How long will Janata Parivar unity last?

Can these parties emerge as an alternative to the BJP? Devoid of credibility, it is unlikely to regain their lost glory.

Politics is the art of the possible. In India, it is borne out frequently after short interregna. Now, the so called socialist parties have decided to come under one umbrella, and if all goes well, they may ultimately merge into one party.

The most bizarre game is being played out in Bihar where arch rivals and bitterest critics of each other – Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar – have shaken hands. Nitish got mandate against the misrule of Lalu/Rabri regime and he never got tired of emancipating the state from the jungle raj of Lalu, and called his own regime “sushasan”. The other parties are the Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav; the Indian National Lok Dal, led by Om Prakash Chautala; Janata Dal (S), led by H D Deve Gowda, and the Samajawadi Janata Party. All these parties put on the façade of socialism but are controlled by individuals or their families.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has been declared the leader, has the maximum strength of 5 in Lok Sabha. He was elected from two constituencies, and so, he resigned from Mainpuri, but instead of fielding a loyal party worker from there, he preferred his grand nephew who won hands down. 

Lalu Prasad cannot see beyond his family despite successive drubbings of his wife and daughter at elections; he also lost several times from different constituencies. Nitish Kumar is totally autocratic; he renounced chief ministership but kept the remote of power with himself.  Gowda is another leader cocooned within his family with his son calling the shots. The other handicap of these parties is that while leaders of two major parties – Lalu and Chautala – are convicts, age goes against Mulayam and Gowda who are 75 and 81, respectively.

The question is whether these parties can emerge as a viable alternative to the BJP. Devoid of credibility, it is unlikely to regain its lost glory and base. Ram Manohar Lohia gave the slogan of anti-Congressism, and in 1967, non-Congress governments of Samyukta Vidhayak Dal were formed in nine states in which the Socialist Party formed governments with the support of Jan Sangh.

In fact, in 1963, the then president of Jan Sangh, Acharya Raguvira, died in a road accident when he was going to Farrukhabad to campaign for Lohia in the by-election. Jan Sangh was not a force to reckon with at that time and Lohia enlisted its support to drive out the Congress. But ever since its new avatar BJP became resurgent, it became the number one enemy of these parties. However, Lohia was the most vociferous critic of Nehru-Indira dynasty. But these coryphaei, invoking the ideology of Lohia, are now the exemplars of dynastic rule.

However, in a way, the merger may be good as recent trends evince that voters are now against proliferation of parties which generally happens when democracy is in a nascent stage and every group, whether based on caste, religion, language or profession, wants representation as no group trusts another. In 1952, there were 14 national parties, but the Congress was predominant till 1967. It had such a dominant position that a political scientist like Rajni Kothari called it the Congress System.

Congress domination
According to him, democracy was in a robust health notwithstanding the fact that only one political party was dominating the politics. Some of the national parties of 1950s like Bolshevik Party of India, Ram Rajya Parishad and Krishikar Lok Party are not even extant today. However, the predominance of the Congress led to centralisation of power and political hubris reflected in brazen abuse of Article 356 of the Constitution (dismissal of state governments) on spurious grounds.

Predaceous attitude of the Congress alienated states. Seething with frenzy for being at the receiving end, states reacted ferociously with regional political outfits emerging in most of the states and cornering a sizeable number of seats. But recent election results show people’s propensity to veering around a few parties and it appears that a bipolar political system is taking shape.

Traditionally, Britain was ruled alternatively by the Conservatives and the Liberals. The Labour Party is an offshoot of the Liberal party. The USA has only two parties – Democratic and Republican – alternating in power. Mature democracies do not have the phenomenon of multiplicity of parties.

The Janata Dal and earlier the Janata Party dismembered without any ideological reason. Nitish left JD in 1994 because of clash of ego with Lalu, later Lalu walked out from JD with his band as he was not allowed to continue as the president of the party in the wake of fodder scam, and JD finally split into JD(U) and JD(S) as one faction wanted alliance with the BJP. If the old fragments of the JD coalesce into one, how long it will remain united is the million dollar question.

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