Why Nitish Kumar’s Do-Or-Die ‘Revive Janata Dal’ Project Is Doomed To Fail

Why Nitish Kumar’s Do-Or-Die ‘Revive Janata Dal’ Project Is Doomed To Fail

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Oct 31, 2022 08:36 AM +05:30 IST
Why Nitish Kumar’s Do-Or-Die ‘Revive Janata Dal’ Project Is Doomed To FailBihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • Nitish Kumar has to merge his JD(U) with the RJD and give up the chief minister’s post in return for being projected as a prime ministerial candidate by the proposed reunified Janata Parivar.

    But that reunification and the post of prime minister are destined to remain a pipe dream.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has undertaken a mega project: to revive the old Janata Dal.

He wants to do so by bringing together all the political parties that had broken away from the parent party after the 1998 Lok Sabha elections that brought the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power at the centre.

It is, in fact, a do-or-die project for Kumar since, as per the terms of his agreement with Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), he has to relinquish his post in favour of his deputy, Tejaswi Yadav, by the end of next year.

According to the plan, which the RJD set as a precondition before allowing Kumar to return to the mahagathbandhan, Kumar will merge his Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), with the RJD latest by mid-2023.

He will then be made the president of the new party, after which he will move full-time to national politics.

Meanwhile, Kumar has been tasked with the onerous responsibility of reuniting all, or at least most, of the parties which had broken away from the old Janata Dal that was formed in October 1988.

The Janata Dal was an amalgam of various factions of the old Janata Party, Charan Singh’s Lok Dal, Jagjivan Ram’s Congress for Democracy, and V P Singh’s Jan Morcha.

After the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, it splintered into many parties.

Of them, only the JD(U), RJD, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) really matter.

Jitan Ram Manjhi’s party is a minor partner in the ruling mahagathbandhan in Bihar, while the LJP has split into two factions, both maintaining close ties with the BJP.

Kumar’s task is quite an improbable one. A similar attempt at reuniting the parties which had splintered from the Janata Dal was made once in 2015 when Kumar was part of the RJD-led mahagathbandhan.

A few rounds of talks were also held. But the clashing egos of provincial satraps, and serious differences over division of assets, paid put to the whole reunification exercise.

The biggest hurdle was Mulayam Singh Yadav, who did not want to surrender the considerably vast assets of his SP to the new entity.

Yadav insisted that even if his party became part of a new entity, it would retain some sort of a separate identity and retain control over its assets.

Yadav proposed a formula for sharing assets, under which all constituents would contribute equally to the corpus of the new party. That was not agreed to by other parties that were much ‘poorer’ than the SP.

Serious differences also arose over the leadership, and power-sharing, of the new party, especially at the national level.

Mulayam Singh Yadav felt that being the most prominent constituent of the proposed entity — SP was in power in Uttar Pradesh at the time and his son Akhilesh was chief minister — he should lead the new party. Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav did not agree to that.

An undeterred Kumar has revived the old reunification bid because it is crucial for his political survival. If he cannot bring at least the SP, JD(S), and INLD on a common political platform that will have the new entity formed after the proposed merger of his JD(U) with the RJD as its prominent constituent, he will be out in the political wilderness.

Without SP, JD(S), and INLD, the merger of his JD(U) with RJD will not hold much meaning.

“Though Lalu Yadav has promised to make him (Nitish Kumar) the president of the new party, he will be a figurehead only since he will no longer be the chief minister. And the new party formed after the JD(U) merges with the RJD will be a provincial party confined to Bihar only.

Unless Nitish Kumar gets the three parties of Uttar Pradesh (SP), Karnataka (JD-S), and Haryana (INLD) on board, he will not gain national status," said Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal.

BJP Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, who was once very close to Nitish Kumar, told Swarajya: "Nitish Kumar’s options are very limited and this reunification is a do-or-die exercise for him. If he fails to reunify the old Janata Dal parties, he will not gain the requisite stature at the national level. And that will be the end of his political career."

Kumar’s hope hinges on the fact that Mulayam Singh has passed away and SP is a much weaker force in Uttar Pradesh than what it was in 2015. Also, the former Samajwadi patriarch’s son Akhilesh does not carry any baggage and is pragmatic.

“Akhilesh Yadav understands the need for unity among non-Congress opposition parties. He knows that without such unity, the BJP cannot be defeated. And if the BJP cannot be defeated, his own party will face further decimation.

So, for the sake of survival, it is necessary for non-Congress opposition parties to come on board and reunite," said a senior JD(U) leader who is also a cabinet minister.

But Akhilesh Yadav is a wily politician and, according to those close to him, he will not agree to surrender his party’s assets to the new entity. “The Samajwadi Party is much richer than the RJD and JD(U). That’s because the RJD has not been in power for many years, and the JD(U) under Nitish Kumar preferred to remain largely clean," admitted a former JD(U) leader.

There is, thus, no reason for the SP to share its considerable assets with the ‘poorer’ parties unless it is given a leadership role in the new formation. But Akhilesh is much junior to Nitish Kumar.

And even the RJD will not agree to give him a big role like that of senior vice president or chairman of the new party’s steering committee.

Apart from merger and sharing of assets, the major point of contention will be the leadership issue. While the JD(S) has no problems with Kumar assuming charge of the new entity at the national level, Om Prakash Chautala will not be so accommodating at all.

Though the INLD is a pale shadow of its former self and has splintered, Om Prakash Chautala has oversized ambitions.

“Om Prakash Chautala feels he ought to be given the same stature as his father Chaudhury Devi Lal, who was deputy prime minister (1989-1991). Chautala would want a major role at the national level in the new entity for himself, maybe right after Nitish Kumar as the national vice president of the reunited Janata Parivar. But that will be difficult for others to concede,” said a senior RJD leader who is involved in the reunification exercise that is being piloted by Nitish Kumar.

A major shortcoming of the whole reunification exercise is the non-committal stance of the BJD. Naveen Patnaik has always maintained an independent entity and has an excellent working relationship with the BJP. He is also close to many top BJP leaders.

"The chances of Naveen Patnaik coming on board are very slim. And if he doesn’t, that will be a major shortcoming that will hobble the whole reunification exercise. The BJD would have lent a lot of respectability and political weightage to the proposed formation," admitted the RJD leader.

As for other non-Congress opposition parties, there are zero chances of those agreeing to be part of a Nitish Kumar-led political formation. Mamata Banerjee harbours strong ambitions of becoming the prime minister and will not agree to play second fiddle to Nitish Kumar.

There is also no chance of Sharad Pawar taking his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to become part of the proposed Janata Parivar. The Telangana Rashtra Samity’s K Chandrashekar Rao has serious differences of opinion with RJD, SP, and other non-Congress opposition parties and will never agree to Nitish Kumar heading an alliance of non-Congress parties.

Kumar’s grand reunification exercise, thus, appears fated to fail. And he seems destined to take himself into political wilderness once he relinquishes his chair to his deputy, Tejaswi Yadav, next year. 

Nitish Kumar severed ties with the BJP because he felt the BJP was out to decimate his JD(U). That is why he rejoined the RJD-led mahagathbandhan that he had left in 2017.

But in his latest political somersault, he seems to have dug his own political grave: he has to merge his JD(U) with the RJD and give up the chief minister’s post in return for being projected as a prime ministerial candidate by the proposed reunified Janata Parivar.

But that reunification and the post of prime minister are destined to remain a pipe dream for the 'paltu ram' (a moniker for a politician notorious for political somersaults) of Bihar’s politics.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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