The rise of the BJP seems to be forcing the various Janata Dal breakaways to merge, or at least float a common political front. Senior leaders, including Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sharad Yadav and H.D. Deve Gowda, lunched at Mulayam Singh Yadav’s residence in New Delhi on Thursday and agreed to work together in and outside Parliament. Later, they would explore the possibility of forming a single party. The combined strength of their parties in the Lok Sabha adds up to just 15 MPs, and 25 in the Rajya Sabha, though they run governments in UP and Bihar. These two large states together send 120 MPs to the Lok Sabha, but in the May general election, the BJP wave drowned the candidates fielded by the SP, JD(U) and RJD. These leaders fear that their run in the states would end if the BJP upsurge remains unabated when Bihar and UP go to polls in 2015 and 2017. A united Janata, they hope, could defeat the BJP, as the recent bypolls in Bihar suggested.
Though the limited aim of the Janata parivar seems to be to survive the assembly polls, it has the potential to revive the Third Front and compete with the Congress to be the main opposition to the BJP in national politics. The Janata has been the pivot of all non-Congress governments at the Centre since 1977, until the BJP, helped immensely by the implosion in the Janata in the 1990s, formed its first coalition government in 1998 and emerged as the axis of national politics in 2014. The Janata parivar still has a pan-Indian presence, but it currently lacks the political vision and united leadership needed to claim the role of a national opposition.
India in 2014 is a new country, powered by the politics of hope promised by Narendra Modi, who has consolidated the electorate on a governance agenda. If he fails to meet voters’ expectations, the old fissures of region, religion, class and caste could re-emerge. The Congress, with its rights-based approach to policymaking, had built a constituency of the lower middle classes, sections of Dalits and minorities in the past decade. This constituency overlaps with the Janata’s social base, and if the Congress fails to recover from its recent losses, it could end up ceding more of its support base. Provided, of course, the Janata parivar, or party, manages to remain united. It could make a beginning in Parliament if Janata MPs, some of them fine orators, hold ministers to account.