Of Alliances and Coalitions

Of late alliances are in the air. The NDA government is a successful alliance if the longevity of the government is the test. It is a colossal failure if the performance and delivery factor is the test. Yet many people are convinced about the inevitability of alliance politics, equally the Congress workers feel a deep source of disquiet. We need to examine both views closely. For the present we in the Congress are committed to the possibility, perhaps even probability of a national level alliance. This is often described as the Shimla Sankalp. But that was about our own party and the leadership of Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Separately, in her speech the leader extended an invitation to what are called like minded parties these days, to join together to contain the menace of the NDA-BJP alliance. Obviously, we could not have resolved to have an alliance. At best we could have sought an alliance, or even been determined to have an alliance, but we could not resolve to achieve one. There is an essential and useful distinction between a political resolve and a political strategy.

Anyhow, an alliance is a judicious mix of principles and pragmatism, of affection and arithmetic. Its quality and durability is dependent on the nature of the mix. Furthermore the mix is often also a clear indication of the character of the alliance partners. But the most important factor to consider when designing an alliance is whether it is a myopic one or a farsighted one. In the former you hope to squeeze your partner into permanent dependence or oblivion. In the latter, both consider it a temporary shot of adrenalin to keep going till both get greater strength and autonomy of function. Like-minded parties alliances make this clear. Perhaps the illfated and born to doom Third Front alliances were a good example of the second kind but the unchecked political styles of the partners clouded the true character and structure of these alliances.

There can ofcourse be nothing worse than pure arithmetic based alliance. We have seen umpteen examples in the North East and elsewhere. Such an alliance is an unhealthy dependence on cheque books and money bags. A little change in the sign from plus to minus can change the entire picture. Interested as well as disinterested people ask us why the Congress cannot put together an alliance of Secular Parties just as the NDA-BJP alliance has successfully brought together more than two dozen disparate groups. I am surprised at the innocence of such people. BJP, despite having now been in power at the Centre for five years, remains a party of the Hindi heartland, a regional party. For it to combine with other regional parties is therefore not difficult. On the other hand, the Congress Party, despite eight years of being in the opposition in Parliament, has power in States from the J&K to Kerala, Manipur to Rajasthan. Congress is truly a national party. The difficulty in our accommodating regional parties is obvious. We need to leave traditional Congress territory to accommodate a regional partner, whereas the BJP marginally occupies new territory with the help of its allies.

Besides the issue of territorial coverage, there is the issue of ideological coverage too. Many of our potential partners have grown on a liberal diet of anti Congress feelings. They may have had a camouflage in the past, of different kinds of socialism, but of late have become unselfconsciously caste oriented. For various reasons caste politics has grown into a dominant feature of North Indian public life. But fortunately there is no dominant caste to support caste politics inevitably. On both sides of the spectrum psuedo, religious identities have chipped in with substantial support, not without some provocation by some leaders. If the religious shadow over politics disappears many comfortable assumptions too will disappear. The cutting edge of anti-Congress sentiment has long since been blunted “ evidenced by the return of Congress to as many as 17 states. But in some erstwhile anti-Congress camps there is a new strategy. If you can't beat them, join them. Then proceed to undermine from within. If this is the thinking, the Congress will be in peril. So a meaningful endeavor to work towards an alliance will require an acceptance that just as lack of clear majorities dictate the need for an alliance, the respective size of votes of each potential partner should influence the rules of the game. Cooperation and collaboration, not brinkmanship should be the guiding spirit. Again, alliances can be at three levels “ (a) convergence of ideas (b) collaboration between leaders (c) cooperation between workers and committed voters. Serious and committed alliance politicians need to work on all three levels. Anything short of that will at best be a temporary opportunistic arrangement. That is like the relief one gets from pep-up pills. Although are gets an immediate spurt of energy, it also means that the body is being overtaxed, leading to an eventual collapse.

Any attempt to underscore or highlight these issues is often met with a roar of protest from certain quarters. This is an attempt to sabotage opposition unity' is the usual retort. But surely unity must have a, deeper and more sustainable basis than lining up for photo opportunities. Talk' about the walk' is therefore imperative. Dialogue preceding proposals for an alliance is very crucial. Let us learn to talk to each other in candid terms rather than riddles before we try to work together. And for whatever it is worth there is seldom a galaxy of statespersons in politics. Amongst an array of public figures only a few statespersons stand out. It will do not harm to admit who is the tallest. Atleast in this reality will not bite'! Usually politicians do not seek alliances and coalitions if they do not need them. So if ground reality dictates dialogue, the content and design of the dialogue ought not to be divorced from reality. I hope the true seekers of alliances are listening.