Friday, March 21, 2014

Lok Satta is open to alliances in national interest: Dr.JP

The Lok Satta Party is ready to consider “strategic alliances and tactical adjustments” with other parties without compromising on its core values. It rules out the Congress but names the Bharatiya Janata Party specifically as a potential partner.

Lok Satta’s own experience in Andhra Pradesh since its inception in 2006 and national imperatives call for such a strategy at the present juncture, its founder and national President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan tells his party members in an open letter.

In the letter released to media today, Dr. JP dwells on the party’s performance in Andhra Pradesh and the lessons to be learnt from it.

“While public esteem for the Loksatta is very high in Andhra Pradesh, the perception that it might not be in a winning position is preventing support into votes; and votes from converting into seats. This is the primary reason for Loksatta's lack of electoral success. The best example is the relative performance of the MIM versus the Loksatta in Hyderabad city in the 2009 elections. While the total number of votes polled for MIM is roughly the same as that of Loksatta in the city, its votes translated into seven Assembly seats while the Loksatta managed to win only in one constituency.”

“Once a party voluntarily eschews money power, freebies and sectarian politics, the road to electoral success is thorny and steep. This is compounded by an electoral system that is hostile to new parties and honest ways and a hostile climate of primordial loyalties and caste equations.”

Against such a backdrop, “it is excruciatingly difficult to translate in the short-term our support base into a legislative mandate. A people plagued by the fear of wasted vote and potential leaders immobilized by the perception of winnability self-fulfil their prophecy”.

“In the interim, we should evolve strategies to persuade those voters who agree with us, but are voting for other parties because of fear of ‘wasted’ vote. And we need to trade our moderate, widespread voting base for concentrated pockets of voting that will give us legislative presence. Once electoral success is assured, many capable leaders, who can inspire confidence in voters, will be ready and willing to take the responsibility of playing a catalytic role for change at the constituency level.”

“It is this logic, backed by evidence that compels us to seriously consider strategic alliances and tactical adjustments without compromising our core values.”

Dr. JP says that for the Lok Satta wedded to all-round reforms and alleviating dire and soul crunching poverty, rampant exploitation and denial of human rights and creating opportunities for education, healthcare and employment, there is no alternative to working with others. There are no easy answers or quick fixes to our political and governance crisis.

“It is this recognition that led to the Loksatta working with both the NDA and the UPA over the years. It has never treated politicians and parties as untouchables. This political engagement drove the reform agenda of the country for over 15 years.”

Dr. JP recounts that the Lok Satta is largely instrumental in ushering in a number of electoral reforms. They include disclosure of candidates’ criminal antecedents, improvement in voter registration, political funding law, strengthening the anti-defection provisions and limiting the size of the Cabinet. It is again largely responsible for the Right to Information Act, and laws relating to constitution of the Lokpal, local courts and ensuring autonomy for cooperatives. Lok Satta’s proposals for laws on judicial standards and accountability, National Judicial Appointments Commission and service guarantee for citizens are in the pipeline.

Dr. JP points out that the Loksatta has amply demonstrated its capacity to provide intellectual leadership and work with all major political parties in proposing a win-win solution for all sides on the divisive issue of Telangana. “Indeed, the road map proposed by the Loksatta formed the sole basis for the amendments to the AP reorganization bill and was supported by both the Congress and the BJP.”

“Given the plurality of India and the compulsions of its electoral system, Loksatta has always believed that if reasonable standards are met in terms of political behaviour we should work with other parties to further a common agenda, viz, democratic reforms, public participation in politics and government, and improvements to quality of life and governance.”

Dr. JP recalls that the Lok Satta extended a hand to AAP as its first choice but it, being wedded to a monopolistic regime, spurned it.

Against such a backdrop, the Loksatta has to make a choice between the Congress and the BJP , the two middle- of-the-road parties based on four yardsticks -- pursuit of dynastic politics, dependence on money power, belief in freebie culture and promotion of sectarianism.

Dr. JP says, “While the Congress flunks miserably on all measures, the BJP passes muster on the first and third measure and to a lesser degree on the second.”

Referring to sectarianism, Dr. JP says that divisive and vote bank based politics exploit regressive social cleavages like caste, region, religion and language. “We should recognize that caste and region are as pernicious as religion in dividing people.”

Dr. JP argues, ”Our bounden duty as a political party is to moderate the extremes and enrich the agenda for growth and development. When a major party is actually departing from its sectarian and divisive communal agenda and changing its trajectory in making economic development as the vehicle in this election, the time is ripe to help deliver our vision for the country.”

“Any alliance will be on our terms, or not at all. We will not act desperate but we do reserve the right to negotiate….Indeed, if an alliance partner advocates politics of sectarianism and hatred, we will walk away and won't look back. We reserve the right to judge them on the basis of conduct and hold them accountable.”

“We have to decide on electoral alliances in the two States after deeply pondering over the future of Telugu people . It is not possible to align with parties steeped in corruption and those which are responsible for the crisis in the State. The Loksatta has unveiled a clear-cut agenda with focus on eradication of corruption, per capita grants to villages and wards in towns, provision of quality education and health care, measures to go to the aid of unorganized workers, ensuring remunerative price to the farmers, round-the-clock power supply, creation of livelihood opportunities in the manufacturing sector, women’s safety, restriction of liquor, allocation of resources for basic infrastructure in Hyderabad. We should be prepared to enter into alliances with local parties which are prepared to abide by our agenda.”

He recalls that even Gandhi collaborated with the Ali brothers and their Khilafat movement. “Is he judged by that radical dalliance or by the freedom he helped win? We live in a society, not Utopia. We are a work-in-progress nation at best and cannot afford zero sum games.”

“The Loksatta's call to action then, is to turn the least averse option into a good outcome for the nation, not stand by and watch the years fritter away for the citizens of India. It is widely accepted in all mature democracies, that a programmatic pre-poll alliance or electoral adjustment is ethical and will be validated by a people's mandate as opposed to a post poll tie- up, which could be viewed as unethical and opportunistic and will be perceived as lacking the mandate of the public.”

Dr. JP adds, “At this point of time though, the Loksatta is not sure if other parties will agree to the framework that is proposed above. As a responsible political party, we owe it to the public to explore the potential for such an alliance or adjustment and the exercise must be performed in a sincere and honest manner.”

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