Decentralization and financial and administrative autonomy for states remain emotive themes in Indian politics. Long after regionalism’s moment passed, the idea has found new champions. The Left parties now want a restructuring of Centre-state relations.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) has in a paper dusted and rehashed suggestions made by various government commissions in the past. These, among others, include: preventing the misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution, a provision that allows the Union government to dismiss state governments, the manner of appointment of governors, Central control of all-India services and legislative approval for signing international treaties. These are topped with liberal suggestions for greater financial powers for state governments.
The context for the sudden revival of interest in dead political ideas is clear: elections are around the corner, and the Left also wants to draw a rather difficult Mayawati into an anti-Congress coalition. The autonomy argument serves the purpose of imparting coherence to a rag-tag collection of regional parties. It has no other value. These parties side with the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Congress, depending upon who the highest bidder is. There is little that can be said in favour of regionalism.
Originally a movement to get greater political and administrative representation for India’s ignored middle castes, regionalism has lost that flavour. Today, regional political “parties” are little more than a collection of first families: the Chautalas in Haryana, the Badals in Punjab, the Thackerays in Maharashtra and the Karunanidhi clan in Tamil Nadu. The list can be extended quite a bit. Instead of democratic distribution of power, the rise of these parties has led to its concentration. The ruthlessness of regional satraps, political and otherwise, is phenomenal.
The Left’s rooting for these parties is inexplicable from the point of reasoned politics. But then maybe it is not, especially when seen in light of the psychology of its leaders. Defeated politicians, desperate for a last hurrah, can do anything. The Left would do well to remember that these parties are the first reason why they’ve been unable to go beyond West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.
The new Left line: opportunism or good tactical practice? Tell us at email@example.com