After winning the December 2018 assembly elections, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president and chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, or KCR, announced the formation of a federal front and tried to bring together regional parties.

To give visibility to his idea, he met chief ministers Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), H.D. Kumarawamy (Karnataka), Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), and Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala), besides opposition party leaders such as YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) chief Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M.K. Stalin in Tamil Nadu.

The idea of a federal front is gaining significance yet again. Pre-poll surveys by several agencies suggest that no political party will get a majority on its own to form government at the centre. A rough estimate of the election results show that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to get 200-plus seats, the Congress and its allies 100 plus seats, with another 100-odd seats for non-BJP and non-Congress parties. The non-BJP and non-Congress parties include TRS, YSRCP, Trinamool Congress, Biju Janal Dal (BJD), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

In such a situation, cutting across ideological differences, political parties with a few seats in the Lok Sabha, specifically regional parties, will play a key role.

The experience of the coalition era of Indian politics reveals that small parties demand cabinet berths and developmental projects for their states and also keep the leader of the coalition government under check. A major advantage would be downward percolation of the benefits of developmental projects to fragile regions and subaltern communities rather than concentration in privileged sections of society. The disadvantage would be the lack of a stable government. For the last five years, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has provided a stable government. The question is whether regional parties will stand alone or form a federal front? If the front is a means to bring together regional parties, it will have to address a series of issues.

One instrument to bring together regional outfits will be to have a common agenda. The meeting diplomacy of KCR with the chief ministers is being made without any agenda for forming a national government. KCR must at least list out priorities of the state governments led by the regional parties and put it before the nation for consensus so that there could be discussions during the hectic election campaigns to attract attention.

The NDA government seems to be soft towards some regional parties and harsh towards others, but the federal front did not attempt to rescue states that have a strained relation with the centre. There is also a lack of unity among regional parties, which reflects in the formation of groups among them. The Congress and BJP face opposition in Andhra Pradesh following the state’s bifurcation and the non-implementation of special category status to Andhra. Thus, the fight is between the TDP and the YSRCP. However, there is no mechanism to address this. Consensus about the prime ministerial candidate will also be a big challenge.

Prof. E. Venkatesu is a faculty member in the political science department of University of Hyderabad.

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