Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Regional parties in expansion mode


By Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao

As the elections to the north Indian states especially Uttar Pradesh (UP) is fast approaching all the parties are making their preparation to win over the voters. Both the national parties, BJP and Congress, are making do or die battle in some states, the regional parties which are strong in their own pockets are not only trying to consolidate their position but are also into the mood of expansion into the neighboring states. Their purpose may be to get the tag of national party or may be to make themselves more relevant in their demand for seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, as the speculation of third front gaining ground is growing.

All most all the regional parties are announcing their intention to contest UP elections. The AAP is the latest to say that they are in fight for all the 403 seats. The other Bihar, Maharashtra based parties are not lagging behind in declaring their expanding mood.

AIMIM the once Hyderabad old city based political party runs as a private enterprise by Owaisi family has expanded their influence first with in the Twin cities (Hyderabad and Secunderabad) to other Muslim dominated areas of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It did score some victories in the local body elections in both the Telugu speaking states. Since then Muslim Majlis are in to Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar, Bengal and now in to UP. The leader of that party Asaduddin Owaisi is already touring the Muslim dominated cities and towns of UP delivering high voltage communal speeches. His emphasis on Muslim votes for Muslim party is gaining some traction though one is not sure which party will suffer because of the intruding Muslim party.

Not to be outdone the Siva Sena which is pro-Hindutva party, now ruling Maharashtra in partnership with NCP and Congress has now announced its entry in to both UP and Goa. Perhaps this is the first time the regional party from Maharashtra is contemplating to seriously contest elections outside its base state. The President of the party and CM of Maharashtra Uddav Thackeray announced their intention to contest 100 seats in UP and 20 seats in Goa. While its plan to expand in to Goa is understandable as that tiny state is an extension of Mumbai both culturally and politically its idea of going to UP where its Hindutva cousin BJP is trying to retain its power appealing to the voters on Hindu sentiment.

The other regional party in Maharashtra NCP has already extended its foot print to other states especially the north-eastern states. That was largely because of NCP’s Congress roots and the leaders who quit Congress to float NCP has some influence in those tiny states. Those electoral victories in that area is more through the personal influence of the leaders and not because of the party organizational strength. The same applies to other states where recently it tried to flex its muscle. Whether it is Bihar, Bengal or any other state in north India the success of NCP is minimal. Its ‘Ghadi’ has not given any strong alarm bells outside Maharashtra.

Mamata Banerjee, since her victory in Bengal, is in fighting and expansion mood both personally and party wise. Immediately after her Delhi trip where she dropped hints to be the challenger to Modi in 2024 she started implementing carefully crafted expansion plans of TMC. Her modest beginning was made in Assam and Tripura. She devised means to cash her popularity among the Bengal speaking population and Tripura is the best followed by Assam. In future Mamata may think about moving into Odisha, Jharkhand the two neighbouring states and finally into UP. Her foray in to UP likely to happen in 2022 itself. Mamta’s expansion plans are hurting both Congress and CPM. Tripura was ruled by CPM for over two decades losing ground to BJP in 2018. Since then Mamata has buried the Left in Bengal and now with her entry in to Tripura there is no way for the ‘Reds’ to recover the lost ground. TMC is also attracting the ambitious and disgruntled Congress leaders. Its prize catch being Ms Sushmita Dev, the president of Congress women wing. Many Assam Congress leaders are already in touch with TMC. The call for unity of opposition is going to be the causality with Mamata’s expansion plans.

Two other parties which started as national parties but somehow got stuck to one state are the BSP and AAP. Both of them had their presence in more than one state in their beginning. Since then BSP shrunk as those MLAs who got elected on Elephant symbol moved to other parties in states outside UP. It couldn’t build a stable state party structure in any other state. However every time BSP leader Mayavati gives the impression of giving a strong retaliation to national parties, which are grabbing her followers, in other states and this time is no exception. On the other hand AAP, after winning twice Delhi, has certainly made an impression with their expansion. This time around AAP is going to make a heavy political impact in forthcoming Punjab elections as the surveys indicate. Even in Haryana the AAP may overtake Congress as the challenger. The news coming from Gujarat suggest AAP gaining the imagination of the voters. BJP after almost 25 years of rule in Gujarat is experiencing some fatigue in the minds of voters and made the course correction by changing the CM. However Congress is not cashing on the anti-incumbency but it is AAP which moved confidently into Gujarat.

All most all the regional parties are born on anti-Congress ideology as that was the dominant party then. Despite BJP now dominating in Delhi these parties are yet to effectively shift their ideology from anti-Congress to anti-BJP. Because of that the expansion mood of regional parties, TMC, AAP, NCP etc., is hurting more the Congress than BJP. Unless this is seriously thought by opposition the third front dream may not materialize.

(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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