@ScribeAditya: Welcome to the regionalized Indian polity, where limited, selfish interests of political players confined to states could leave national and global interests of the country in jeopardy. With the power to bring down the government at the center, influential regional players could run the country from state capitals. It is a tricky situation the country will soon need to find an answer to.
Here’s a word of caution, before we plunge deeper into the story. Such instances are not necessarily cases of anti-national politics. It is just that petty local politics influence the national interest in a negative way and the occurrences are not tandem with the country’s larger interests and that the damage done is not irreversible.
Weakening India’s position internationally apart, Mamata’s narrow-mindedness over the sharing of Teesta waters has provided ample ammunition to the opposition in Bangladesh. Hasina has done a lot for India and if she were to face a setback in the upcoming 2019 polls, it would definitely be disastrous for India. India has a friend in Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka. What is worrying is that Mamata Banerjee may just make sure that come 2019, the incumbent Bangladesh PM is no longer in power.
Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is virulently anti-India and pro-Pakistan, and will certainly harm India’s security and other interests if it comes to power. India will have a serious concern in its eastern frontier if the BNP were to form the government in 2019.
India needs to push Mamata to yield to the Teesta deal. Mamata should place the national interests before her own political ambitions and act with magnanimity. There, however, are little chances of her doing so, and therein lies a tragedy for India.
It is not just the first time that regional gains have been placed over national interests. Mamata had earlier dethroned the then railway minister Dinesh Trivedi after his party, Trinamool Congress (TMC), took offense to the increase in passenger fare, claiming it was against the party’s values. The fare hike, though marginal, was a brave move from Trivedi and was highly praised across the board, even the railway trade unions, as reformist.
The proposed fare hike aimed at attaining the much-needed revenue boost to the railways to go ahead with its planned maintenance and safety initiatives. It, however, was against TMC chief’s populist politics. She did not want to offer rival CPM in West Bengal an issue to go public with for obvious reasons.
The hike was rolled back, against railways’ interests. Her message: when political interests are paramount, the safety of Indian passengers traveling on trains is a non-issue.
Similarly, India in 2012 voted for the US-sponsored UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka for war crimes. The geopolitical implication of the act was huge. India ceded whatever diplomatic elbow room it had with the island nation to China, the regional superpower keen on enhancing its military presence in the sub-continent and encircling India with the ‘String of pearls’ strategy that also voted against the resolution. India risked losing an important ally in regional and international fora.
Why did the then Congress-led UPA government vote for something so potentially damaging to the interest of the nation? It had to buy peace with DMK, an important constituent of the ruling political formation. The DMK, with 18 MPs that time, had threatened drastic action if India did not vote for the resolution which accused Sri Lanka of atrocities against Tamils. The DMK’s stand was, however, dictated by its political compulsions at home as a resolution, demanding a separate state for the Tamils of Sri Lanka was proposed by the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha was also passed unanimously by the Assembly.
Where do the limited interests of the states, precisely of regional political parties, end and national interests begin? There has to be a thick line dividing the two. For long we’ve seen national parties lacking a mindset that focuses the betterment of states. We cannot allow repetition of situations where states disregard the interests of the country. This is more dangerous.
This is not to implicate that all regional parties and leaders are oblivious to the national interests. But in a hypothetical situation, which might turn real given the present spiteful confrontational politics, where state-based parties give primacy to local agenda over issues of national import, things become difficult for the nation.
Now, who draws the line? It is not clear yet. There has to be one although. Political parties must develop a consensus on fundamental issues and create ‘no-go’ areas. It appears herculean given the current state of affairs but parties might be driven to it in the case of a grave crisis.