The national and the regional

Updated - June 03, 2024 10:25 am IST

Published - June 02, 2024 07:01 pm IST

Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Yusuf Pathan and V.K. Pandian, the Tamil Nadu-born aide of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. File

Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Yusuf Pathan and V.K. Pandian, the Tamil Nadu-born aide of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. File

(This is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George. The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)

National parties are, well, national, as opposed to being regional. But both the Congress and the BJP, the two national parties of India, resort to regionalism as and when it suits them. The CPI(M), which can at least notionally claim to be national, also does the same thing.

As we wait for the results of the 2024 Lok Sabha election, I thought it would be interesting to recall how national parties have appealed to regionalism during this campaign. The Congress in Karnataka, particularly under Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, is a champion of Karnataka identity politics; in neighbouring Telangana, the Congress government this week is celebrating the anniversary of the formation of the State, and taking credit for it. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in Kerala and Tamil Nadu invoked regional pride.

What is more curious, and even a bit unsettling for federal fraternity, is the BJP’s campaign in Odisha where it tried to corner the regional party, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), for the role that Tamil Nadu-born, former IAS officer V.K. Pandian has come to play in the State. The BJP unleashed a strident attack on the BJD and its chief, Naveen Patnaik, for foisting a non-Odia as his successor. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah themselves led the charge. The campaign against Mr. Pandian also took an anti-Tamil slant, as social media memes caricatured him. Ironically, the BJP is trying to woo voters in Tamil Nadu also, often tickling the regional pride among them

The BJP’s attempts to win power in West Bengal were stymied by the resistance of regionalism in the 2021 Assembly election. This time around, the BJP hopes to win more Lok Sabha seats in the State. The party has been more sensitive to not offend Bengali pride this time around. In fact, it accused the Trinamool Congress of hurting Bengali pride by fielding non-Bengali candidates such as Yusuf Pathan, who was born in Gujarat, and Kirti Azad, who hails from Bihar. 

Regionalism that does not target other regions and people may well be alright. But regionalism that turns against other people is certainly harmful for the country. National parties generally tend to ignore or even steamroll regional sentiments. The new trend of trying to be more regionalist than regional parties themselves is a notable feature of current politics.

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