Thursday, March 12, 2009

ELECTIONS 2009: THE DAY OF THE FREE-FLOATER

The failure of the Congress to stitch up an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the abrupt and unexpected divorce between the BJP and the BJD has brought to life what was otherwise appearing to be a dull election campaign but for the brief diversion provided by Narendra Modi into gardening and the world of fish. Suddenly, the two mainstream parties around whom coalitions have been built for some years appear to have run out of fuel and it is almost certain that none of them will breast the tape at the finish line of the electoral race.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat is jumping with joy at the development. The Left, which seemed to have been left cold out of any serious post-poll pie after its break-up with the Congress on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, is back in business with a bang. In fact Karat has gone to extent of calling Naveen Patnaik's desertion of the BJP camp after 11 years of a smooth marriage the "game changer" of the 2009 general elections. He has tried hard to get the BJD to enter into a pre-poll alliance with the Left but Patnaik has dexterously played harder to get. In fact, till date, no one is quite sure about who Patnaik is really with. Even the BJP is still secretly hoping that he will come back to its fold.

From a trusted ally, Naveen Patnaik has become the prized free-floater that all political groups, groping in the dark to get the magic number of 272 MPs, are courting. From being condemned as the communal Narendra Modi of Orissa he is now being praised as the shining symbol of secularism by those who want him at all costs! Some columnists have, in fact, even praised the descent of the English speaking Patnaik to the level one normally associates with the lot of politicians who merit no respect whatsoever. His miraculous transformation is the most telling example of the power that free-floaters have most unexpectedly acquired in these elections.

The Third Front was till now an apology of a political grouping consisting of political weaklings who were putting up a brave face about their role and relevance by claiming to be the alternative to both the BJP and the Congress-led alliances. It has now started strutting around like a winner. That is what Patnaik's turn has done. From being dismissed as a collection of 'gold diggers' who would gravitate towards one of the two groups which emerges stronger after the elections, the Third Front has begun to see itself emerging as the largest group to which will gravitate either the Congress or the BJP as the junior partner!

The race for the PM's chair is no longer between LK Advani and Dr Manmohan Singh/Rahul Gandhi (through the back door). Hot PM candidates being talked about are Chandrababu Naidu, Sharad Pawar, Naveen Patnaik, Jayalalitha, Nitish Kumar, Deve Gowda, Mayawati, Mulayam Yadav, Laloo Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and even Mamata Bannerjee. All of these hopefuls are not true free-floaters. Pawar, Laloo, Paswan and Mamata are formally tied to the Congress-led UPA, Mulayam Yadav wants to remain emotionally tied to the Congress for obvious reasons though the alliance has failed, while Nitish is with the BJP-led NDA. But, those strings have no strength or sanctity whatsoever and, if the numbers fall right, they too will take wing after the elections, ethics be damned.

The Third Front is being formally launched by some of the free-floaters in Tumkur today. As of now its core consists of the Left parties, the Janata Dal (Secular), the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). The top leaders of these parties, brought together by their 'lofty' anti-BJP and anti-Congress stances, are all going to be present on this show of strength which will make for a great photo-op and possibly little else. Mayawati, Jayalalitha and Patnaik are flirting with the Front but are happy to keep being free-floaters with all options fully open. So, while the two imperious ladies are sending their reps to attend the launch, Patnaik is avoiding even that.

Mayawati's Prime Ministerial ambitions have been voiced unambiguously by her a number of times. Jayalalitha has also evinced her keenness to move to the national stage. Patnaik surely could not have left the BJP had his ambition been limited to Orissa - there was no logic in breaking a winning alliance that he was heading in any case. They are serious competition to the other PM hopefuls of the National Front. They know that it is possible to twist the mandate of the voters to become the PM with a little more than half a dozen MPs from a corner of the country and then claim leadership of a billion plus people!

This is the Day of the Free-Floater. This is the day the founding fathers of the constitution would not have seen even in a nightmare. Yes, people are talking about this as a celebration of democracy, of the voice of a billion votes. Yes, the media are having a field day analysing the myriad complexities and combinations that will throw up some sort of an arrangement that has to be called the government. Yes, there is great speculation about who will get his name put on the board in that South Block office that is meant be occupied by a legitimate leader who actually represents the democratic will of the people of India.

But, in the middle of it all, there are very few voices who are speaking up about the failure of the parliamentary form of government, that we copy-pasted from a tiny and largely homogeneous island in the Atlantic, to represent the true will of the people of this huge and diverse nation. Some politician, who else, was saying the other day that the next PM does not need not be a genius. Sure. But, can anyone argue that he should be someone who has a clear vision for the country, a vision known to and accepted by the people before he gets into that chair?

Under the present circumstances and in the present form of democracy, that is not going to happen. What is most likely going to happen is that India will get a free-floater of a PM who will probably be untrained and unprepared to meet the challenges that the next super power of the 21st century is going to face, domestically, militarily and internationally. On top of that he is going to be paralysed by other powerful and greedy free-floaters whose prime focus will be be on personal wealth management rather than on the management of the nation.

How many more times are we going to see this sick drama that has been playing out at the Centre and in the states for many years now? How long is the governance of the country going to suffer due to its petty, fragmented, immoral politics? This country deserves better. It is time to bring in the necessary changes to make sure it does.
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Readers may also read:
1. Multi-party democracy: a failed model
2. Gandhi and India's Janus-faced leaders
3. Ends and means: killing the Mahatma