Chidambaram's Sivaganga plight shows why regional politics matters

Leaving a constituency that one has been successfully associated with for three decades cannot be without a credible reason. Genuine concern for the next generation or just pure fright of loss?

The constituency in question is Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu and the man in question, union finance minister and one of the tallest leaders of the Congress, P Chidambaram. He was first elected to the Lok Sabha from the constituency in 1984 and then stayed on with it till the last elections; but this time around, he wants his son, instead of himself, to contest. Not that he is too old or retiring, somehow he doesn’t want to contest.

Despite such a long association, reportedly Chidambaram is unable to attract people to listen to him and the maximum he gets is a handful. For all the reported work he has done in his constituency, the response of the people is at best lukewarm and most of them are not entirely impressed by the national programmes rolled out in the constituency be it the NREGA, conferences or the bank branches. The Election Commission even refused the inauguration of the latest branch of Canara Bank since it violates the model code.

 Chidambarams Sivaganga plight shows why regional politics matters

P Chidambaram. Reuters.

Although it’s not a thumb rule, some smart politicians keep changing their constituency after two or three times. Perhaps Chidambaram too should have done it. Too much familiarity, either leads to excessive expectations, or plain indifference to whatever one does. He should have read the writing on the wall last time because he just managed to (controversially) scrape through against his AIADMK rival.

Chidamabaram’s problem in Tamil Nadu is not one of expectations alone, but that of alliance politics. This time around, the Congress hasn’t been able to tie up with DMK or the DMDK. Unfortunately, these were the only parties that the Congress could have joined hands with.

The DMDK, although friendly with Chidambaram and some of the Congress leaders in the state, wanted bigger prospects and opted for a rainbow coalition in which it is the big party as its founder-leader Vijayakanth wanted. The DMK didn’t want to touch it because of Sri Lanka and the 2G scam. In the case of Sri Lanka, the DMK wanted to keep distance although it was party to most of what the Congress-led UPA did. In the case of 2G, it’s angry with the way Raja was singled out by the JPC. To defend itself on 2G and Sri Lanka, the DMK cannot be in the company of the Congress. Or rather, it wants the Congress as its opponent.

So Congress is alone, Chidambaram is alone, and its party leaders don’t want to contest knowing full well that they will not only lose, but lose very badly. Most probably, they will end up fourth.

Chidamabaram’s plight is a test case of parties such as Congress in parliamentary politics. One has to keep in mind in every aspect of governance and realpolitik in Delhi. However progressive or lofty one’s politics or policy is, one’s political future is decided at the grassroots. With extremely regionalised and federated political structure, it means humouring good allies unless one is a regional big wig oneself.

The Congress’ plight had been clearly foretold in Tamil Nadu when it arrogantly erred on Sri Lanka. Although it tried to patch up with the DMK by offering support for the re-election of Kanimozhi to the Rajya Sabha, the DMK took it as a one-off payback. Had Chidamabram, GK Vasan and Jayanthi Natarajan were mindful of their electoral future, they should’ve seen this coming and done the impossible to change India’s policy on Sri Lanka.

Perhaps now they might painfully realise that domestic politics should trump geopolitics if they are to survive. Manmohan Singh, Salman Khurshid or the MEA mandarins do not contest elections in Tamil Nadu and couldn’t care less, but the Tamil leaders do need to care.

Chidamabaram is also an example of the Congress leaders’ admission of defeat. An instance like this, when so many leaders have shied away from the elections, would not have happened even after the emergency. While the high command tries to put on a show of strength, the leaders admit defeat even without a try. Chidmabaram, of course, has a reason because all that he has is his party’s10 per cent voteshare and no allies; but the situation is different for other leaders. Even in their boroughs, they feel unsafe and hence want to play politics that is 100 per cent safe.

Should Chidambaram have fought in Sivaganga? Probably yes, because even if fortune didn’t favour him, he would have emerged brave. At least it could have been a protest-try against his own party which was foolish on Tamil Nadu.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2014 18:25:51 IST