India needs a third imagination

In a brilliant column in the The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta (with whom I have much to disagree about reservations) calls the bluff of the “national” parties who want Indian voters to be wary of the ‘instability’ and impossibility of a third front coalition government. This argument, strangely posing itself in a nationalist tone, is unfortunately also bought by too many left-liberal intellectuals and activists who don’t want us to get out the non-choice of the BJP-Congress binary. Mehta writes:

Sometimes an ordered instability can be more productive than a comatose stability. It is said that a third front leadership is unlikely to have a national perspective. But the cringingly desperate way in which the leadership of the national parties have put their own survival above any principle makes you wonder what the charge of not having a national perspective is all about. The third front will make foreign policy hostage to regional interests. In a way, it already is. But the source of the problem is deeper. Even a supposedly national party like the BJP cannot get its act together on the enclaves agreement with Bangladesh. Why blame regional parties? The third front will be fiscally irresponsible. It is a risk, but no more than a risk with any political party. The Congress squandered the best of economic opportunities in a fiscally irresponsible way. It is something of an irony that the only Chidambaram budget described as a “dream budget” came under Deve Gowda. And many states have shown innovation in a kind of pro-business entrepreneurial capitalism and in social sector schemes. Many of the regional leaders who would make up the third front are autocrats. Indeed, many of them are. But that autocracy is more visible because the national parties can use the state structure in a very sophisticated way to further their ends. But they are articulate and engage with their constituents. In short, the constituents of the third front are as much India and Indian interests as anyone else. [Full article]

India needs a third imagination, and by constantly being told that it is not possible we are told not to imagine it. This is the argument of, as Mehta puts it, the ‘entrenched elites’, to save their privileges. The fear of the third front, of the ‘regional’, needs to be fought and defeated. We see this poverty of imagination thrown at us whether we’re talking of Nitish Kumar or Arvind Kejriwal or Mayawati by people who will do not think it necessary to subject the Congress and the BJP to similar scrutiny. This bias against the “regional” is remarkably shared amongst a lot of people across the ideological spectrum. Their bluff needs to be called.

2 thoughts on “India needs a third imagination”

  1. Every time the third front was crumbled out under its own weight. The so called regional parties headed by self-styled autocrats joined with the ideologically locked left national parties have shown their worst. Once, CPIM historically missed the late Mr.Jyothi Basu as PM (who himself called later it a “historical blunder”) for the thoroughly incompetent Mr. H D Devegowda. People do also possess long-term memories, though they are alleged opposite. Mr. Mehta’s argument for a third alternative can simply be countered by his own analysis, that both the two major national parties, Congress and BJP, are impaired with corruption and indecisiveness. So are the other mainstream regional and local political outfits. Added to this comes the caste-based politics, religionist narrowness in outlook, family-oriented political leadership system, self-styled arrogant autocratic attitude – which characterize most of the regional parties functioning. They can’t ever get rid of regionalism and caste-ism as these are vital arteries for their sheer existence. In effect, regional parties can inflict more damage rather that less to our federal democratic system. Just think about the sharing of inter-state river waters, States are at war here.


    1. Every single thing you said about regional parties is also true for so called national parties; in fact, the very idea that national parties have a ‘national’ outlook is a facade and that is exactly Mehta’s point. The reason why need a third alternative is because the sense of entitlement that the BJP and Congress have that they are meant to rule at the centre and thus put on a show in front of cameras that they are opposing each other when in actuality they are hand in glove with each other needs to be broken. A third front may not change things dramatically but at least it’ll open up the political space for parties not controlled by FICCI and CII.


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