continue to accept what our allies are saying then we will become extinct in Bihar. Rahul Gandhi is absolutely right that to retain our presence as national party we need to fight more seats in Bihar,” argued Sibal.

Sibal continued saying the only way for Congress to rebuild itself was to contest more seats.

“If we fight just three seats if Bihar, there is no way we can build our party structure in Bihar. If we fight in only three seats and not in 37 or 40 seats, the Congress workers will be taken over by the RJD, Paswan’s party or to Nitish Kumar. Rahul Gandhi is absolutely right that we want to build in states where the regional parties want to throw us out,” said Sibal.

On the other hand the NDA , too, does not seem to be in better shape. The NDA was a 13-party alliance in 1998 and in 1999 it had 23 parties with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the leader. Now the BJP does not have a Vajpayee-like persona who can keep together ideologically disparate groups. BJP’s communal tag is driving away allies. The absence of a consensus–building figure like Vajpayee seems to the BJP’s biggest problem.

Prasad countered by arguing that Advani has the support of all NDA partners.

“Vajpayeeji’s blessings are always there and he has blessed Advaniji. Advaniji today is the declared and unquestionable prime ministerial candidate of the BJP and the NDA. NDA is intact and stands for new India. But Congress is being decimated. Congress is being marginalised and allies are deserting it. Congress is not a bankable cheque as far as allies are concerned. It is not in the DNA of the Congress to accommodate allies,” said Prasad.

Sibal shot back at Prasad saying it is the BJP that will struggle to keep its partners in days to come

“Prasad says Congress is not a bankable cheque. But look at the NDA. Out of 23 partners they are now left with just six. But he still calls the BJP bankable. The fact is even today Mulayam Singh, Amar Singh and Lok Jan Shakti Party say they have faith in the UPA and will continue to be with the Congress. Despite the fact that we are fighting against each other, they trust us. They are not leaving us. All secular parties will get together to fight communal forces. When the elections results come out, the six parties left with the BJP will also run away. Advaniji will continue to be the prime minister-in-waiting,” he said.

BJP built its alliance on the anti-Congress agenda. But it is proving to be a very weak force now. Perhaps only the Telugu Desam Party will never join the Congress but other parties may have no problems in supporting the UPA. Parties who have minority votes have problems with BJP. Only the Shiv Sena and the Akalis look like never leaving the BJP.

Prasad countered by saying, “AGP and Chautala’s party have joined us. The UPA came to power in 2004 and since then except for Assam, Rajasthan and Delhi the Congress has lost all state elections. Anti-Congress agenda is not dead. Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu and AIADMK are anti-Congress. If Kapil Sibal is so sure that they will fight against each other and come together after the elections then they are fooling the people of the country. Only NDA can deliver.”

Sibal concluded by taking a dig at the NDA.

“The NDA today has 172 seats. How they will deliver and when they will deliver? Maybe they will have to wait till 2018 if at all they have a chance,” he said.
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