Millennium Post

Janata Darbar: Hope or illusion?

Among the more interesting recent developments in Indian politics is the attempt to regroup fragments of the old Janata Parivar and launch a new, reunified party, which hopes to recreate the once-powerful Socialist current in politics. Long a part of the Left, this current was second in importance only to the Communists until the 1970s.

The initiative, whose seeds were sown on 6 November, has now resulted in a decision to set up an organisation informally called the Samajwadi Janata Party. It’s the combined effort of Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United), HD Deve Gowda of the JD (Secular), Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Chautalas of the Indian National Lok Dal, and Kamal Morarka of the Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya).

The details of providing the party a concrete shape, name and symbol have been entrusted to Mulayam Singh Yadav. Until it’s formally launched, these parties will function as a policy-oriented bloc in Parliament and undertake a joint protest action on 22 December. It won’t be easy to select a single symbol, since each party identifies with its own individual election symbol. The issues of organisational structure and leadership hierarchy have not been fully resolved.

It is tempting to view such unresolved matters as yet another instance of the indecisiveness of self-proclaimed Socialists. But that would be a lazy person’s analysis. The fact that they are officially coming together after 26 years, after the Janata Dal was formed under VP Singh’s leadership, is significant.

So is the reported agreement that the new bloc would be led by Sharad Yadav of the JD(U) in the Rajya Sabha and Mulayam Singh Yadav in the Lok Sabha. The leaders also agreed to confront the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government on the Land Acquisition Act, raising the foreign direct investment ceiling in defence and insurance, and diluting the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

The new bloc reportedly decided that “social justice” would not be its central plank given that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is himself trying to appropriate the Other Backward Class mantle. If the bloc invests some imagination into the task, it could create a novel political platform.

A personal angle has also emerged, with the impending marriage of Mulayam’s grandnephew and Mainpuri MP Tej Pratap, and Lalu’s youngest daughter Raj Laxmi. This reconciliation is politically significant because Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh were bitter rivals after the RJD chief scuttled the latter’s chances of becoming the Prime Minister in 1997.

The bloc currently commands 15 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 25 in the Rajya Sabha. If eventually the reconstituted Janata Parivar can rope in Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal, a former member, its strength would rise by 27 MPs, of which 20 of them are from the Lok Sabha. The inclusion of the BJD could give the bloc a real political heft.

Three factors have played a major role in catalyzing this attempt at the union of the Janata Parivar. Two negative ones are the severe setbacks these parties have suffered at the hands of the BJP in the Hindi belt, particularly Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and now Haryana; and second, the exhaustion of their identity-based caste-oriented “social justice” politics over the past decade or more. A positive factor is that they stand to gain a great deal from coordinating their electoral efforts. For instance, in Bihar, if the JD(U) and RJD were to join forces, their combined vote would be 47 per cent of the total, well above the 39 per cent polled by the BJP-led alliance in the last Lok Sabha. This would enable them to win 28 of Bihar’s 40 seats. The situation is less favourable in UP, where Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal still remains allied with the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party is loath to join forces with SP. Nevertheless, the new bloc could have a positive impact even within UP in facilitating new social coalitions.

At any rate, this raises the hope that the Socialist current, which ceased to have a coherent organisational expression by the early 1980s, might be recreated in some form. Given the disarray of mainstream Communist parties, this could be good news for the Indian Left, and might stimulate a sorely needed debate on radical politics at a time when neoliberalism has become the socially dominant discourse.

The Socialists originally emerged in 1934 as part of a pressure-group called the Congress Socialist Party within the parent organisation, which included many Communists too. But the Socialists and Communists were allied to different international movements and couldn’t reconcile their ideological differences, especially over the relevance of caste and class.

Their mutual hostility, and refusal to have an ideological dialogue or political coordination, led to a tragic early division within the Indian Left, for which both paid dearly. This was especially true of Bihar, where the Communist Party of India had a strong base, as did the Samyukta Socialist Party. However, the two acted as rivals despite their mutual social base.

Worse, the Socialists themselves repeatedly split, primarily on the policy to be adopted towards the Congress. Their dominant faction, Rammanohar Lohia’s SSP, advocated anti-Congressism as an ideology, and formed a series of non-Congress governments in the Hindi belt after the Congress lost the 1967 elections. These also signified the political rise of the OBCs, who felt disillusioned with the Congress.

Anti-Congressism eventually laid the basis for the merger of the SSP and other Socialists into the Janata Party in 1977 in opposition to the draconian Emergency rule imposed by Indira Gandhi. The Janata Party restored democracy. But the union was a divided house, with conflicting factions disrupting its progress.

Jaya Prakash Narayan, another former Socialist, played midwife to the Janata Party by bringing in the erstwhile Jana Sangh, while providing a modicum of respectability to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This proved disastrous. The Janata government, led by Morarji Desai, an incredibly inflexible and angular politician, became a hostage to Right-wing policies and manipulation by the Jana Sangh faction, which tried to topple against the party’s state governments, and refused to forswear its primary loyalty to the RSS on the “dual membership” issue.

The Janata Party imploded in 1979. The Socialists who came out of it once again split into rival factions: the Janata Dal, formed by VP Singh, Bharatiya Lok Dal and Congress (S) in 1988, Chandrashekhar’s Samajwadi Janata Party in 1990, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party in 1992, George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar’s Samata Party in 1994, and Laloo Prasad’s RJD in 1997.
These splits were bad enough. Further damage were perpetuated by some of these factions, including the Samata Party and RLD, and later Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party and Chautala’s INLD, who joined BJP-led coalitions for entirely opportunistic reasons, destroying their own “social justice” claims. Only Laloo and Mulayam have refused to break bread with the BJP. Today, three “Rams”—Paswan, Ramdas Athavale and Ram (Udit) Raj—all Dalits, have become Hindutva’s greatest apologists.

The Janata Parivar 2.0 project might seem a good alternative to the BJP and the Congress, and especially a powerful counter to the Sangh Parivar, which the old Socialists rightly see as the greatest threat to their own survival. But it is marred by three major flaws or problems. First, Nitish Kumar faces a challenge from his Dalit successor-Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Second, the project lacks ideological coherence and a comprehensive alternative socio-economic programme. A genuine alternative must oppose neoliberalism and corporate capitalism, as well as the BJP’s Hindutva ideology. It’s not enough to oppose communalism alone. The Modi regime represents a diabolical combination of communalism, a perverse development model, authoritarian governance, social conservatism, anti-people and anti-environment policies, and militarist national chauvinism.  

Unfortunately, many of the Janata Parivar parties had succumbed to neoliberalism in the past and compromised their principles. This must change if they are to offer a credible alternative to the BJP. Third, the Janata Parivar will gain nothing by excluding the Communist Left and refusing a policy dialogue with it. This is a momentous opportunity for the Socialist union to restart the long-interrupted dialogue with the Communists, who can be expected to be more receptive, given their own dire straits today. IPA

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