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5 reasons why Congress should merge with BJP

March 30, 2018 11:22 IST

'I am quite optimistic that sooner or later, my wishful thinking would turn into a reality.'
'The only hitch is that the INC president's own career ambitions may be hurt if the Congress merges with the BJP,' says Sudhir Bisht.


IMAGE: Congress President Rahul Gandhi greets Prime Minister Narendra D Modi, right.

I am sure that the title of my article would draw ridicule from most and perhaps a bit of laughter from some, to start with.

Upon reading the title again, many readers would term it absurd. But I quote the great Albert Einstein who said, 'If at first the idea in not absurd, then there is no hope for it.'

I am giving a call to the Indian National Congress, the party with the most glorious past, to merge with the party of the future, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

I have my five reasons for my supposedly weird merger proposal that will produce a huge nationalistic party that will hold India together.

 

My first reason is entirely nationalistic.

Even with its fading fortunes, the INC remains a pan-India party that has some presence left from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala.

The INC is well entrenched in Punjab where it is in power, in Haryana where it remains sleepy but strong and in Gujarat where it lost to the BJP but has reasons to be proud of its performance.

The INC has its chances, from very limited to considerably good chances, in the Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan assembly elections in the future and everyone knows that the INC is still alive, though not really kicking, in Goa, Telengana and Maharashtra.

On the other hand, the BJP is the most dominant force in almost all big states in northern India, western India and in the north east.

It has a throttlehold in the central states of MP and Chhattisgarh, till the next elections at least, and with its astounding win in Assam and recently in Tripura, the BJP has very nearly conquered the north east in tandem with its allies.

It is in power with its old ally, the Janata Dal-United, in Bihar and is making steady inroads in Bengal and Odisha too.

So the BJP is on the ascendant everywhere in eastern, western and northern India.

In the southern state of Karnataka, too, it may topple the INC to form the state government.

The two national parties, however, face a serious threat from the regional parties that have just one parochial agenda -- of garnering maximum funds from the Union government.

Most regional parties clamour for getting some kind of a special status for their states so that they can appropriate a disproportionate quota of Union government funds.

The Telugu Desam Party's recent withdrawal from the National Democratic Alliance is the most recent example of this.

Even Nitish Kumar of the JD-U, who rules Bihar in alliance with the BJP, has recently said that he has never given up on his demand for special status for Bihar.

The regional satraps are always demanding funds, without any accountability and without adhering to even the basic financial obligation of having to submit any utilisation report, from the Union government.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banejee has been blaming the Centre for withholding Rs 13,000 crore (Rs 130 billion) in developmental funds meant for 2017.

The state governments, especially where the regional parties are in power, are always seen to be engaged in a war with the neighbouring states over resources like water.

The Cauvery water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka could have been easily resolved if it were not due to the one-upmanship between the two Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu.

In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the rise of caste-based parties like the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal are anathema to the concept of India that is trying to shed its caste identity.

Instead of the INC or the BJP aligning with these parties, the two national parties could merge and fight them with double the power that they individually command for now.

The dominance of regional parties in national politics is an embryonic threat to India.

State parties without the vision of a larger national perspective are not particularly interested in national issues.

The two principal parties of India, the rising BJP and the declining INC, should not have to tie up with any regional party in the national or state elections.

If the state parties are allowed to remain in ascendant mode, then the day is not far when we will again have to work under a khichdi sarkar or a hodgepodge government, like the ones in the past of Morarji Desai and Chaudhary Charan Singh.

Would the country not suffer if it has weak and frail governments at the Centre like the ones we had under Chandra Shekhar, H D Deva Gowda or I K Gujral?

Imagine a situation in the 2019 general election if a group comprising Mamata Banerjee, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, M K Stalin, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav and K Chandrashekhar Rao are able to get a good number of seats in the Lok Sabha.

Would they be able to provide any kind of good governance given their own parochial interests that are aligned to their own states?

My second reason for the call for merger is ideological.

I have no doubt in my mind that in terms of economic ideology, both parties are right of centre now.

While the INC thought of Aaadhar and Goods and Service Tax, the BJP had the courage to implement both concepts with gusto that seems, to me, praiseworthy.

The prime minister took a political risk to implement GST even as it angered all those traders who were long used to the system of cash purchase and sale with zero obligations to pay taxes, even the ones they always collected from customers.

It is another matter that the INC is opposing Aadhar's wide usage and GST's implementation now, just as the BJP had opposed these concepts before May 2014.

The protests then and the protests now are just for the sake of opposition and nothing else and both parties can be held guilty or be pardoned for that.

On the opening up of defence sector, Manohar Parrikar and Arun Jaitley as defence ministers did what A K Antony was thinking to do. They ordered the purchase of aircraft that their predecessor could not.

The BJP government is going about privatisation of PSUs in a far more aggressive manner.

And while I personally believe that investment in one PSU by another PSU is not really a disinvestment, the INC too did in the past what the BJP is doing now.

In terms of Foreign Direct Investment in single brand retail, the BJP government has done what it had always opposed in its avatar of principal Opposition party.

It has allowed 100% FDI in single brand retail through direct route. The BJP's bold approach must have gladdened Dr Manmohan Singh, the architect of economic liberalism in India though it is impossible to think that he would rise and applaud Jaitley for this act.

In terms of religious ideology, the BJP and INC appear to be competing for the same space now.

The INC president's temple run and proclamation of being a janeu-dhari, Shiv bhakt may appear to be a mere sham to BJP supporters, but it vindicates the prophecy of Dr Subramanian Swamy who said almost five years ago that the day was not far away when all major political parties would jostle with one another to be seen as a party that is pro-Hindutva.

My third reason for the proposed merger is based upon the recent political movements of men across the two parties.

Of late, I have started to realise that there is not so much of difference between the INC and BJP leaders. In fact, between the leaders of all political parties I find a sense of new found professionalism.

Leaders can jump parties just as a corporate executive from HLL can jettison the Lever ship and get on the Godrej bandwagon. A Nestle guy can move across to Patanjali without much fuss.

The same is becoming true for political parties. The switch of Naresh Aggarwal -- who was peeved at not getting a Rajya Sabha ticket -- from the SP to BJP, is a recent example.

The 180 degree bend achieved by our dearest Navjot Singh Sidhu to touch the feet of Sonia Gandhi at the recent Congress plenary session is another noteworthy instance of the ease with which leaders can change their political colours.

No stigma attached there. A certain Himanta Biswa Sarma, an old Congressman, is now a 5-star performer for the BJP, helping it win quite a few states in the north east.

Both parties have no reservations about welcoming allegedly corrupt leaders from the rival camp to their fold. The only criterion is that the person needs to command a sizeable percentage of votes.

It is no wonder then that 3 out of 10 ministers in Uttarakhand's BJP government are former Congressmen. This clears the test of acceptability for Congressmen. They are welcome in the BJP, if that makes the BJP stronger.

Even in terms of marketing management, the INC and BJP appear to be merging into one another's character.

The INC seems intent to be following the BJP's media strategy, for better or for worse.

Its IT cells are being readied at campaign centres to outdo the BJP's social media outreach.

Voting trend analysis, psychographic segmentation of the electorate and other such stuff is being outsourced to data analytic companies at a huge price. No thought is given to the methodology of data collection.

What matters is the meaningful data that could help devise an appropriate social media strategy to sway voters.

So my question is: Why compete when there is so much to gain by a merger? It is a huge gain, little loss proposition.

The BJP and INC have been trading corruption charges at one another, but the image of their respective contenders for chief ministership of a state that is about to go to the polls is far from clean.

Both men wear white-and-white. While one has a liking for a white safari suit, the other is dressed in a more humble dhoti and shirt, but both have a lot of dirt thrown at them.

So I don't see why the entire Congress cannot join the rank and file of the BJP.

The BJP, after all, is the biggest political party in the world.

It has a prime minister who is most likely to lead his party to victory in 2019.

The scale of the victory may be less than the grand triumph of 2014, but you can never undermine the impact of Narendra D Modi's oratory with the booth level support it gets from a 110 million strong army of registered party members, marshalled by Amit A Shah, the smartest CEO that any Indian organisation ever produced.

My fourth reason for call to merge is to achieve overall organisational efficiency.

A merger with the BJP will save millions of rupees that the INC and BJP spend in holding press conferences against one another.

It will save the parties the need for useless protests and needless name-calling.

A merged entity will also provide the BJP access to some of the brilliant minds in the INC that are currently out of work.

Imagine the addition of Manmohan Singhji to the Margdarshak Mandal.

The sprawling new BJP headquarters can accommodate a few dozen more workstations, I am sure. There merged entity will be one CA less and many donors more.

The nation also stands to achieve if the Congress considers a merger with the BJP.

Parliament that is being stalled almost all the time in the ongoing Budget session will start to function again.

The two parties will stop patronising publicity houses and that money could be spent in paying some kind of stipend to humble party workers.

There will be no need to try and split people on the lines of religion. In fact, there would be no attempt to split religion itself, à la Siddaramaiah.

This then is my fifth reason to ask the Congress to embrace the BJP. It will save the country a bitter fight in the name of religion.

I am quite optimistic that sooner or later, my wishful thinking would turn into a reality.

The only hitch is that the INC president's own career ambitions may be hurt if the Congress merges with the BJP.

But that is not an issue for me. The INC is a party where I believe the leadership ambitions of many brilliant party leaders -- read Sardar Patel and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose -- were blunted by the greatest Congressman of all time, Mahatma Gandhi himself, in favour of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

So it may be payback time for Nehru's great grandson.

Sudhir Bisht, PhD, Delhi-based author and columnist, tweets at @sudhir_bisht

Sudhir Bisht