New Janata Experiment's Uncertainties
Who will benefit in UP and Bihar?
Just a month after its formation in April 2015, the reformatted Janata parivar – a conglomerate of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), Nitish and Sharad Yadav’s Janata Dal United (JD-U), Laloo’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Dev Gauda’s Janata Dal Secular (JD-S), Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Kamal Morarka’s Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP) – under Mulayam’s leadership seems to be heading towards yet another crash. Most of these parties had been part of the erstwhile Janata Dal that first disintegrated in the early nineties after recording massive wins in 1989 both at the centre and in UP.
Mulayam’s desire to become prime minister may have been shattered in 2014 lok sabha (LS) elections, but he bounced back to become head of the revived Janata parivar. The conglomerate is yet to acquire a name, symbol, and flag or declare its ideology, policies and programmes. While the seven-member committee works out party details for registration with the Election Commission, the main Janata constituents have started falling apart over the coming assembly elections in Bihar and its chief ministership.
Why have the erstwhile socialist parties experimented with a new Janata outfit at all? And, why have they disbanded their earlier efforts towards the wider formation called Third Front that used to include the Left and other regional players as well? The stated reason for coming together is to browbeat the BJP especially in Bihar and UP where assembly elections are slated for later this year and early 2017 respectively. Mulayam justified the new move saying that their coming together helped them form governments in Delhi, an obvious reference to 1975 and 1989 when socialist parties joined hands to fight Congress. But, he forgot that on both occasions, the BJP was part of an anti-Congress alliance whereas the new Janata parivaar was formed on anti-BJP plank. However, there could be other fears too; they might be worried about Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that had the potential to usurp the ‘third space’ in Bihar after BJP (of course, recent leadership war in AAP ended that possibility).
Anti-BJP or Anti-AAP
The AAP’s massive victory in the Delhi polls demonstrated its potential to be a major player in Bihar and UP. So, Nitish and Lalu in Bihar and Mulayam in UP were really worried about the next assembly polls in their respective states. What will happen if AAP were to seriously contest assembly elections in Bihar and UP? Nitish and Lalu understood what it meant to fight elections together winning five out of ten assembly seats in by-elections despite massive losses in the LS elections a couple of months earlier. So, they wanted to ward off not only the possibility of a BJP sweep in the coming Bihar assembly elections, but also deny the AAP an opportunity to occupy any space, much less a second or third space, in politics in Bihar. The same is true for UP. The SP realized that being the ruling party, the entry of yet another serious bidder for power like AAP would make matters worse for the Akhilesh government. So, emergence of the Janata Parivaar was like killing three birds with one stone; checkmating BJP, denying AAP political space in UP and Bihar, and acquiring a greater clout within a possible ‘third-front’ that may comprise of the Left, Trinmool Congress, Biju Janata Dal and some regional players etc at a later stage.
In addition to the AAP dimension, Mulayam faces two problems: one, his party is reduced to the family coterie of five in LS; two, his son Akhilesh, the UP Chief Minister, is earning more anger for deteriorating law-and-order problem than getting appreciation for his developmental works. Mulayam is in an awkward position in the LS with just his daughter-in-law, two nephews and grand-nephew. The numbers certainly did not match his political stature. He desperately needed some cushion. With a new Janata dispensation, he could treble his strength in LS – from five to fifteen (SP-5, RJD-4, JDU-2, JDS-2, INLD-2). Even in the Rajya Sabha, the ‘parivaar’s strength could rise to 30 to become third largest party after Congress (68) and BJP (47), making Mulayam and the Janata parivar a strong epicenter of anti-BJPism.
Suited-booted Government, Pro-corporate, Anti-farmer
Prime Minister Modi will have to respond to two major allegations against his government as being ‘pro-corporate’ and ‘anti-farmer’ leveled both by Rahul Gandhi, Congress Vice-president, and the Janata parivar. These allegations may not be substantively correct, and perhaps they are not, but if ignored, they may have ‘killing effect’ on the doings of the Modi government. It is this major electoral strategy that may be used in the next parliamentary elections to which probably the entire opposition, including the Janata Parivaar, is gearing-up. Are ‘suited-booted’ governments necessarily pro-corporate, anti-farmer and anti-poor? Was Jawahar Lal Nehru not so well dressed? Was Dr. Ambedkar not always in suit-boot and yet he continues to be an icon for dalits? Can they be called pro-corporate, anti-poor or anti-farmer? And, do we not know that most frauds, scams and misappropriations have been committed by those who don the Gandhian dhoti-kurta? Are the so called socialist leaders of Janata parivar not themselves pro-corporate, anti-poor and anti-farmer? Can the convicted Lalu in the fodder scam be called pro-poor and pro-farmer?
Impact on Bihar and UP
The impact of the Janata parivar will be most keenly watched in the Hindi heartland especially Bihar and UP because its three important constituents – SP, RJD and JDU – come from there. They trace their lineage to socialist ideologies of the 1950s and 1960s and claim connections with Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, Karpoori Thakur, Jayaprakash Narayan, Madhu Limaye etc. But, do they really care for them and their ideologies? Is some samajwaad still left with the so called samajwadis? Most have given a convenient go-bye to socialist policies, taken to casteism, corruption, criminalization and crony-capitalism, and taken a position on secularism that has denigrated it to minority-ism. How will they retrieve the confidence of people?
In Bihar, Nitish had earned a reputation for good governance and tough measures to counter the corrupt, criminal and casteist politics of Lalu Yadav. He also did well on the social-engineering front by including the excluded, especially the most-backwards, Mahadalits and Pasmanda Muslims, in mainstream politics. But, he suddenly broke that social coalition by breaking his political coalition with the BJP in wake of Modi’s prime ministerial candidature.
Subsequently, his Manjhi-card to attract Mahadalits turned out to be a fiasco. By joining hands with Supreme Court convict Lalu Yadav, one wonders how Nitish will integrate his anti-Lalu politics of the last two decades with a new Janata dispensation and his own constituency. He might have thought that Lalu’s ineligibility for contesting elections may clear the issue of chief ministership for him. But, he underestimated the political acumen of his erstwhile rival who may not only kill his chief ministerial ambition but also rob him of his Mahadalit and Pasmanda Muslim constituency by bringing in a surprise claimant for the top job. All that may not only force Nitish to seek the Left and Congress’s support, but may push him to the BJP who might be surely keen to revive that abandoned coalition.
In UP, any Janata experiment can create more enemies than friends for Mulayam. Surely, the JD-U and RJD do not have any clout there. Any presence of their leaders would only marginalize the top SP leaders who may resent them. The clout of Azam Khan and Shivpal Yadav etc may be further diluted; they were already unhappy at crowning of Akhilesh as chief minister. What will Mulayam gain through the new Janata parivar in the coming assembly elections in UP? Already Akhilesh’s government has fallen from grace on the law-and-order front and smacks of yadavisation with all top positions in police, administration and education going to Yadavs. That has already annoyed the other backward classes/castes who may desert Mulayam for a new backward caste leader – Narendra Modi who has changed the backward discourse through his twin emphasis on development and inclusive politics. With class steadily overtaking caste, and Modi pushing all states to a competitive politics of development, any slackness to reorient and revamp the party can only push the SP to political margins.
So, Mulayam may not find the Janata parivar founded on anti-BJP-ism very attractive and may prefer to push the Akhilesh government towards better preparedness to take on Modi and Mayawati in the next assembly elections. One may remember how Mulayam’s own family was greatly attracted to Modi when the latter visited Saifai during a marriage in the former’s family. When Mulayam could not sell anti-Modism in his own family, how can he sell anti-BJP-ism and anti-Modism to a larger Janata parivar?
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