Sunday, April 12, 2009

Towards a secular pro-people alternative?

The emergence of a third alternative has raised some serious doubts in the mind of the Indian electorate. Theoretically, the concept of a third alternative is exciting as it has the potential to be more consensus-based and apparently is capable of reflecting the alternative opinion of the electorate in a healthier way. But in practice the idea is underlined by skeptical connotations. The main cause behind this doubt is derived from the historical experiences of similar non-Congress, non-BJP formations of the past. Whenever there was a post-election positive atmosphere generated by political conditions for an alternative force, most of the efforts had failed to deliver in accordance to the public expectations due to the diverse political objectives of the consequent political parties. For many of the constituents, the formation of a ‘Third Front’ was envisaged purely in mere electoral terms, keeping in mind their restricted political equations. These political parties, many of them with strong regional perspectives usually come together in a situation of electoral compulsions but soon enough, due to their conflicting ambitions, prefer to roll back into their respective regional agenda. The lack of common vision and objectives between the constituents quickly move towards internal differences, political and personal rivalry between the leaders sprung up in the most deplorable manner which ultimately compels the formation towards its untimely collapse. Instead of sustaining its significance as a robust force, the ‘Third Front’ formations of the past, on the contrary, have strengthened the Congress and the BJP and both the parties has immensely benefited by the ‘failed experiments’ of the formations. But in spite of this fact, one cannot deny that the experiments had its crucial significances also. Whether we like it or not, it has definitely strengthened the Indian democracy by facilitating the progress of smaller parties to grow important in national politics.

Stability of a future government is one of the prime criteria to the electorates while they cast their votes. There is a deep reservation in the mind of the Indian electorates about the third force concept as all similar non-Congress, non-BJP governments in the past have failed to complete their full term. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that the Indian electorate is not too much enthusiastic about the third alternative formation. They are asking – is the alternative capable to provide stability? Will it be possible for them to keep aside their conflicting ambitions to enforce pro-people policies and effectively keep the communal forces at bay? At a time of unprecedented global economic crisis, will it be possible for them to co-opt an effective economic policy which will protect the jobs and livelihood of millions of common people and at the same time encourage the economy to prosper? All these are pertinent questions which need to be convincingly addressed.

The Left is presently playing a key role in giving shape to another pragmatic concept of a third alternative in the 2009 General Elections. They have specified that their aim is to put up a non-Congress, non-BJP choice in front of the electorates and to provide an alternative platform for the people, who do not want to support either the Congress or the BJP. They have laid emphasis on the need for alternate pro-people social and economic reforms and an independent, non-aligned foreign policy which will be qualitatively different from the policies which the two largest national parties have a tendency to follow. According to the CPI(M) general secretary Mr. Prakash Karat, “…democratic and secular forces who can agree with the Left on pro-people economic policies, on social justice measures, and an independent foreign policy” will join hand for this proposed formation. The Left has primarily achieved some vital success during the build-up process of the third alternative. Some regional parties spread across various states of the country, smaller but important in electoral terms, have already agreed to be part of this formation. The prospect that more parties associated with both the BJP led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and the Congress led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) are likely to join the new formation has also brightened. The Congress and BJP both has initially tried to ignore this formation but in the manner both are mocking the formation and aggressively attacking it with their selective rhetoric in various election rallies is a clear indication that they are growing more and more tensed. The prime reason behind their anxiousness is due to the lack of any major election issue this time. The possibility to win the mind of the Indian voters has therefore become dim and both the Congress and the BJP is finding great difficulty to build-up public support around themselves.

In this scenario, the regional political forces will gain momentum and will certainly play a prominent role in the national level of politics. The possibility that the Congress and the BJP might lose significant ground in the hands of their principal regional opponents in respective states is growing stronger. Also when too many parties are knocking against each other for a limited space, the situation becomes more complicated for the large national parties to deal with. The important fact that both of them have a very limited presence in some of the key big states of the country which contribute close to 50 per cent of the total seats in the Indian Parliament is hard to ignore. This is also the reason why many of the present NDA-UPA allies are keeping their intentions obscure and maintaining a fluid state to reconsider all sorts of possibilities that are likely to emerge after the polls. Even crucial regional parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) while showing interest about a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative have declined to be part of any pre-poll alliance.

The concept of a third alternative is significantly different from the concept of a ‘Third Front’. It should be noted that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which is playing a pivotal role in giving shape to this ‘viable, credible and sustainable electoral alternative’ has never called this formation a ‘Third Front’ but mentioned it as a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative. The term Third Front is actually a misinterpretation of the media. While clarifying the concept, the party has said that it does not conceptualize this third alternative purely in electoral terms but as a force ‘forged on the basis of people’s sustained struggles and movements’. Instead of confining itself to political manoeuvring and electoral bargaining, the desired objective of the party is to contribute to a progressive shift in Indian politics through joint popular struggles on a pro-people agenda built around the two basic issues – opposition to communalism and anti-people economic policies of the Congress and the BJP. The CPI(M) also perceives that opposing anti-people economic policies also means taking a principled anti-imperialist position that will uphold the sovereignty of India in foreign policy issues. Regional secular parties, those who reflect the discontent of common people against the anti-people economic policies will be forced to join this third alternative because they will eventually feel the pressure from their own social base as the living conditions of the masses is deteriorating further and further.

There is really no significant differences in the liberalization and privatization policies of the Congress and the BJP. The successive NDA and UPA regimes both have subscribed to liberalism friendly policies and encouraged rampant privatization in significant social sectors like health and education. Low state spending and reduction of subsidies for agriculture sector has intensified the agrarian crisis and consequently led to more and more farmer suicides not only in Maharashtra but also in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. During the UPA rule, the Left ‘intrusion’ has safeguarded the banking sector from the impact of the global economic crisis, the insurance sector from foreign direct investment and helped to protect many other public sector industries from the disinvestment policy of the Government. Its continuous pressure on the Government has also forced it to approve the Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Forest Tribal Bill. The Congress led UPA has also struck a strategic alliance with the United State through the military collaboration agreement which is an unprecedented shift from India’s sovereign foreign policy. But the manner in which the Congress led UPA went after the dubious Indo-US nuclear deal which the Left has been opposing from the beginning has greatly disillusioned them about the Congress.

The Congress led UPA has failed to address the alarming price rise of essential commodities including the price of drugs and medicines. This has severely affected the lives of the population who belongs to the lower level of the socio-economic stratum. The economic policies of UPA were targeted towards favoring big businesses and as a result have widened the social divide in the country. The urban and rural rich have reaped the maximum benefits of the so called ‘development’ and at the same time the vast majority has sunk to a greater extent into poverty and hunger. It is bizarre that in a country where 230 million people are undernourished, 40 per cent of children less than three years of age are underweight, 77 per cent of the population spends less than Rs. 20 a day and 39 per cent of adult population is illiterate – four out of the ten richest people in the world are Indians! Who are actually benefiting from the four years of ‘consecutive economic growth’ in GDP till 2008 is evident from these facts.

In the absence of any major election issue, the BJP has returned to its nucleus – pulling out the Hindutva agenda from their closet. Obviously, a leopard cannot shed its spots. By raising the Ram temple and Ram Setu issue and boasting to replicate the Gujarat model, BJP is hoping to stir up a viable and effective election wave that might pave the way for L.K. Advani to occupy the Prime Minister’s seat. In the recent years, communal forces have continued with their vicious and divisive activities under the political umbrella of the BJP. The party continues to cover nefarious elements like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, those who has perpetrated violent attacks on Muslim and Christian minorities in Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajashtan and Chhattisgarh. The recent Barun Gandhi episode is a ringing proof of this nakedly divisive politics of the BJP. It stands for the most reactionary forces of India and keeps on communalizing the terrorism issue by attributing all terrorist activities to the Muslim community of this country. The party’s hypocritical stand on the Malegaon blasts case where Hindutva extremists were arrested for perpetrating the heinous crime has brought out the diabolical disposition of the BJP in the open. The BJP is essentially a regressive force that seeks to pass off majority communalism as ‘nationalism’ and represents a ‘distilled communalism’ in all aspects of their agenda. Instead of involving the common masses to build up a powerful and unified alternative force against this communalism menace, the Congress has deliberately preferred to take a soft and safer stand in the BJP ruled states where they are the chief opposition party. In a state like Gujarat, it has even taken the path of soft Hindutva – just for electoral gains.

There are predictions that the Left will be unable to sustain its strength of 60 MPs in this election. The lack of any major national election issue possibly will also adversely affect the Left’s prospects in Bengal and Kerala. Though it is early to comment on how much the Left will loose their grounds, one thing is certain. Even if it looses ground, the loss will be replenished by the third alternative allies including the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which will help them to remain important in national politics. This specific aspect has ringed alarm bells to the Congress and BJP. Both the parties are not only worried about their incapability to win enough seats to be in command of any future coalition, the sturdy presence of an ideology bound Left force is always viewed as a spoiler by them. In whichever form it might ultimately shape-up, the significance of the third alternative lies here.

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