Elections 2019: The rise of state politics

The two main parties in the fray in the 2019 general elections, the BJP and the Congress, are still to release their election manifestos, but plenty of regional parties have come out with theirs.

As is usually the case with manifestos, most of these are high on promises and full of hyperbole. Nothing surprising there. But what is surprising is the kind of importance that the media tends to give to the manifestos of regional parties, despite the fact that they will be, at best, be part of a coalition, with very little room to wield any serious influence at the Centre.

The political and administrative setup is such that there is no real space for federal ambitions, and everything is a top-down structure from Delhi. So regional parties resort to tall promises and quietly forget them. Even if these parties win, and become part of a coalition, they will not be able to wield much clout.

“It is the only the likes of the BJP,  the Congress and the Left that are mostly seen as national parties, despite the fact that Congress had just about over 40 MPs in the last Lok Sabha, and the Left don’t really matter beyond Kerala and West Bengal,” says T Murali, a Chennai journalist. “On the other hand, the AIADMK, which had 37 MPs in the last LS, would be a regional player. It is lop-sided.”

The political reality in the country is that the national parties are losing their grip. The regional parties are getting stronger, which of course is a cry for strengthening and fortifying the federal structure in the country.  

“But the essential scheme of things as they exist today don’t allow regional aspirations to flourish. The hold of Delhi over the regional players, at both political and governmental levels, is disproportionately high. It needs to be addressed before the fault lines develop further and lead to major tremors, as it were,” says Suresh Kishore, director of a policy think-tank.

Suresh Kishore says that the realities in South India cannot be overlooked for long. “Rightly or wrongly, both the BJP and the Congress are viewed with a lot of scepticism in most of South India (especially in TN) because the feeling in the South is that the hearts of Congress and the BJP lie in Hindi heartland.” He adds, “Hindi also touches another raw nerve. People here believe that languages like Kannada Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu have not got their due. Then again, these fears are not adequately addressed because sitting in Delhi these fears don’t even become apparent.”

He has a point. The manifestos of both the DMK and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu have a few things that the parties promise to move from the Concurrent list to the State list. Education, for one.

On the other side of the coin, there are allegations that States like Tamil Nadu always harbour a victim complex, and some of their misgivings are overstated. And Delhi has to take care of the entire nation, and if anything,  the North-East deserves more attention.

“Yes, we must not forget that a balancing act from Delhi is impossible given the pulls and pressures from various quarters in a country like India. We can cut some slack for any government at the Centre considering that governance is a tight-rope walk,” says Kishore.

He hastens to add, “But the metaphorical writing on the wall is getting clearer and whoever comes to power better read it.”   

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