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Brinkmanship Politics - The Times Of India

The Editorial ()
March 16, 1998

Title: Brinkmanship Politics
Author: The Editorial
Publication: The Times Of India
Date: March 16, 1998

In seemingly unrelated developments, two phenomenally powerful
women have emerged as arbiters of the country's destiny at a time
of extreme political uncertainty. One of them, Ms J Jayalalitha,
caused the BJP agonising moments of tension before finally
allowing herself to be coaxed and cajoled into participating in a
possible BJP-led government at the Centre. Such was the
admonition she administered to the BJP leadership that the party
had to dispatch a veteran, Mr Jaswant Singh, to Chennai to bring
her around. In government, the BJP is bound to have to remember
even more that Ms Jayalalitha is uniquely positioned to make or
mar its prospects and, therefore, that she would brook no
disrespect either from the party or any of its other allies.
About the same time that Ms Jayalafitha was telling the BJP just
what she can do with her 27 MPs, the other mainline party, the
Congress, was beseeching Mrs Sonia Gandhi to take it under her
control, going even so far as summarily to sack incumbent
organisational chief Sitaram Kesri. Neither move augurs well for
the BJP, already severely hamstrung both on account of its
inadequate numbers and for having acquired a vast number of
allies, all clamouring for a share of the power-cake. The BJP
leadership has been at pains to portray itself as a victim held
to ransom by inconsiderate partners. Granted, there are more
prima donnas in the BJP alliance than any party could have wished

Yet, the BJP must ask itself if this mess is not of its own
making. The BJP rushed headlong into alliances in the hope of
being able to expand its base which, in fact, it has, judging by
the five per cent jump in its vote share. However, having ridden
piggy-back on its allies, the BJP cannot now wish them away or
insist that it will accept one ally but not another. The BJP was
as aware of Ms Jayalalitha's mercurial temperament as it was of
Mr Subramanian Swamy's gadfly reputation; the party, in fact,
addressed joint election rallies with the latter. What was at
that time hailed as an exercise in realpolitik has today turned
into an albatross for a party which suffers additionally from not
knowing enough about coalition politics. Now that the BJP has
managed to placate Ms Jayalalitha, it must make an effort to keep
its allies happy. Not just the BJP, all parties embarking on the
coalitional course must understand the importance of arriving at
a minimum programmatic consensus before elections. Alliance
partners ought to know in advance what to expect of each other.
This applies equally to the eternally squabbling Congress and the
United Front. Mrs Gandhi's acquisition of the Congress and the
softened stance of the once inflexible Mr Jyoti Basu are definite
signs that another anti-BJP formation is waiting to be born.
Which is a logical step in so far as it puts the BJP on notice.
Except for the likely adverse consequences of any short-term
collaboration between two ideologically incompatible parties. The
next six months, or even a year, would be more fruitfully spent,
if the Congress and the UF were to come to an understanding on
how contradictions between the two are to be resolved. This, and
not an opportunistic arrangement, is the way to mutually
beneficial power.

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