The merger of six different parties of the Janata Parivar has been announced. But as of now, the name of the unified party, its symbol and its flag have not been decided. It indicates the complications of merger and it seems that it is not so easy to give a formal and effective shape to the new party.
Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar were more eager for the merger. Indeed, the 2014 Lok Sabha results sounded the warning bells for them. The imminent danger compelled them to forge an alliance for the by-elections to 10 assembly seats in Bihar. They won six of the 10. The BJP, which won 31 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state, bagged only four. This inspired the merger of the Janata Parivar. However, the unified party is not in a position to influence votes in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka. In these states, the benefit will only be psychological. Perhaps Mulayam Singh Yadav is expecting to get some of the Kurmi vote due to Nitish. But only Bihar will see the actual effects of the merger.
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Bihar will be the litmus test for this merger in the next six months. The vote arithmetic seems to be in favour of the new party and its alliance. In the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s alliance secured 39.36 per cent votes. On the other hand, the RJD-JDU share was 36.50 per cent. If we add 8.56 per cent of the Congress, the NCP’s 1.22 per cent, the CPI’s 1-1.7 per cent and the CPM’s 0.31 per cent, the tally goes up to 47.76 per cent, which is more than 8 percentage points higher than the BJP’s share.
But elections are not merely a play of numbers. After the Lok Sabha polls, Jitan Ram Manjhi has emerged as a new factor who will certainly influence the arithmetic. In the parliamentary polls, almost the entire Mahadalit vote, except Ram Vilas Paswan’s, was bagged by Nitish. Scheduled Caste votes constitute nearly 16 per cent of the electorate. Among them, nearly 5 per cent are Paswan voters. This indicates that nearly 10-11 per cent of Mahadalit votes were cast in favour of Nitish. These votes are sufficient to spoil Nitish’s chances. Besides this, Pappu Yadav is critical of the new party. Despite his dissent and against all odds, even today Lalu is the most formidable leader of the Yadavs and Muslims in Bihar. However, Pappu cannot be taken lightly. He has been elected to the Lok Sabha five times and also on his own strength, as an independent candidate.
Dalit voters are certainly going to play a vital role in Bihar and UP. Recognising this, on the occasion of B.R. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, almost all parties engaged in a contest to prove themselves the real inheritors of his legacy. This indicates that the Dalit vote has become more important. Although Dalits have had voting rights since the beginning, due to their pitiable social condition and lack of awareness, they were not in a position to utilise their voting rights. That situation has changed. The intense competition to celebrate Ambedkar’s anniversary indicates this socio-political reality.
The BJP engaged in this competition for the first time. Naturally, the party’s actions have annoyed those other parties who had assumed their monopoly of the Dalit vote. Earlier in Bihar, or in the larger context of the entire Hindi belt, Dalits were associated with the Congress. The socialists and communists too had some influence over them. But after the emergence of Kanshi Ram in UP, the whole Dalit community switched its loyalty to the BSP. In Bihar, however, after moving away from the Congress, Dalits remained associated with the Janata Dal since the social justice movement of the 1990s. This situation is changing rapidly. Dalits’ distance from the BJP is slowly disappearing.
The increasing Dalit inclination towards the BJP cannot be prevented by claiming that the BJP is anti-Dalit or that its policies are in contrast to Ambedkar’s. In times when principles have become rare among politicians, if parties expect the poor to understand and value them, it is little more than foolishness, or a cover-up for their incompetence and failure. What have the parties claiming to be pro-Dalit actually done for them? To think that by throwing in an economic benefit here or there would keep Dalits ensnared is a laughable dream. Their problems are much more complex.
Mayawati lost sight of reality and her party could not win even a single seat in the Lok Sabha elections. Those downcast and deprived do sometimes treat their leaders as kings and queens, but if those leaders assume their royalty to be permanent, the same voters will have no option but to try an alternative. This is exactly what happened with Mayawati, who assumed she was the only and permanent sovereign of the Dalits.
A strange thing occurred in Bihar’s recent past. The leader of the ruling party gave his crown away to a Mahadalit. The leader advertised this as his personal sacrifice. But when the Mahadalit leader actually started using his powers, the “sacrificing” leader could not digest it. He dethroned the Mahadalit and took back the crown for himself again. Dalits have taken this as an affront to their community. For the first time, they came out to raise their voices in protest. Even after this if someone thinks he has a monopoly over Dalit votes, there is no point saying anything. Honour is easily forgotten by people but affront is not, and it keeps stinging them.
The BJP is not building a palace of gold for Dalits, but it is reaching out to them and honouring their leaders. All of this is to garner votes. But the others are not doing even this. They are not ready to grant an audience to leaders and workers from the Dalit community.
After coming to power at the Centre, the BJP’s leaders and supporters have started spreading hatred. This does raise concerns. The Lok Sabha elections were not fought on the agenda of depriving Muslims of their voting rights. Nor were they fought with the slogan of motivating Hindu women to give birth to a dozen children. The BJP’s opponents have limited their fight to TV channels and newspapers. However, the BJP is reaching somewhere where no one else is present.
In the last parliamentary elections, Narendra Modi raised the issue of development. Now people are waiting for the promised development and, as far as I can tell, people have not yet lost hope that this promise will be fulfilled. In our society, people do not easily believe someone and if they do, it takes some time for that belief to be lost. There have been some artificial protests against the path chosen for development. The Congress claims that Modi is merely continuing their policies. Modi argues that though their policies were correct, their implementation was not. He says that the BJP has the right intentions and is implementing policies honestly. There is no basic difference in the economic policies of the mainstream parties. However, Modi must rein in the extremists in his party and government. The majority of this country does not like hatred, and this may end up wrecking his chariot.
The writer is a former Rajya Sabha MP and was a member of the JD(U) till February 2014.