Feature

In a league of their own

It’s becoming increasingly important for India Inc to understand the ideologies and compulsions of regional parties

Illustration by Varun Vashishtha

For a football fan, an own goal is sacrilege. It is inconceivable that a player boots the ball not between the opponent’s goal posts, but over his own team’s goal line. But if you extend that analogy to national politics, a novice bystander would be stunned by the number of apparent own-goals scored by allies in the coalition government. There are many instances, from Trinamool Party chief Mamata Banerjee recently making the UPA government bend on the Rail Budget, which was presented by her own party nominee who apparently turned hostile by hiking passenger fares, to the DMK, among others, opposing the government’s proposal to bring in 51% FDI in multi-brand retail.

Surprisingly, it was the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from the Opposition National Democratic Alliance camp that supported the move and, in fact, immediately wrote a letter to the government welcoming it. It’s a different matter that the party changed its public stance after some coaxing from its embarrassed ally, the BJP. So, is there a rationale behind regional parties’ seemingly arbitrary moves or do they just react randomly? 

Sushma Swaraj, Opposition leader in the Lok SabhaFor corporates, the answer to that question is critical. The reality of Indian politics has been the decline of national parties and the growth of regional parties. There’s been a coalition government at the Centre since 1989, barring the Narasimha Rao government (where a minority government changed status by merging into it a regional party, the JMM). “For the next 10 years too, no national party is likely to get a majority by itself,” says Sushma Swaraj, Opposition Leader, Lok Sabha. More importantly, regional players are at the helm in many large and smaller states and the recent Assembly polls in UP and Punjab just reiterated that. 

With regional parties’ influence over policy decisions becoming more apparent by the day, India Inc needs to understand not just what makes the government at the Centre tick, but also what drives regio

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