The central government may be wooing regional satraps to push through its reform agenda, but back in their home territories, rumbles of protest are making the ground beneath their feet a little less firm. Party after party is facing defiance, making it increasingly difficult for regional leaders to enforce discipline and keep their flock together. There is growing intolerance within states with the all-pervasive lack of inner-party democracy, inaccessible and imperious leaders and their increasing tendency to force their views down the throats of others.
Some, like Upendra Kushwaha of the JD(U) in Bihar, have formally parted ways, while others are only biding their time. Kushwaha announced his intention to give up his Rajya Sabha seat, accusing CM Nitish Kumar of surrounding himself with sycophantic crossovers from the RJD. In West Bengal, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, once Mamata Banerjee’s confidant, has now been publicly accusing the party leadership of turning a blind eye to party workers engaging in violence, extortion and supply cartels. In fact, rumour mills ran overtime recently to announce a split in the Trinamool, following rowdiness in the Bengal assembly.
In the south, the discontent affecting the two national parties—BJP and Congress—in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh respectively is spreading to regional parties. There are rifts within the TRS and TDP in AP. Many TRS MLAs, unhappy with party chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao’s “ever-changing strategies” and shifting stand on Telangana, are thinking of switching camps. The only thing holding them back, though, is the equally ambivalent stand of Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress on the issue. The headache of discontented MLAs is visiting TDP president N. Chandrababu as well. On a padayatra himself till January 26, Naidu has been unable to stop his MLAs from leacing. As many as 14 have switched sides, complaining of Naidu’s ‘dictatorial functioning style’. With assembly elections due just 14 months from now, much more movement is expected in the state.
Less so in Tamil Nadu perhaps, though even here a question mark hangs over the unity of the DMK. The seemingly perpetual eclipse of Azhagiri vis-a-vis Stalin is one axis. On another, the leader of the Opposition in the assembly and owner of the Captain TV channel, Vijayakanth, is finding politics more of a potboiler than the world of cinema. He was able to temporarily avert a split in his party, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK)—which, with its 29 seats, has more than the DMK’s 23 in the assembly—but looks to be lurching from one crisis to another.
First, four DMDK MLAs defied his directive not to meet chief minister Jayalalitha. Said one, C. Michael Rayappan, “We met the CM to discuss the problems of the people; if DMDK leaders feel it’s a mistake, let them expel us”, his barb intended for Vijayakanth, his wife Premalatha and brother-in-law Sudesh, who seem to be directing the affairs of the family fiefdom.
Then, in a bizarre episode, the ‘Captain’ himself and four other DMDK MLAs sought an appointment with the CM, swayed apparently by the argument of the dissident four that the ‘fatwa’ against calling on the CM and ministers was neither practical nor in the interest of their constituencies.
It wasn’t to be the last of the unexpected twists in the script, though. Having failed to secure an appointment with Jayalalitha in the first place, Vijayakanth’s letter seeking an appointment with the CM was submitted to the Speaker of the assembly, instead of the CM’s secretariat. The Speaker ‘rejected’ the petition and threatened to initiate proceedings for breach of privilege. With no love lost between them, Jayalalitha herself would ideally like to reduce the DMDK’s strength in the House so as to deny Vijayakanth the status of the leader of the Opposition. But with the DMDK leader upping the ante and alleging that Jayalalitha was scared of his party, which is why she was trying to lure away his MLAs, the project appears to have been shelved at least temporarily.
The open season for dissidence in states had been inaugurated by expelled BJD MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra’s attempted coup against his party president and Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik. That incident and its aftermath best illustrates the duality of regional satraps. While they are confident of holding the UPA to ransom, they are less so when their own partymen decide to turn the tables on them.
By Pushpa Iyengar and Madhavi Tata