Janata Parivar Jumble: Grand Alliance’s Grand Perception Crisis
After Mulayam’s exit from the Janta Parivar, the alliance is in trouble with even people viewing it with suspicion.
- Samajwadi Party is not a formidable force in Bihar with the party not winning a single seat in the 2010 assembly polls
- With the would-be guardian, Mulayam Singh Yadav himself leaving the ship, people are now viewing the Janata front with suspicion
- After Mulayam’s exit, there is no one left who can act as an arbiter in case of any conflict
- New perception crisis may impact the fragile coordination at the grassroots level
It took Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar completely by surprise. Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad specially flew to Delhi to save the grand alliance. Hopeful as they seem to be, the two leaders may still placate Mulayam Singh Yadav and bring his Samajwadi Party (SP) back to the alliance. But the idea of a joint front to fight the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the Bihar assembly elections may have already suffered a jolt following the announcement of the SP to withdraw from the alliance earlier this week.
The SP has never been a formidable force in Bihar. In the 2010 assembly elections, the party contested more than 140 seats but polled less than 1% of the votes without winning a single seat. The story has been more or less similar in all elections the party has contested in the state since 1995.
The SP’s withdrawal from the alliance therefore, may not translate into any significant loss of votes for the Lalu-Nitish combine. Given the way things are, it is unlikely that there will be division of Yadav or minority votes because the SP may contest elections separately.
Joining Hands Only to Depart Soon
The damage, however, is going to be more at the level of perception. There is a long history of so-called socialist parties, mostly caste-based, taking cue from the ideology of Ram Manohar Lohia, not staying together for a long time. Individual egos of important leaders have been tough to manage in the past. So when various splinter groups of the erstwhile Janata Dal decided to come together to form what was to become a united Janata Parivar under the guardianship of Mulayam Singh Yadav, it was perceived as a game of survival against the resurgent BJP.
Bihar elections were seen as dress rehearsal before the actual merger was to take place. Now that the would-be guardian himself has left the ship, the people have begun to view the entire front, whatever is left of it now in Bihar, with suspicion. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is already out of the alliance. Now the SP too has deserted it just weeks before the elections.
It was Mulayam who reportedly worked as a bridge between Nitish and Lalu in the early days of alliance talks. Mulayam Singh Yadav is credited to have persuaded Nitish to take charge of the state yet again earlier this year after nearly nine months of Jitan Ram Manjhi’s rule in Bihar. Many Patna-based political watchers have told me that it was at the insistence of Mulayam Singh Yadav that Lalu Prasad had agreed to accept Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate of the grand alliance, then consisting of five parties and now reduced to three. Now that Mulayam himself is out of the picture, there is no one else left who can act as arbiter in case of any conflict between the two Bihar strongmen.
Coordination At The Grassroots May Suffer
Can they stay as allies even till the elections? If they part ways on the slightest of provocation even before the winnability of the alliance is yet to be tested, what will happen once elections are over? These are the questions people have begun to ask of Lalu and Nitish also. As it is, brands of Lalu and Nitish evoke different, and sometimes contradictory responses from the people. While Brand Nitish has come to be associated with order and the politics of development, Lalu is seen to be a votary of identity politics. While the former is known as the turnaround man of Bihar, the latter is blamed for institutional breakdown in the state.
Other than a marked difference in their style, there is very little cohesion among social groups that support these two leaders. Yadavs, numerically the most dominant of social groups in the state and the core of Lalu’s support base, have always viewed Nitish with suspicion. Nitish’s cadre, on the other hand, apprehends loss of dominance in the midst of rising influence of team Lalu. These differences, by no means irreconcilable, were papered over in pursuit of their common goal to stay relevant in the politics of Bihar.
After months of mistrust, it was only now that the field forces of these leaders had begun to coalesce. The joint rally of the two leaders in Patna on August 30 afforded them an opportunity to work in tandem.
The new perception crisis may impact the fragile coordination at the grassroots level. The onus is now on Lalu and Nitish to convince their respective cadre that the alliance is here to stay and can weather setbacks like this. Not impossible to do. But both Nitish and Lalu will have to walk a few extra miles to do that.
(Mayank Mishra writes regularly for the Business Standard)
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