One problem with state governments being run by regional parties is that leaders tend to become too taken up with their interests and ignore, even deliberately play down, the national cause. National parties ensure there is a balance of power through the often derided High Command culture. In the present lot of regional satraps with ‘independent’ power bases, the Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik stands out as an example of nuanced behaviour. Despite the fact that he is just as much besieged by the BJP and the Congress as any other CM, his party, the BJD, has never failed to stand with the Centre when required.
In contrast are Chief Ministers like Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Arvind Kejriwal, etc., whose attitude towards the Union Government is not just belligerent but disrespectful to an unacceptable level. This is particularly dangerous as the states their parties control have anti-national elements ever willing to take advantage of such rifts. The fact that these CMs have almost absolute control over their parties has further enhanced their dictatorial tendencies of overlooking others’ concerns. The recent controversy over Kejriwal’s body language during an interaction with PM Modi has come in for legitimate criticism. And although all of them claim to represent liberal politics, they are just as remiss in misusing state agencies like the police, as those they consider fascists. Eventually, as they fight it out, the repercussions are felt by the common people owing to the deteriorating governance that results.
This level of desperation to consolidate power in their hands is understandable, particularly considering the circumstances behind their political movements. Countering the Communists in West Bengal, for instance, required ratcheting up of ‘direct action’ by the Trinamool Congress and now it has become the party’s essential nature. Mamata Banerjee’s national ambitions are thwarted by this approach, as circumstances and political culture are different elsewhere. She is trapped in a vicious cycle she cannot get out of. Kejriwal’s freebie strategy, like any Ponzi scheme, has an expiry date. It has taken him years to understand that giving free electricity to the well-to-do hurts the public exchequer – something a more seasoned politician would have known from the start.
In the old days, such parties would have rallied around the Congress to offer a ‘national’ alternative but, presently, that is not an option. The formation of a third front requires involvement of national level leaders, who are presently not available. None of the regional leaders is willing to broaden his or her vision to the national level if it means loosening the hold in the state – in their strength lies their weakness.