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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

A Blueprint for National Secular Alliance (NSA)
By Syed Shahabuddin

National Secular Alliance (NSA) is a political imperative if India and the Secular Order are to be saved. The NSA should be a pre-poll alliance of all secular parties excluding those which are affiliated to, or associated with the NDA. Those parties which part company with the NDA should all be welcomed to the NSA. The secular parties which do not wish to join the NSA for any reason (e.g. antipathy towards another secular party) should also be persuaded not to put up candidates simply to divide secular votes and thus give advantage to the NDA/BJP candidates.

The important national and state parties which are potential members of the NSA, apart from the INC are CPM, CPI, SP, BSP, DMK, NCP, RJD, LJP, JMM with their bases in West Bengal and Kerala, UP, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand etc. But even those secular parties which had a very small presence in the Lok Sabha during 1999-2004, say, with 1-5 seats or have secured more than 1% votes in any State or 0.1% of national votes have a very wide field of influence and they should be brought into the NSA because in our electoral system of First Past the Pole (FPP) every vote counts. Leaving aside the BJP and its allies the parties recognized as Parliamentary Groups are only six: INC, CPI(M), SP, BSP, DMK, NCP and RJD. About 12 other parties which may have only one member are poised to fight against the BJP/NDA.

Formation of NSA
The President of the INC as the biggest secular party should take the initiative and give a call for the national consolidation of secular forces as a national imperative to save the country and the Constitution and follow it up by inviting all the parties represented in the Lok Sabha, even by 1 member, which are not affiliated to the NDA, and any other parties which secured at least 1% of the votes in 1999 General Elections for a preliminary meeting to discuss the modalities of consolidation.

The parties which agree to form the NSA should issue a joint appeal to the people of India and declare their intention to rise above their political differences in the past or ideological differences at present, to struggle jointly, in order to defend the Democratic Secular Order and defeat the BJP and its allies from their divisive approach and policies. They should proceed to form a National Steering Committee and a Secretariat and two Working Groups: a) to evolve an equitable distribution of seats, and b) to prepare a Common Manifesto 
Distribution of Seats - By First/Second Position in 1999 National Parties State CPM INC JP BSP


Distribution of seats 
Formula - I
The seats can be distributed on the basis of the following parameters:
1.The NSA must contest all Lok Sabha constituencies and aim at one-to-one fight to the NDA everywhere. If this is achieved, the NDA will be reduced to double digits as there are very few seats in which it can muster the support of 50% of voters.

2.The sitting party should contest the seat. 

3.The runner-up against the BJP or any NDA ally in 1999 should contest the seats they lost. 

[2 and 3 may be refined by reference to the latest Assembly election results]

The remaining seats should be allocated by the National Steering Committee by mutual consultation and consensus, taking into account:

a) Performance of the members concerned of the NSA in the two previous General Elections in 1996 and 1998 in those seats.

b) Social demography of the constituency and the social base of the two parties, the sitting and the runner up in the constituency.

c) Equation of the candidates proposed by the two parties concerned with the other segments of the electorate and other members of the NSA, active in the constituency.

Distribution under this formula is given in Annexure-I. This distribution may need to be corrected as pointed out above by reference to latest Assembly election results.

Once the seat is allotted to a party, it should have the freedom to field the sitting member or any other candidate after ascertaining whether any other member of the NSA has any serious objection. As far as possible, the candidate fielded by a party or member of the NSA should belong to the largest social segment in the constituency, which is friendly towards the NSA.

Parties-members of the NSA may exchange seats within a state or between two states at their discretion but they should inform other members of the NSA

Distribution of seats by national percentage of votes in 1999

Formula-II

An alternative formula can be based on % of votes obtained by the parties in 1999 - extrapolated to a total of 100%. Since the national voters of a party are dispersed over more than one state and since a few parties apart from INC have been elected to the Lok Sabha from more than one state, the division is worked out, state-wise for such parties. Also national votes of less than 1.0% in any state or state votes of less than 5% in any state are not taken into account. Annexure-II gives the tally.

Need for flexibility
National Secular Alliance (NSA) is a political imperative if India and the Secular Order are to be saved. The NSA should be a pre-poll alliance of all secular parties excluding those which are affiliated to, or associated with the NDA. Those parties which part company with the NDA should all be welcomed to the NSA. The secular parties which do not wish to join the NSA for any reason (e.g. antipathy towards another secular party) should also be persuaded not to put up candidates simply to divide secular votes and thus give advantage to the NDA/BJP candidates.

The important national and state parties which are potential members of the NSA, apart from the INC are CPM, CPI, SP, BSP, DMK, NCP, RJD, LJP, JMM with their bases in West Bengal and Kerala, UP, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand etc. But even those secular parties which had a very small presence in the Lok Sabha during 1999-2004, say, with 1-5 seats or have secured more than 1% votes in any State or 0.1% of national votes have a very wide field of influence and they should be brought into the NSA because in our electoral system of First Past the Pole (FPP) every vote counts. Leaving aside the BJP and its allies the parties recognized as Parliamentary Groups are only six: INC, CPI(M), SP, BSP, DMK, NCP and RJD. About 12 other parties which may have only one member are poised to fight against the BJP/NDA.

Formation of NSA
The President of the INC as the biggest secular party should take the initiative and give a call for the national consolidation of secular forces as a national imperative to save the country and the Constitution and follow it up by inviting all the parties represented in the Lok Sabha, even by 1 member, which are not affiliated to the NDA, and any other parties which secured at least 1% of the votes in 1999 General Elections for a preliminary meeting to discuss the modalities of consolidation.
The parties which agree to form the NSA should issue a joint appeal to the people of India and declare their intention to rise above their political differences in the past or ideological differences at present, to struggle jointly, in order to defend the Democratic Secular Order and defeat the BJP and its allies from their divisive approach and policies. They should proceed to form a National Steering Committee and a Secretariat and two Working Groups: a) to evolve an equitable distribution of seats, and b) to prepare a Common Manifesto 

Distribution of seats 
Formula - I
The seats can be distributed on the basis of the following parameters:
1.The NSA must contest all Lok Sabha constituencies and aim at one-to-one fight to the NDA everywhere. If this is achieved, the NDA will be reduced to double digits as there are very few seats in which it can muster the support of 50% of voters.

2.The sitting party should contest the seat. 

3.The runner-up against the BJP or any NDA ally in 1999 should contest the seats they lost. 

[2 and 3 may be refined by reference to the latest Assembly election results]

The remaining seats should be allocated by the National Steering Committee by mutual consultation and consensus, taking into account:

a) Performance of the members concerned of the NSA in the two previous General Elections in 1996 and 1998 in those seats.

b) Social demography of the constituency and the social base of the two parties, the sitting and the runner up in the constituency.

c) Equation of the candidates proposed by the two parties concerned with the other segments of the electorate and other members of the NSA, active in the constituency.

Distribution under this formula is given in Annexure-I. This distribution may need to be corrected as pointed out above by reference to latest Assembly election results.

Once the seat is allotted to a party, it should have the freedom to field the sitting member or any other candidate after ascertaining whether any other member of the NSA has any serious objection. As far as possible, the candidate fielded by a party or member of the NSA should belong to the largest social segment in the constituency, which is friendly towards the NSA.

Parties-members of the NSA may exchange seats within a state or between two states at their discretion but they should inform other members of the NSA

Formula-II
An alternative formula can be based on % of votes obtained by the parties in 1999 - extrapolated to a total of 100%. Since the national voters of a party are dispersed over more than one state and since a few parties apart from INC have been elected to the Lok Sabha from more than one state, the division is worked out, state-wise for such parties. Also national votes of less than 1.0% in any state or state votes of less than 5% in any state are not taken into account. Annexure-II gives the tally.

Need for flexibility
The two formulae are only indicative of the maximalist and minimalist position. Allocation of constituencies will call for a great deal of flexibility and accommodation by the major partner namely INC, in favour of the middle rankers like BSP, CPM, DMK, NCP, RJD and SP, particularly in states other than their main base. However, any compromise should be decided on the basis of the litmus test of winnability against NDA.

Need for Decentralization
The Congress should follow the viable strategy of decentralizing the formation of the Secular Alliance. But the apex of the alliance should, of course, be occupied by the Congress as the head and, if I may say so, all the state coordinators as members.

The other states like AP, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana (unless INLD detaches itself from the NDA), HP, J&K, Karnataka, MP, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal form the Congress terrain. In Kerala, there is scope for understanding with CPM (keeping the threat of systematically rising penetration by the BJP). In Maharashtra, NCP has already thrown in its lot with the INC leading to a 2-way division of seats with some accommodation for the smaller parties like PWP, the RPI and the JD(S).

Manifesto: emphasis on sectional and regional grievances
The Manifesto of the NSA should focus on :-

1.Failures and misgovernance by the NDA: Devaluation of democracy and secularism; exposure of RSS as extra-constitutional authority; exploitation of resources by Sangh Parivar; distortion of national institutions; deviation from non-alignment and acceptance of US hegemony etc.

2.General grievances of the People: unemployment, rising prices, poverty and economic disparities, Social Violence, corruption, industrial stagnation, judicial delay, decay of educational system, Cut back in Welfare Programmes.

3.Sectional grievances and remedial promises in respect of functional groups like i) Landless labour, industrial labour, agricultural labour, unorganized labour; ii) farmers and agriculturists; iii) industrialists and entrepreneurs; iv) teachers; v) students and youth; vi) women; vii) displaced persons; viii) handicapped and disabled persons; ix) ex-servicemen; x) senior citizens.

4.Sectional grievances and remedial promises in respect of social groups like SC's, ST's, OBC's, MBC's, religious minorities, linguistic minorities, migrants from other states e.g. Biharis in Assam or Maharashtrians in Delhi.]

The NSA manifesto should be issued in all principal languages. The manifesto may have state variants for major states to focus on their specific problems.
Management of the election - analysis of social demography
The secretariat should undertake a detailed analysis of the social demography of every Lok Sabha constituency in terms of communities and sub-communities, castes and sub-castes, tribes and sub-tribes which form 1% of the national population/electorate, list them in order of population and categorize them as friendly, neutral and hostile. Also it should prepare a linguistic map of the constituency. 

Logistics and Modalities
The secretariat should prepare state-wise and constituency-wise lists of parties-members of the NSA, in order to enable the National Steering Committee to form Steering committees at the state and the constituency levels, which should include representatives of all parties active at the given level. The conveners should belong to the major party at the state level and the contesting party at the constituency level. 

Armed with the social demographic data, the Secretariat should also prepare a list of leaders of all national and state leaders of the member parties with their social affiliation and linguistic ability who may be available for field work. This may be circulated to the state and constituency Steering committees and they should be deployed suitably wherever there is a sizeable pocket of matching social/linguistic complexes.

Since the INC, the CPM, the SP, the RJD, the BSP, the DMK, the NCP together have to cover nearly 480 seats, they should select their candidates as soon as possible so that they can begin their campaign. Alliance or no alliance, these major parties have to fight at least those seats. For the others, it may wait for a common slate to emerge or for coordination with a second anti-BJP alliance if it takes shape.

The Muslim factor
Politically speaking, all the secular parties, all over the country, in varying measure, expect a share of Muslim votes and even the entire Muslim vote in a one-to-one contest against the BJP or its allies. The BJP is now angling for a share. Firstly, to scatter the Muslim votes and reduce its impact and secondly to attract secular and liberal Hindu voters and thus to make a jump from its present plateau of 25%. This game the Muslim voters understand. Therefore, if the secular parties they generally favour in any state cannot reach an agreement on the distribution of seats, they are bound to draw their own conclusions about which party is playing with the future of the Secular Order whose survival is for the Muslims a matter of major concern. In other words, they would identify which party is objectively speaking, acting as the de facto agent of the BJP. The Muslim voters will no doubt shrink from supporting the candidates of the party or parties which keep aloof from the secular alliance and plough their lovely furrow. Once they identify them, the Muslims will support the common candidate of the secular alliance or tactically vote for the most winnable candidate of a secular party who is in a position to defeat the BJP/NDA candidate. q
The two formulae are only indicative of the maximalist and minimalist position. Allocation of constituencies will call for a great deal of flexibility and accommodation by the major partner namely INC, in favour of the middle rankers like BSP, CPM, DMK, NCP, RJD and SP, particularly in states other than their main base. However, any compromise should be decided on the basis of the litmus test of winnability against NDA.

Need for Decentralization
The Congress should follow the viable strategy of decentralizing the formation of the Secular Alliance. But the apex of the alliance should, of course, be occupied by the Congress as the head and, if I may say so, all the state coordinators as members.

The other states like AP, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana (unless INLD detaches itself from the NDA), HP, J&K, Karnataka, MP, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal form the Congress terrain. In Kerala, there is scope for understanding with CPM (keeping the threat of systematically rising penetration by the BJP). In Maharashtra, NCP has already thrown in its lot with the INC leading to a 2-way division of seats with some accommodation for the smaller parties like PWP, the RPI and the JD(S).

Manifesto: emphasis on sectional and regional grievances
The Manifesto of the NSA should focus on :-

1.Failures and misgovernance by the NDA: Devaluation of democracy and secularism; exposure of RSS as extra-constitutional authority; exploitation of resources by Sangh Parivar; distortion of national institutions; deviation from non-alignment and acceptance of US hegemony etc.

2.General grievances of the People: unemployment, rising prices, poverty and economic disparities, Social Violence, corruption, industrial stagnation, judicial delay, decay of educational system, Cut back in Welfare Programmes.

3.Sectional grievances and remedial promises in respect of functional groups like i) Landless labour, industrial labour, agricultural labour, unorganized labour; ii) farmers and agriculturists; iii) industrialists and entrepreneurs; iv) teachers; v) students and youth; vi) women; vii) displaced persons; viii) handicapped and disabled persons; ix) ex-servicemen; x) senior citizens.

4.Sectional grievances and remedial promises in respect of social groups like SC's, ST's, OBC's, MBC's, religious minorities, linguistic minorities, migrants from other states e.g. Biharis in Assam or Maharashtrians in Delhi.]

The NSA manifesto should be issued in all principal languages. The manifesto may have state variants for major states to focus on their specific problems.
Management of the election - analysis of social demography
The secretariat should undertake a detailed analysis of the social demography of every Lok Sabha constituency in terms of communities and sub-communities, castes and sub-castes, tribes and sub-tribes which form 1% of the national population/electorate, list them in order of population and categorize them as friendly, neutral and hostile. Also it should prepare a linguistic map of the constituency. 

Logistics and Modalities
The secretariat should prepare state-wise and constituency-wise lists of parties-members of the NSA, in order to enable the National Steering Committee to form Steering committees at the state and the constituency levels, which should include representatives of all parties active at the given level. The conveners should belong to the major party at the state level and the contesting party at the constituency level. 

Armed with the social demographic data, the Secretariat should also prepare a list of leaders of all national and state leaders of the member parties with their social affiliation and linguistic ability who may be available for field work. This may be circulated to the state and constituency Steering committees and they should be deployed suitably wherever there is a sizeable pocket of matching social/linguistic complexes.

Since the INC, the CPM, the SP, the RJD, the BSP, the DMK, the NCP together have to cover nearly 480 seats, they should select their candidates as soon as possible so that they can begin their campaign. Alliance or no alliance, these major parties have to fight at least those seats. For the others, it may wait for a common slate to emerge or for coordination with a second anti-BJP alliance if it takes shape.

The Muslim factor
Politically speaking, all the secular parties, all over the country, in varying measure, expect a share of Muslim votes and even the entire Muslim vote in a one-to-one contest against the BJP or its allies. The BJP is now angling for a share. Firstly, to scatter the Muslim votes and reduce its impact and secondly to attract secular and liberal Hindu voters and thus to make a jump from its present plateau of 25%. This game the Muslim voters understand. Therefore, if the secular parties they generally favour in any state cannot reach an agreement on the distribution of seats, they are bound to draw their own conclusions about which party is playing with the future of the Secular Order whose survival is for the Muslims a matter of major concern. In other words, they would identify which party is objectively speaking, acting as the de facto agent of the BJP. The Muslim voters will no doubt shrink from supporting the candidates of the party or parties which keep aloof from the secular alliance and plough their lovely furrow. Once they identify them, the Muslims will support the common candidate of the secular alliance or tactically vote for the most winnable candidate of a secular party who is in a position to defeat the BJP/NDA candidate.
q

 

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