The 2014 parliamentary election results were historic in many ways. For the first time, a single party managed to get a majority in the Lok Sabha after 30 years. India finally had a prime minister who was born after independence. But more than anything, the most telling part is that the results were an instinctive barometer on how India’s political landscape has shifted. Apart from the fortunes of the Congress and the BJP, the results pointed to how badly India’s ‘mythical’ third front parties fared. In the face of a resurgent BJP led by a leader who effectively milked the grievances of the Indian public, parties such as the Left, Samajwadi Party, RJD, JD(U) were reduced to nothing in their respective state strongholds. Where is it that they went wrong?
That brings us to the developments this week. Almost a year after the landmark elections, two significant and politically important events are in order. On one hand, we have the CPI(M) holding its 21st congress where it is in search of a leader that will bring it back to its ‘acche din’ (good days). On the other, we have six Janata Parivar parties coming together on a single platform announcing to take on the mighty BJP. For both the political coalitions (if I could call them that), this is a week of reckoning. At a time when the Congress has hit rock-bottom, the country is in need of an effective opposition to rise from the ashes and challenge the ruling government on key issues such as land acquisition. It is true that none of these ‘third-front’ parties have any numerical strength in the Lok Sabha, but they can certainly be a compelling gatekeeper in the upper house and take on the government when needed. But these things are easier said than done.
For the Left, the inability to draw large crowds to its rallies, absence of a dynamic social media campaign, lack of charismatic leaders is telling. If political pundits are to be believed, it has effectively handed over the opposition space in West Bengal to the BJP — a state in which it ran an uninterrupted regime for 34 years. A draft political organisational report, not yet made public, reveals that the party has accepted that it is not being able to attract youth, that its mass base is rapidly shrinking and that its leadership in several states are showing reluctance in raising issues of socially oppressed sections. Attempts to stay relevant are churning within the party. Are Sitaram Yechury or S Ramachandran Pillai the answers to the party’s troubling leadership crisis? At this juncture, the party needs to think right, elect a leader who can show the way and find ways to return to its core voter base.
For the Janata Parivar — a supposed merger of parties including the Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Janata Dal (S) — the prospects might be better but the stakes are higher. More than the love to come together on a single platform, their aims are bound by a single thread: decimate the BJP. While Bihar will go to polls this year, UP will face election heat in 2017 — two states that BJP chief Amit Shah has an eye on. So it is pertinent for the Janata Parivar to get their basics right, rise above any possible internal rebellion and launch a full-frontal attack. The battle would be interesting in Bihar infamous for its caste politics and the future course of leadership if the Janata Parivar would indeed emerge to win. The paramount question lingers: who will be the CM? Nitish, who swiftly ran into the arms of his one-time arch-rival Lalu Yadav after the acrimonious split with BJP, has the distinct upper-edge but Lalu can never be undermined. When they announce the merger (likely in the days to come), things might look hunky-dory but a closer look at seat allocation and campaign strategies could cut open the fissures.
Whatever happens, India’s political landscape is sure to witness an exciting and interesting period. How and whether the ‘mythical’ third front will re-energize, time will tell.
(PS: At the time this article was first published, the Janata Parivar merger had not been announced.)