At this point in time, the country needs a decisive leadership, a clear ideology, a well-granulated plan of action to take it to a different level of progress. Especially because the world's economy is shrinking, which according to the World Bank, could be a contraction of between one to two per cent. India has to hear a different drummer and rise above the mess around it.
What better an opportunity than now, when the elections to the Lok Sabha could offer that clarity of thought, direction and action? This country has lost valuable time in fighting over whether a structure was the birthplace of a Hindu deity or the place of worship for the Muslims. But alas, despite the theoretical possibilities the elections offer, the country's political parties have made a mess of that potential opportunity.
All intra-alliance squabbles are set to queer the pitch because the voter would not have clear options before him. No one knows which set of parties would band together to run the government because it now appears that a post-poll alliance alone would enable its formation. Which, in turn, means that ideology would be the first casualty and policies would be trimmed to meet the political convenience of the moment, not the needs of the country.
What is being witnessed now is the effort to marginalise the biggest parties in the major alliances, including the Third Front. Orissa, Bihar, Maharashtra et al are good examples of that plan by the regional parties where within the alliance, these smaller players would like to have larger numbers and thereby, larger slices of power. The Lalu Yadavs, the Paswans, the Patnaiks and the Pawars are out to ensure that -- though they are themselves constrained by the fact that their spread outside their home turfs is quite insignificant.
If all the political alignments that are sought to be developed by the various political parties manage to put together a common minimum programme, it would be a great help. But with intra-alliance squabbles of such intensity as is being seen now, that seems a remote possibility. Even if it were to emerge, it would be an afterthought and not necessarily a well thought out programme.
And when we don't know what the future team -- which will govern us -- will comprise, how can one believe the contents of such common minimum programmes? It would be another watered down version. One compelling reason could be to 'fight the communal BJP and its cohorts' or some such argument. Or, the Right could step up and say, 'We would govern well, but by a fractured mandate, people have asked us to compromise for the nonce.'
Present strident pronouncements notwithstanding, even the Left could contort itself and find a way out and make asses out of the voters.
Blame for this should lie first with the Congress, which decided to lead the United Progressive Alliance but will not craft that at the national level. Such tie-ups at the state level do not aggregate into a national alliance. You cannot fight different parties, including friends, differently in different states and yet hope to have a common minimum programme.
The Bharatiya Janata Party too is in the same kind of fix because it is still finding out if its friends are friends or it has to look for new ones. However, its choices are extremely limited given the fact that old associates like Biju Janata Dal, Telugu Desam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have chosen to stay away from a relationship with it. We already have the BJP equivocating on issues -- Varun Gandhi spoke out of turn and is condemnable but he is the party's candidate from Pilibhit! No, the party never said it would build the Ram temple in Ayodhya. One should ask BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar to explain that.
Indian politics has always offered surprises but this time, it is quite disquieting that the developments not only have been rapid but directionless. Strange things are being said and done, like Lalu Yadav proclaiming that the Congress has no leg to stand on in Bihar but that the UPA was well and alive and Sonia Gandhi was its leader. They would fight each other in Bihar -- where else can Lalu fight the Congress! -- but remain together in Delhi. The Nationalist Congress Party is set to fight against the BJP but NCP's P A Sangma is seeking the BJP's help to survive in Meghalaya's legislature!
The so-called Third Front itself is a huge confusion with their likely candidate for prime minister set to contest in as many as 500 constituencies. Clearly, Mayawati seems to believe that all the parties which have been around longer than her party has, would come bleating to her to led them in the Lok Sabha, should she have the numbers which the Third Front can prop up. Quite like in Alice in Wonderland. And we have that senior Leftist, A B Bardhan, in the company of D Raja, saying that should the need arise, his grouping would not mind the Congress backing them but would not back the Congress!
To expect a clear common minimum programme from these rogue political parties is rank foolishness. The bigger question is, how would the voters sidestep this development, and provide the country a leadership that would have clarity and direction, because any floundering at this point in time would cost it dear. The voters would have to do that despite the political parties and their leaders who take the voters for granted.
Would the voter be able to rise to the occasion and overcome the conduct of politicians and political parties, see through the games and help vote pre-poll arrangements -- whichever it is -- so that the country has a government which does not run on politically expedient compromises?
Mahesh Vijapurkar is a former deputy editor of The Hindu