Former JD(U) president Sharad Yadav’s revolt against his party chief Nitish Kumar’s decision to switch to a political alliance with the BJP adds the latest chapter to the history of fragmentation of the Janata Parivar, whose members are often seen as enthusiastic practitioners of the dictum, “Socialists come together only to part ways; they part ways only to come together”. While Indian socialist leaders have sought to explain every union and split in terms of ideology, most of these manoeuvres can, in fact, be read in the context of personal egos and power politics among them.
So, while Lalu Prasad is now egging Sharad Yadav on against Nitish, the last major split in the Janata Parivar took place in 1997, when Lalu and Sharad clashed over the presidentship of the erstwhile Janata Dal. Lalu broke away with the Bihar unit and formed the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which he and his family have now led for 20 years. Earlier, in 1994, it was Nitish who rebelled against Lalu’s control of the Janata Dal in Bihar. He allied with George Fernandes to form the Samata Party, which became a partner in the coalition led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. After Lalu broke away, the Janata Dal disintegrated further — first with the Odisha unit charting its own course as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) under Naveen Patnaik in 1997, and the Karnataka unit under H D Deve Gowda forming the JD (Secular) in 1999. Sharad’s Janata Dal was left with J H Patel of the Karnataka unit, who backed the Vajpayee-led NDA. Sharad ultimately made peace with Fernandes’s and Nitish’s Samata Party to form the JD (United).
The JD, which was in power from 1996-98, had suddenly disintegrated into the RJD, BJD, JD (S) and JD (U). In each of these splits, egos of individual leaders and their desire to control regional fiefdoms played the major role.
The Earlier Janata
The Janata Dal that disintegrated in the late 90s had come into shape a decade earlier when scattered factions of the Janata Party, which had ousted Indira Gandhi from power after the Emergency in 1977, came together.
Objecting to the dual membership of the RSS and Janata Party of leaders such as Vajpayee and L K Advani, the socialists walked out and formed the Janata Party (Secular) led by Charan Singh. This party, which also had stalwarts like Madhu Limaye, Raj Narain, Karpoori Thakur, Biju Patnaik and Fernandes, went on to become the Lok Dal. Raj Narain parted ways briefly, but returned to join Charan Singh. But the Lok Dal faced a major crisis soon afterward. Charan Singh expelled Thakur, Patnaik, Limaye, Fernandes, Devi Lal and Kumbharam Arya, and the party split into Lok Dal (Charan) and Lok Dal (Karpoori) in 1982. Current JD (U) leaders Sharad Yadav and K C Tyagi were with the Lok Dal (Karpoori).
Limaye quit politics, and Patnaik and Fernandes joined the Chandra Shekhar faction of the Janata Party. On the other hand, ahead of the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, Devi Lal (from Haryana) and Karpoori Thakur (from Bihar) joined hands with Charan Singh (from UP) and Congress rebel H N Bahuguna to form the Dalit Mazdoor Kisan Party (DMKP). The DMKP was later renamed, Lok Dal. But this new Lok Dal too did not last. With Charan Singh incapacitated due to poor health, his son Ajit Singh came to head the Lok Dal (Ajit), while Bahuguna formed the Lok Dal (Bahuguna) with the rest of the flock.
The BJP and Lok Dal (Bahuguna) dealt a major blow to Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress by winning 85 out of 90 seats in the 1987 Haryana Assembly elections. Devi Lal became Chief Minister. With the demise of Bahuguna, the reins of the Lok Dal (B) passed to Devi Lal, along with Mulayam Singh Yadav (in UP) and Karpoori Thakur (in Bihar). After V P Singh emerged as a national figure on the back of his anti-graft campaign against Rajiv and the Congress, the Janata Party of Chandra Shekhar and Lok Dal of Devi Lal joined hands with Singh to form the Janata Dal on October 11, 1988. They stormed to power the following year.
The next crisis came as Chandra Shekhar walked away from the JD with Mulayam (in UP) to form the Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP) ahead of the 1991 elections. But they soon parted ways — Mulayam formed the Samajwadi Party in 1992, and Chandra Shekhar was left to be the only leader of his party. Mulayam’s exit, and his forming the government in UP without help from national leaders of the Janata Parivar, was followed by a trend of regional socialist strongmen establishing themselves in their states — over time, Janata disintegrated into Samata, RJD and JD (U) in Bihar, JD (S) in Karnataka, Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana, and BJD in Odisha.
The Latest Attempt
Like in 1977 and 1988, a fresh attempt was made to bring socialists together as a national alternative after the BJP led by Narendra Modi stormed to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. With the Congress floundering, Nitish took the initiative to approach Mulayam, Deve Gowda, Lalu and the Chautalas.
On April 15, 2015, six splinter groups of the erstwhile JD — JD (U), RJD, SP, JD (Secular), INLD and Kamal Morarka’s Samajwadi Janata Party — announced their intention to merge, and set up a six-member committee to decide on issues like the name, flag and election symbol of the new party. They even said Mulayam would be their chief. The entire effort, however, fizzled out ahead of the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections, when the SP decided to contest against the Lalu-Nitish-Congress alliance. After the mahagathbandhan won and Nitish became Chief Minister, his motivation to mobilise other socialists evaporated.