Kingship over kinship in politics
In the winter of 2013, several political parties not aligned either with the BJP or the Congress came together for a jamboree in Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium under the aegis of Convention Against Communalism. The idea behind the meeting was to counter the perceived upswing in the fortunes of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the stewardship of then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The jamboree had all the frills that could have put together the 14 parties attending the meeting on one forum to take on the BJP. That did not happen. The rest, as they say, is history.
At that carnival, both Janata Dal (United)’s Nitish Kumar and Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav resisted coming together into a pre-poll formation. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had then said that it was too early to talk about political alliances for 2014. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav had also indicated that his party would prefer coming together of the third front only post-2014 polls as a pre-election alliance could lead to friction among partners.
The very same pre-poll friction is now being witnessed in Bihar ahead of the crucial assembly polls; where first Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and now Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party have decided to walk out of the grand anti-Modi alliance. Mulayam’s angst against the grand anti-Modi coalition does have some basis in reason. Underlying all those reasons is the much vaunted Yadav vote in Bihar.
In a time when Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is battling for political survival, the SP sees the upcoming Bihar elections as an opportunity to make its mark. Lalu Yadav cannot fight elections after his conviction in the fodder scam. The RJD chief’s wife and former Chief Minister Rabri Devi is no longer active in politics while their children do not possess the requisite influence.
Moreover, the current chief ministerial candidate Nitish Kumar has no voting base among the Yadavs. What’s more, many senior leaders in the RJD have left in droves.
To add to this is the electoral math involved. <g data-gr-id="508">Yadavs</g> constitute the highest proportion of Bihar’s population (15 percent) and dominate the electoral scene in several areas of the state, especially Seemanchal bordering West Bengal and Western Bihar, bordering Uttar Pradesh. The very basis of the grand anti-Modi alliance is to secure the state with Muslim and Yadav (M-Y) votes.
The BJP, meanwhile, has so far played its cards well. The party has appointed Rajya Sabha MP
Bhupender Yadav as the party’s Bihar in-charge. The leader of opposition in Bihar assembly is party veteran Nand Kishore Yadav. Lalu’s former lieutenant Ram Kripal Yadav, who switched sides to the BJP, is now a minister at the Centre, after decimating the RJD chief’s daughter in the Lok Sabha elections. With these leaders on board, the BJP will also eye the Yadav vote.
Unlike the BJP, the SP cannot secure Bihar alone but it can play its part in reclaiming the Yadav vote. And this can be done by Mulayam Singh Yadav by not being subservient to either Lalu Yadav or Nitish Kumar.
The formation a third front, as envisioned in the current anti-Modi alliance, history would tell us has always been made possible by leaders who could rise above personal ambitions. In 1989, the third front in Chowdhary Devi Lal had a binding force who gave up his leadership claim in favour of a more popular in the middle-class Vishwanath Pratap Singh. Similarly in 1996 and also in 2004 then CPM general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet demolished ideological barriers to giving shape to a formation that could keep the BJP out of power. To overcome Surjeet’s manoeuvres, the BJP put its ideological commitments on the back burner in 1998-99 and gave prominence to governance attracting several partners.
In 2015, the biggest challenge before the third front is to find a Chowdhary Devi Lal or a Surjeet to fill the vacuum created by the departure of these patriarchs. Mulayam Singh Yadav can play this role. Recent developments, however, show that his personal stakes in electoral politics are too high to give up prime ministerial claims; if at all a chance for the third front arises in 2019.
When Samajwadi Party leaders talk about keeping alive the identity of their party, they in a way indicate their leader’s claim for the nation’s top job. Mulayam’s Catch-22 situation was best explained by his close aide Ram Gopal Yadav. Explaining the breakup, Ram Gopal told media persons, “I always knew that it (the alliance) couldn’t take off and I categorically said formalising it is signing the SP’s death warrant. It would have meant losing the party’s hard-earned identity.”
It is this very question of identity politics that may have forced Mulayam’s hand, for he could not have reduced himself to being mere “Sambandhi” (relative by marriage of children) of Lalu Yadav and contest five seats offered to him in dowry. It’s a case of kingship getting better of kinship.
To conclude there is need for caution for both who are rushing to proclaim that Lalu Yadav is politically dead or those vouching for his revival; for Lalu Yadav is the best case of an inscrutable Indian politician (with due apologies to Anurag Mathur, author of Inscrutable Americans).
(The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressed are personal)