The so-called ‘socialist’ parties are trying to come together to create a new Janata Dal avatar to fight the BJP. There are several reasons they will find the going very tough.
The recent meet organized by the Congress in New Delhi to celebrate Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary provided interesting trajectories hinged on anti-BJPism. The first looked like a Congress-Left-Mamata-Socialist-RLD-NCP front as a wider political formation, while the second looked more cohesive though smaller formation of various socialist splinter parties like Samajwadi Party (Mulayam Singh Yadav), RJD (Lalu Prasad Yadav), JD-U (Sharad Yadav), JD-S (Deve Gowda), INLD (Chautala) and SJP (formed by Chandrashekhar, former PM).
While the first possibility excluded some notable heavyweights like Mulayam (SP), Mayawati (BSP), Karunanidhi (DMK), Jayalalithaa (AIADMK), and Omar Abdullah (NC), the second trajectory attracted attention and created interest as it appeared to resurrect the Janata Dal (JD) of 1988 in a new avatar as JD 2.0.
Could JD 2.0 really emerge as viable political alternative? If formed, can it pose serious challenges to other players especially the BJP? And, what social coalition could the JD 2.0 target?
There is surely some basis why some are optimistic about JD 2.0’s viability. The JD (first attempt in 1988) experiment had been very successful because in about a year’s time after its formation, it formed governments both at the Centre and in UP. That was founded on significant energy released due to the second democratic upsurge in the backdrop of the Mandal politics of V.P. Singh that mobilized both OBCs and Dalits.
Also, in late 1980s, the socialist politics and movement had become a bit fashionable as the top socialist leaders then were in the prime of their political careers, and their coming together to form JD produced a new political actor that occupied a space created in wake of the Mandal-triggered upsurge.
But the optimism about the present attempt must be taken with a pinch of salt. Why? One, even in its heydays, the JD 1988 experiment was very short-lived, both in Delhi and UP; the JD governments lasted barely for less than two years and in the 1991 elections, the party was demolished both at the national level and in UP. The Congress displaced it at the Centre and the BJP dislodged it in UP.
Even in 1989, when the JD, with barely 142 Lok Sabha seats, formed the Union government with some smaller parties and outside support from the Left and the BJP, the Congress with 197 seats was much ahead of JD. Secondly, in 1989, JD performed well in states like Gujarat (11/14), Haryana (6/8), Rajasthan (11/13), UP (54/69), Bihar (31/37) and Orissa (16/19). If we look at the present scenario, it is very difficult to imagine any JD 2.0 formation replicating such a performance in these states.
Thirdly, in the 1980s, people thought that socialists symbolised the politics of the poor and subalterns. Their capabilities to govern were also not known then, and people imagined that they would probably do better than the Congress. But, the socialist bandwagon, as history demonstrates, has steadily become devoid of socialist substance. In day-to-day life, socialism has become discredited lock, stock and barrel. Some socialist leaders still survive because of their personal reputations, which hinge not on socialism but on caste politics. Presently, however, ‘socialist leaders’ and ‘caste politics’—both are on the decline.
Finally, whereas the 1988 JD flourished on the premise of anti-Congressism, it is anti-BJPism that is bringing them together as JD 2.0. This is a very substantial crucial difference, because JD was formed in the backdrop of a declining Congress, whereas JD 2.0 is being contemplated against a BJP which is on an inclining note as demonstrated by its sweeping not only national polls but also winning state after state in subsequent assembly elections.
Can the new JD 2.0 pose a threat to major parties? After all, in spite of performing very badly in the general elections of 2014, winning just six out of 40 seats in Bihar, the JD-U and RJD combine performed very well winning five out of 10 Bihar assembly seats. It is feared by some that if the SP, SJP and JD-S are added to this kitty, the combine may do still better. But, on a deeper analysis, one notices that the constituents have spatial limitations; most of them are just functional only in one or two states, lacking pan-India presence and influence. They do not have all-India constituencies; so their coming together may produce local wins in some states but not at an all-India level.
Most of the JD 2.0 constituents are caste parties pursuing exclusionary politics; hence, one does not know which other heterogeneous caste groups they will be addressing. The new attempt is an effort to bring together various political forces aiming at amalgamation of various social denominations that these forces represent. But, the present political mood in the country may be an obstacle in the way to such a social engineering.
The reason is that people are slowly moving away from the trap of caste-based identity politics. They had enough of it for the last quarter of a century and are now looking forward to some new developmental initiatives that are being promised to them by other major players, especially the BJP.
The recent Haryana elections were a case in point where JD 2.0 top leaders belonging to JD (U), RJD, JD(S), RLD and SP—campaigned for Chautala’s INLD candidates without success. Additionally, the kind of post-Mandal energy as second democratic upsurge is missing this time, and OBCs and Dalits do not appear to identify themselves with socialist policies and programmes. So, the chances of a JD 2.0 posing any substantial challenge to the established national parties, especially the BJP, appears very bleak.
The anti-BJPist trajectory of various socialist splinters also indicates a desire to address a serious omission in backward class mobilization by attempting homogenization of the OBCs. However, the attempt appears to be quite belated. Since the days of Chaudhury Charan Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav in the 1960s, there has been an abject failure to bring together (a) backward castes and Dalits, and (b) more-backwards and most-backwards with Yadavs in the major states of UP and Bihar, the bastions of backward class mobilization. The result had been a complete schism not only among the OBCs but the entire subaltern group. Now the rupture is so acute that any half-hearted attempt may not undo the damage already done.
Such an attempt at homogenization is further doomed by the fact that the new Prime Minister has made a very subtle intervention in OBC discourse not only in UP and Bihar but the entire country.
His OBC identity, disclosed during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has given him a handle to break the false and fake monopoly of JD constituents, mainly Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, over OBCs. As OBCs constitute a very sizable section of the general population, Modi’s backward caste identity may give the BJP immense clout with that social denomination.
The added advantage is that now the OBCs have a rationale to switch sides from their traditionally preferred caste parties to the BJP. This development may not allow the imagined JD 2.0 any clout against the BJP. But, yes, that does not mean that the BJP remains unchallenged; the fear of the BJP may perhaps bring about the wider coalition of all anti-BJP forces. That would be a great democratic contest and could give the BJP a chance to demonstrate its popular and democratic legitimacy.
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