I am back from a half month long work sojourn to Coastal Tamil Nadu from Chennai to Kanyakumari with stops at Kumbokonam, Rajapalayam and Madurai. I also had a pit stop at Thiruvananthapuram, which is being swamped by images of Dr Tharoor. Tamil Nadu was the first state in India to have a regional party administration in 1967 after the failure of the Kamraj Plan to decouple the Congress from the fate of the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty. They have a history of distinct identity politics even bordering on separatism in the initial years after independence. The once impactful Congress is a marginal force in Tamil Nadu with a few posters of GK Vasan and P Chidambaram in Kumbokonam were observed (the Late GK Moopanar’s legacy in coastal Tamil Nadu). Everywhere else I could observe Putraichi Selvi Dr. J Jayalalitha’s poster across the state from posters pasted on tea stalls to framed photos in District Collectors Office in Thiruvarur and Thanjavur. DMK still retains a presence in Chennai and Vijaykanth’s DMDK in smaller coastal hamlets in Tirunelveli as far as the initial perception is gauged from.
In this post, I am attempting to reframe the rhetoric on regionalism from one as being a purely identity politics driven vector to one where powerful regional players are driving the discourse on development. The decentralization of political powers to regional satraps has led to evolved, differentiated models of development, Bihar and Tamil Nadu being case in point. Regionalism has a pejorative secessionist ring to it. It is time to re-label it as federal now.
Nitish has done a remarkable in job in restoring Law & Order and enhancing social infrastructure. International Projects such as plans to launch the Nalanda University is a cornerstone initiative to revive Bihari Pride lost under Lalu’s era of misrurule.
In regional parties, a linguistic or a caste based focus is present which is critical for a bottom up approach. The Grassroots are represented, and orders on internal party or political matters in far away Nagercoil Town in Kanyakumari are not determined from Lutyens Delhi. Regional forces like AIADMK and DMK or even a MDMK in Rajapalayam, Viruthanagar (Vaiko’s District in Southern Tamil Nadu) have a better understanding of the problems and aspirations of the electorate than the mainstream national players.
Extending this mature Tamil Nadu regionalism metaphor, we have other major regional players in Nitish, Naveen, Mamata, Maya, Pawar, Badals and many other sub regional actors such as Raj Thackeray and Ramadosses. India has had a bitter taste with a freak regional experiment in 1997 with the United Front Experiment. A weak leadership in Deve Gowda and IK Gujral gave India a taste of decision paralysis under a distributed ‘un-leadership’ model.
The politics of regionalism has since matured in the past 16 years. The splintered Janata Parivar has resulted in Lalu, George, Nitish, Mulayam transform in leaders of National repute with a significant mass base. Regional Parties fight regional parties; a Maya versus Mulayam, Jagan versus Naidu. The centralised political model of 10, Janpath has resulted in Pawar, Mamata, Jagan to leave the parental fold to lead platforms with regional aspirations. Trinamool Congress is emerging as an eastern regional player to note. The BJP is non-existent in many states in the country. It is ironic that the BJP in Modi’s Gujarat speaks of evoking a ‘Gujarati Asmita’ or pride. Distinctly regional in character.
Development is occurring in the states as regional satraps have bargaining power in the centre to bring in funds for Infrastructure Development. Rail Projects in West Bengal were rapid when representatives from the State at the Rail Bhawan occupied it. A J&K based PDP or a National Conference or a one MP Party from Sikkim can have a seat on a federal table of Decision makers which was unthinkable in a single majority administration. This is the power of coalition politics.
The Voice of Neyvelli is now heard in the corridors of power in New Delhi thanks to a more mature federalism . More Power to a Federal Politics.
The Aam Aadmi Party is a Delhi based urban regional outfit. Think about it?