Debating India

JANATA DAL

The split and the wait

Saturday 31 July 1999, by PANDE*S.K. , RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

The Janata Dal splits once again, this time over the issue of joining the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. However, the entry of the J.H. Patel-led group into the NDA does not promise to be easy.

in New Delhi

FOR the Janata Dal, which has undergone much fission in recent years, another turn of the wheel of political misfortune has brought yet more bad news. Following the events of July 21, the most important of which was the division of the party’s Political Affairs Committee (PAC) on the question of aligning with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Janata Dal split for the fourth time in five years.

Led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the majority of PAC members, including senior leaders Madhu Dandavate, S. Jaipal Reddy and S.R. Bommai, wanted the Janata Dal to continue to maintain equidistance from both the BJP and the Congress(I), and st rive to strengthen the third front. The remaining PAC members, including party president Sharad Yadav, former Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Karnataka Chief Minister J.H. Patel, however, wanted to "reunite" with the breakaway factions of the Janat a Dal, including the Samata Party and the Lok Shakti, to oppose the "dynastic" Congress(I) which is led by a "foreigner", and join the NDA.

Significantly, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who virtually started the Janata Dal’s tilt towards the BJP-led front during the last Lok Sabha elections when he accepted the support of the Akali Dal, a constituent of the NDA, maintained a neutral stan ce, although he is believed to be in agreement with the minority group.

The split was preceded by hectic discussions and manoeuvres spread over three days, aimed at working out a compromise. These efforts, however, failed; since July 21, each side has claimed that it is the "real" Janata Dal. Subsequently, the two groups mad e a series of expulsion announcements; Sharad Yadav became one of the first casualties when the majority group in the PAC expelled him from the post of party president and appointed Deve Gowda in his place. The two groups are currently engaged in the pro cess of "reconstituting" party bodies at the central and State levels.

AS with the earlier splits, this one too is expected to have a major impact on national politics. However, given the Janata Dal leaders’ inconsistencies, it is not yet clear who will make political gains from the latest events. On the face of it, the spl it is likely to weaken the anti-BJP secular forces. For, despite its gradual decimation over the last five years, the Janata Dal did have some influence in States such as Bihar and Karnataka. If one were to go by normal electoral arithmetic, the split wo uld cause the secular forces to lose at least a part of this vote. However, the Janata Dal is not a "normal" party. At the best of times it has shown a penchant for causing atypical political fall-outs. Going by the immediate reaction to the July 21 even ts, the story is unlikely to be any different this time around too.

If one were to go by conventional wisdom, the BJP should gain from the split and the so-called "re-unification" of the parties that were at one time part of the Janata Dal. However, BJP leaders themselves are sceptical about the gains their party would a ccrue. In fact, the split may prove to be a bigger headache for the BJP in particular and the NDA in general, than to the secular Opposition.

Barely 24 hours after the Janata Dal split, power equations began to change within the NDA, and even within the BJP. There were reports within the constituents of the NDA that the developments vis-a-vis the Janata Dal were a part of an elaborate s trategy initiated by Defence Minister and Samata Party leader George Fernandes to secure greater clout within the NDA at the expense of the BJP. According to another theory that emerged around the same time, the entire exercise had the blessings of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who, it was reported, was unhappy with his own position in the Sangh Parivar.

It is no secret that Vajpayee enjoys little support or authority within the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS-led Sangh Parivar. It is also well known that since the time he became Prime Minister, Vajpayee has had to reckon with many RSS and BJP leaders, including Home Minister L.K. Advani. Time and again he has had to fall back on allies such as the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam Party to get his views to prevail over those of the RSS leadership and even Advani. In fact, sections of the BJP have termed the so-called "re-unification" of the Janata Dal a Vajpayee-inspired manoeuvre aimed at increasing the BJP’s dependence on other constituents of the NDA.

Many people in the Sangh Parivar, especially those opposed to Vajpayee, have spoken out against the entry of the Janata Dal - more specifically, the group led by Sharad Yadav - into the NDA. They criticised the initiative taken by George Fernandes and Lo k Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde to bring the Janata Dal into the NDA. Leaders of the BJP’s Karnataka unit and the party’s national vice-president J.P. Mathur stated that the Janata Dal was not welcome in the NDA. Advani criticised George Fernandes for holding discussions with Janata Dal leaders without informing the NDA. Speaking to mediapersons two days after the Janata Dal split, Advani asked: "How would George Fernandes have felt if the BJP had held discussions with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leade r Laloo Prasad Yadav to induct him into the NDA?"

Top RSS leaders too are opposed to the idea of the Janata Dal joining the NDA. In fact, that group of Janata Dal leaders who favour an alliance with the NDA initiated efforts to placate RSS leaders such as K. Sudarshan and H.V. Seshadri. However, the San gh Parivar leaders, particularly Sudarshan, refused to budge and called the Janata Dal leadership a bunch of unreliable politicians.

Despite the opposition they were likely to encounter from various quarters of the Sangh Parivar, the group comprising leaders such as Ram Vilas Pawan, J.H. Patel and Sharad Yadav decided to take the plunge. However, if the Sangh Parivar succeeds in keepi ng them out of the NDA, all their well laid-out political plans will come to naught. The manoeuvres of these leaders - which resulted in the Janata Dal split - were not based on ideology or political concepts. Political survival appears to have been thei r sole motive.

Until recently, leaders such as Paswan, Sharad Yadav and J.H. Patel repeatedly stressed their commitment to protect secularism and fight the "communal BJP". As recently as April this year, Paswan stated - in the context of the debate on the vote of confi dence sought by the A.B. Vajpayee government - that although he was opposed to the RJD regime in Bihar, he would join hands with that party to fight the BJP. However, now Paswan is of the view that the "corruption of the RJD and the threat to national se curity posed by a foreign prime ministerial candidate (Sonia Gandhi) is greater than the threat of communalism."

Paswan told Frontline that his attitude towards the BJP had changed after he was convinced that it had no hidden agenda. He claimed that the BJP was no longer pursuing contentious issues such as the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the e nforcement of a uniform civil code and the abrogation of Article 370. When pointed out that the leaders of the Sangh Parivar, which includes the BJP, had made no statement to this effect, Paswan said that there was a tacit understanding within the BJP on these issues. Clearly, Paswan’s need to get back into the Lok Sabha is compelling.

At one time, J.H. Patel had refused to respond to the overtures made by Hegde to lure him into the NDA. However, when faced with a threat to his chief ministership from the Deve Gowda faction, he changed his stance.

Sharad Yadav’s case is even stranger. Even a week before the Janata Dal split, he was negotiating a deal with Laloo Prasad Yadav to ensure his entry into the Lok Sabha. In fact, the deal had nearly been clinched when he reportedly received a better offer from the Samata Party, which he took.

In a sense, the tendency to flip-flop on ideology and political commitments has been the wont of the erstwhile socialists of this country, who form the core of the Janata Dal leadership, from the early days of Independence. Time and again the socialists generated visions of their group emerging as the pivot of a "Third Alternative" opposed to the Congress(I) and the saffron brigade, only to disappoint the people. The reason was invariably the personal ambitions of the leaders. These leaders have split a nd reunited numerous times in their pursuit of personal goals. The events of July 21 constituted another such instance.

GEORGE FERNANDES, who has emerged as a sort of "first among equals" in the "re-unified Janata Dal parivar", gains the most from the recent developments. The other gainer is Ramakrishna Hegde, who will now be able to bargain with the BJP for more seats in Karnataka by pointing out his role in bringing about a merger between the J.H. Patel-led group and his Lok Shakti. As for the rest of them, the improved probability of holding political office once again is the major gain. However, all this will be poss ible only if the BJP and the RSS allow them into the NDA. Despite the persistence of this doubt, the Sharad Yadav-led group believes that Vajpayee needs more allies around him to overcome the challenge from the RSS-led Sangh Parivar and will therefore fa cilitate their entry into the NDA. However, whether Vajpayee succeeds in his efforts or not depends upon the tactic the RSS decides to adopt. If RSS stalwarts such as Sudarshan continue to oppose their entry, even Vajpayee will find it difficult to force the issue. Clearly, the future of this NDA-oriented group is subservient to the political-organisational judgment of the RSS bosses.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 16 - Issue 16, Jul. 31 - Aug. 13, 1999

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