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Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Opinion | In poll season, regional players step up their game

Till now, regional parties had been using national parties only to further their own goals

Today, let us discuss a new tendency that has made its way into Indian politics. For the first time, chiefs of regional parties are stepping out of their comfort zones in order to prove their relevance to national politics.

If this wasn’t the case, Uddhav Thackeray wouldn’t have visited Ayodhya and roared in favour of a Ram temple. While envisaging such a big manoeuvre, he would have realised that building the Ram temple wasn’t within the capabilities of the Shiv Sena alone. The Sena chief knows his party doesn’t have any significant presence outside Maharashtra. Despite this, he went ahead with the plan only to send out this message to voters in Maharashtra: We are the only flag-bearers of Hindutva. This isn’t the first time the Sena has made such a claim. If you recall, Bal Thackeray, the flamboyant Sena founder, used to say while sitting at his residence “Matoshree" that his party activists had a big role to play in the demolition of the Babri mosque. Today, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which used to be its junior partner when it came to Hindutva and Marathi pride, has appropriated this space.

Uddhav Thackeray may be upset that this role reversal happened under his watch. He knows that if he can’t change this equation in the elections next year, it may become impossible to rein in the BJP. The only way to combat this is for the Shiv Sena to prove once again that when it comes to flexing its political muscle, there still isn’t any alternative to the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. That is why Uddhav visited Ayodhya, family in tow, and gave a piece of his mind on the Ram temple issue to the BJP, its coalition partner. Before this, his party’s firebrand MP Sanjay Raut had created a sensation by claiming that Shiv Sainiks had demolished the structure of the Babri mosque in 17 minutes flat. The Shiv Sena has been known to set the agenda with similar tactics. By doing this, Raut was sending out a clear message: The mosque couldn’t have been demolished without the Sena and that the BJP lacks the courage needed to build the temple that the Sena possesses.

There is another trend that is worth taking note of. Till now, regional parties had been using national parties only to further their own selfish goals. In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have gobbled up the entire vote bank of the Congress. Not just them, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, a number of regional satraps have employed this mantra to great effect. N. Chandrababu Naidu even managed to successfully rein in both the Congress and the BJP, but Uddhav faltered on this front. Now, the Sena wants course correction. That is why Thackeray played a new card in Ayodhya by welcoming non-Maharashtrians to Maharashtra. The Sena realises the number of non-Maharashtrians in the state has increased to such an extent that they’ve become a vote bank. It will be interesting to see how much the Sena’s new-found tactics pay off in elections.

Why just the Shiv Sena, the BJP has made every other party insecure. Today, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine has painted the nation’s polity in a new hue. After preparing the ground in western India, since the time they arrived in New Delhi, the party has won elections 17 times. The BJP is ruling in 20 states at present. Not only has it gained in stature at the national level, it has also begun to smash regional fortresses one by one. This political juggernaut is making both its opponents as well as regional partners who are part of the ruling coalition, nervous. All of them are busy evolving a strategy to stop Modi.

On the other hand, the Congress, too, is working hard to regain its lost base. The party has enormously improved its position since the Gujarat elections. Rahul Gandhi has improved his brand image like never before. Rahul realises that the party needs a coalition to defeat the BJP but isn’t prepared to surrender. That is why the Congress rejected the Bahujan Samaj Party’s overtures in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

In the new circumstances, it has become essential for regional parties to present a new image before their voters in the states and increase the number of their seats as much as possible in the assembly and in Parliament. It’s an old political saying: The greater a party’s share of seats, the greater the stake it can claim over power.

This is why, whether it is Omar Abdullah or Uddhav Thackeray, every leader is stepping out of home turf looking for opportunities to send out this message to voters. You may get to witness many such antics in the next few days.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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