Some disadvantages of the decline of
national-level parties are obvious. These include the coalitions
that are cobbled together to form governments at the centre and in
the states, and the resultant political instability. But a third
more worrisome fallout is the growing clout of regional leaders
who might otherwise have remained mostly on the sidelines.
Had these local chieftains taken the opportunity to enter the
national stage to broaden their outlook by acquainting themselves
with issues outside their states, the outcome of the present-day
coalition era might have been beneficial for the polity.
But recent events have shown that their newly acquired importance
hasn't made them more responsible. Instead, it has fuelled
inordinate ambitions and encouraged them to boost their support
bases with reckless gestures.
To start with the second, the stoking of local passions on the Sri
Lankan issue by the two Tamil Nadu-based parties - the DMK and the
AIADMK - has exposed their unwillingness to reconcile the distress
over human rights violations in Sri Lanka with a more sober
approach to the problem India's national interest demands.
Instead, by favouring the establishment of a Tamil Eelam or
homeland in Sri Lanka, the AIADMK seems bent on a course of enmity
with Sri Lanka. Yet, India can ill afford to be involved in
another dispute with a neighbouring country when its relations
with other neighbours like Pakistan and China remain fraught.
Thankfully, the AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.
Jayalalithaa's focus seems to be on consolidating her position in
the state. She hasn't yet evinced any interest in becoming prime
minister. Another state-based leader, the Samajwadi Party's (SP)
Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been more candid about his aspirations.
The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, who has now stepped down
in favour of his son, Akhilesh, has let it be known that since he
is "not a saint", he cannot be expected to be coy about pressing
his claim for the topmost post.
To advance towards this goal, his tactic at the moment is to
berate the Congress and float rumours about a Third Front. Since
it is a feature of Indian politics that conjectures about a
non-Congress, non-BJP front surface on the eve of almost every
general election, there is nothing surprising about the latest
speculation. What is odd is that it is someone like Mulayam Singh
who is being projected - mostly by himself - as leader of the
still nebulous alliance, which will make him a prime ministerial
The oddness of the claim comes from his background. Although
Mulayam Singh has been the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh more
than once, his regime has been associated more with complaints
about lawlessness than about the state's advancement. In fact, the
main reason why the SP lost in 2007 to Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj
Party (BSP) was popular disenchantment with the SP's rule.
It is another matter that Mayawati squandered her chances by
concentrating on building statues of herself and other Dalit icons
instead of on the state's development. But one of the promises
which Akhilesh Yadav made both before and after becoming chief
minister was to tame the unruly SP cadres.
It isn't only the propensity of the SP's followers to take the law
into their own hands which raises questions about Mulayam Singh
Yadav's credentials. He was long known to be opposed to both
English and computers apparently because he felt that his rural
support base comprising the backward castes had no time for these
preferences of the urban intelligentsia comprising mainly the
If he has now changed his mind, it is presumably because he was
urged by his foreign-educated son, Akhilesh, to enter the 21st
century. But his outlook does not portend well for the prospects
of the Third Front, at least in the cities and among what is known
as the new aspiring younger generation.
Ironically, if Mulayam Singh is currently harbouring dreams about
being PM, it was his bete noire, Mayawati, who nurtured similar
illusions before the last general election. Moreover, she was
egged on at the time by the Left after it had broken away from the
Manmohan Singh government on the nuclear deal issue.
The reason why the front fell apart was that it had too many
leaders with inflated egos - Mayawati, Jayalalitha, H.D. Deve
Gowda - who were unwilling to function as a team. The same malady
is likely to erode the base of the latest front if it is formed at
all. Wise after the 2009 fiasco, the Left has kept away from the
latest attempts although Mulayam Singh was one of its favourites
till he moved over to the Congress camp at the time of the
no-confidence vote in the Lok Sabha in 2008.
As an exercise in opportunism, Mulayam Singh is now accusing
Congress members of being cheats and deceivers, while Mayawati is
keeping her options open.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at