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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | 18 MAY, 2014

ELECTIONS IN BIHAR: PROSPECTS FOR THE ALTERNATIVE JANTA ALLIANCE

The old socialists, and members of the erstwhile Janata Dal, are in the slow process of merging. Slow because for once they have not allowed over-enthusiasm to drug them into failure; and are handling the delicate procedure fraught with ego’s and insecurities with more maturity than any of them have displayed in the past.

Survival is actually more potent than anything else for political leaders, more when it becomes threatened to a point of extinction. The last Lok Sabha elections that brought the BJP and Narendra Modi in power was the clearest demonstration ever of the ruthlessness of the electorate. And convinced the entire opposition—including even the Congress—that revival could now no longer be linked to the demise of the ruling party, but to positive action and the strength of their own presence on the ground.

A great deal has to do with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who brings a certain sobriety to the table, that manages to accommodate and at the same time dilute the ego’s of the others that had really been responsible for the split of the Janata Dal and the collapse of the experiment that had enthused the poorest of the poor, particularly in north India.So far, the determination of Rashtriya Janata dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and Kumar, both faced with annihilation, is driving the alliance. The elections in Bihar later this year are the motivating factor, as unity and a united campaign, could give the BJP trouble in the state. More so, as its stars are not looking as bright as they did last year and the glitches in the BJP armour can be cashed in on only if the main opposition parties are united. The Congress that is barely present in Bihar, might for these elections, go along with the Janata parties and ensure a certain consolidation of votes.

However, the merger that they all met to discuss, and announced after the last meeting has clearly run into some obstacles. There is some truth in the technical plea that a merger means the giving up of individual party symbols and flags for one, but these are not impossibilities and can be worked on. Samajwadi party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav was the tough nut in this entire scenario, but he has been appeased by being named as the chief of the alliance and the person authorised to move ahead on this issue. So currently he is on board, but is a shifty politician who will play many games before he finally follows a line.

There has been some concern about the statement made by his brother Ram Gopal Yadav maintaining that the merger might or might not happen. At least so he seemed to suggest by outlining all the difficulties in the way, and giving the impression that not just he but his party are not greatly inclined towards it. This led to some consternation given his proximity to Mulayam Singh, but it seems that the latter has given assurances sufficient to make both Kumar and Lalu Yadav contradict Ram Gopal. Both said that only Mulayam Singh was authorised to speak about the merger, and that it was on course.

The Uttar Pradesh leader has more room to play in, and strike bargains as he is good at doing. Elections in his state will at the end of 2016 at the earliest, and those who know Mulayam Singh will be surprised if he does not give some heartburn to his Bihar colleagues by allowing these conflicting statements to emerge from within the Samajwadi party. Mulayam Singh has earned a reputation for destroying more than he has created, and has followed a steady course in any direction in these last few years.

However, for Kumar and Lalu Yadav the first real hurdle is the Bihar elections that have become crucial not just to their survival but to the future of PM Modi and the BJP. Both sides will be fighting these elections with all the resources at their command, and being a realist Kumar might not even be looking at this stage at a merger if that comes with too much baggage. Talk of a merger, and a united consolidated campaign for him might be enough—though short of the desired—to have a favourable impact on the Bihar electorate and a possible victory at the hustings. It will be a tense, closely fought election with the state government already preparing against possible pre-election violence either in the form of communal riots or terrorist attacks.

So the merger at the moment seems to be the political backdrop as a maximalist position that will create the space for more achievable alliances at the state level. A joint campaign, joint candidates, a joint manifesto without a common flag or symbol can still achieve more than a motley of political parties cutting into the same vote banks, and fighting each other for the space instead of unitedly opposing the main party that trounced them out of shape in the last parliamentary elections.

The need of the hour now is to hold the alliance, and judging from the loud responses of the Bihar leaders they are prepared to leave no stone unturned to do so.

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