Debating India

A ’united’ Dal and a divided NDA

Saturday 14 August 1999, by RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

With powerful sections of the BJP putting up stiff resistance, the Sharad Yadav group of the Janata Dal finds entry into the National Democratic Alliance difficult.

THE "Janata Dal crisis" in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has refused to blow over.

Despite the combined support of the BJP’s allies and the tacit approval of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Janata Dal faction led by Sharad Yadav is struggling to strike a deal with the NDA. The reason is the stiff opposition from dominant secti ons of the BJP.

Leaders of the BJP owing allegiance to Union Home Minister L.K. Advani are opposed to admitting Sharad Yadav and Karnataka Chief Minister J.H. Patel into the NDA. This section, guided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other members of the Sang h Parivar have even accused Vajpayee of increasing the BJP’s dependence on the Dal formation, which includes the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party. Informed sources in the Sangh Parivar said that by facilitating a reunification of socialist forces Vajpayee sought to strengthen his own position in the alliance as he does not enjoy the support of the RSS. (The reunified Janata Dal consisting of erstwhile leaders of the Janata Party and the Janata Dal, is in favour of a government under Vajpayee.)

The theory that only leaders close to the Sangh Parivar are against the reunified Dal’s entry is reinforced by the fact that the BJP’s allies such as the Trinamul Congress, the National Conference and the Akali Dal have supported the new political format ion. Digvijay Singh, Samata Party spokesperson, told the media on July 25 that initially both Vajpayee and Advani had favoured the entry of the realigned forces but Advani backed out submitting to pressure from the RSS. "Their public statements blaming George Fernandes for not letting them know about the unity discussions with the Janata Dal faction are nothing but a lie. They are feigning ignorance," he said.

Meanwhile, NDA insiders point out that the tough postures adopted by the reunified Janata Dal and some BJP leaders over the singular issue of wielding greater clout in the alliance is the reason for the suspicions over the new alignment.

The fears of a power struggle within the alliance became evident on August 7, when a rally marking the formal merger of the Sharad Yadav faction, the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party was held in Bangalore. It was not merely a show of strength but a warnin g that the Sharad Yadav group’s entry could not be blocked. Significantly, the Janata Dal faction got National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah to declare his support to its efforts.

In a related development on that day, the Election Commission (E.C.) directed the Janata Dal factions not to use the name of the party and it froze the wheel symbol. (On August 8, the E.C. awarded the Sharad Yadav faction the name Janata Dal (United) and the arrow symbol. The Lok Shakti and the Samata Party will contest the elections under the common name and symbol.)

Almost on cue, BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley unleashed hardline party rhetoric on the Bangalore rallyists: "The Lok Shakti and the Samata Party are indeed part of the NDA and will remain so. But the problem with the Dal faction’s entry into the NDA relat es to its very existence. Does the Dal exist? What are the contours of that party?" These questions, he said, needed to be answered before a decision on its entry was taken.

The point that Jaitley sought to make was obvious. He believed that there was no need to accept the Janata Dal faction, recognise it as a political force of any consequence, allot it seats for the Lok Sabha elections, or share power with it. If the Lok S hakti or the Samata Party wished to share with the Sharad Yadav faction, the seats allotted to them, they were free to do so, he maintained.

On the other hand, the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party tried all avenues to press home their point. According to their leaders, the reunified Dal has emerged as a major political force, particularly in States such as Karnataka and Bihar. They sought to e mphasise that this formation needed to be accommodated in the NDA on the basis of its new-found strength.

Sharad Yadav, Samata Party leader George Fernandes and Lok Shakti chief Ramakrishna Hegde have, since July 21, the day the three parties came together, ferreted out data on polling patterns to substantiate the claim that they have gained in strength. The y said that the polling patterns of previous elections showed that the Janata Dal-BJP combine was capable of winning 40 of the 54 seats in Bihar and 21 of the 28 in Karnataka. In the last elections, the BJP-led alliance won 32 and 16 seats respectively i n these States. The three leaders maintained that they had retained most of the support base of the original Janata Dal, and 90 per cent of the votes polled by the Janata Dal in the last elections would accrue to the reunified party. The Janata Dal won 9 per cent of the votes polled and one seat in Bihar, and in Karnataka its voteshare was 21.7 per cent and it won three seats. On the basis of these calculations, they claimed that the reunified Dal had the potential to win 25 per cent of the vote in Biha r and over 34 per cent of that in Karnataka. The BJP polled 23 per cent and 27 per cent of the votes in Bihar and Karnataka respectively in the previous elections. These figures were highlighted by them to demand that the Janata Dal (United) be allotted 54 seats, including 27 in Bihar.

The BJP has rejected these calculations. Arun Jaitley said that projections made on the basis of the last elections were not valid. In the first place, the Janata Dal had been degenerating in the last two years and there was no way it could have held on to its support base, he argued. He claimed that large chunks of the Janata Dal’s support base in Karnataka and Bihar had switched over to the BJP. He pointed out that the BJP had led in 94 Assembly segments in the last Lok Sabha elections, whereas the Lo k Shakti led only in 24. Naturally, according to him, his party had a stronger claim to the chief ministership.

The contentious computation apart, the Karnataka unit of the BJP has expressed strong reservations about aligning itself with J.H. Patel, against whom it has launched a campaign. "Under no circumstances can we align with the Janata Dal faction. Our cadres dislike the chakra (wheel) symbol," Union Minister and State BJP leader Ananth Kumar told Frontline. By all indications, the hate factor will subside with the freezing of the wheel symbol.

But this is only a minor problem. More important in terms of realpolitik are the questions of seat allocation and chief ministership. Apparently the BJP is ready to allot 74 Assembly and 10 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka to the Dal group, but with the ride r that the chief ministership will go to the BJP nominee.

On July 31, when the NDA met for the first time after the former Janata Dal groups united, a formula was suggested by certain BJP leaders, including Sushma Swaraj who is considered close to Advani, to solve the Karnataka imbroglio. The suggestion involve d projecting Rajashekhara Murthy, who joined the BJP recently, as the chief ministerial candidate instead of B.S. Yediyurappa. Informed sources said that this proposal found acceptance in the BJP and the Lok Shakti but was rejected by George Fernandes.

Given the rigid stands adopted by both sides, an early settlement to the issues appears difficult. Sections of the BJP state in private that the Prime Minister could have been asked to find a solution had he not been viewed with suspicion by the RSS. Acc ording to a senior leader from Uttar Pradesh, the RSS fears that if Vajpayee is given a free hand he will even work out a settlement that has the potential to impair the BJP’s electoral interests. Apparently, this apprehension was one of the reasons for the omission of the controversy over the entry of the reunified Dal from the agenda of the NDA’s July 31 meeting. "In a sense, the BJP itself seems to have abetted this process. After the Kargil conflict, there has been more talk about Vajpayee’s leaders hip qualities than about the party’s strengths. Vajpayee’s status as an independent leader has been on the rise," the leader said.

The BJP is banking essentially on the belief that the reunified Dal will stay with it for fear of handing over the electoral advantage to the Congress(I).

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 17, Aug 14 - 27, 1999

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