No Permanent Friends & No Permanent Enemies

Everyone thinks that at long last Congress party has accepted the logic of coalition politics. It is certainly true that of late we are visible in the arena of cooperative politics. But it is also a fact that we have never really been against alliances and we can prove that from the existing coalitions we have in J & K, Meghalaya, Maharashtra etc and the support we have given to SP in Uttar Pradesh. It is another matter that the press refused to carry this story. In any case, there can no longer be a debate on this. The discussion will now be focused on which alliance has better quality and better arithmetic. Our alliance members are still growing and the votes they reflect are gathering in even greater numbers.

People appear to concentrate on alliances / coalitions as instruments for winning elections. But that is a small part of our political engagement. Beyond winning is also the matter of governing. If we really care about our country as leaders and workers, even at this stage we should work honestly for an alliance of ideas and aspirations for the welfare of our people. If we think big and beyond ourselves today, and continue to do so after being voted into office, we can give the age of coalitions a place of pride in our national history. On the other hand if we see this, now and in future, as an opportunity to ˜grab and run', history will not forgive us.

There are two kinds of alliances “ first, the one that begins with leaders and filters down to the workers, and second, the one that begins amongst the workers and gradually influences the leaders to formalize it. Difficulties are inevitable and differences at different levels unavoidable. Curiously and unfortunately, in our contemporary democracy there are seldom real ideological conflicts and confrontations at the ground level between the broadband secular parties. But conflicts that cause deep bitterness and distress between workers are about everyday things “ who will get water, electricity and roads on priority? Who will get a sympathetic ear from police and district offices? Who will get to reach funds meant for welfare schemes? Who can get public housing or a school in their village?

The Congress party had swiftly and unconditionally supported the SP in their attempt to from a secular government in Uttar Pradesh. It was another matter that for our own reasons we chose not to join the government. In this unusual situation, the need for a common minimum programme was greater than it normally is. But we never got to the point of sitting down to draft a CMP. With or without a CMP if a conscious effort had been made to accommodate mutual expectations there would have been something to celebrate. The prevailing feeling of Kal ho na ho is not the best way of cementing a relationship. Political marriages turning into cohabitation relationships may not be very good for the health of the political system or indeed for the partners themselves.

The recent congratulatory references to the Congress President's efforts at putting together a viable pre-poll alliance often obfuscate certain aspects that need to be noticed. This effort involves major territorial concessions by the Congress (at least in the matter of seats we had once dominated). Yet for the present we remain the national party that has the largest vote percentage at 28%. Contesting the next election in an alliance will mean losing some vote to our partners in seats that we concede to them but we will get their extra votes in the seats we contest.

In addition to territorial concessions, we have also agreed to give up many of our postures that were shaped by recent history. This was not easy at a personal and organizational level. This was felt necessary in view of the paramount concern that secular forces put up a united front against BJP/NDA front. All political parties that have expressed willingness to join the effort are obviously not single-issue parties even if their public postures might indicate that. But like us, if they are committed to secularism they will obviously have to relegate other issues to a lower priority. Past grievances will have to be put to rest. Arguments about secularism, with or without one or another party, will undermine our profaned commitment. We have also heard propositions that secular fronts end up helping the saffron cause. It would be helpful to know how that view was arrived at.

Last time there was no front really, if the name of the Third Front (or what was left of it) is any thing to go by. If there is no Third Front, the ruling NDA and the opposition alliance can face each other directly. There will be no distraction or distortion in the choice of the voter. The arithmetic indicates the obvious of the result BJP's nervous reactions confirm that. The feel good factor will disappear as quickly as it came. The shine will get switched off in a moment. The opposition of today only has to make up its mind that getting a share of the whole is better than not having anything at all. The Congress President has generously removed all real or imagined impediments to unity. Would it be fair that others look for new barriers? When enemies are reaching out to be friends, it would be a great pity that friends become estranged over the size of the cake they will eat, a cake still in the oven.

Salman Khurshid 19/01/2004