The merger of the Janta Parivar – looks difficult

Who would have thought of something like this just a few months back ? Enemies coming together in the face of a much more powerful enemy – but this is part of the saying, “the enemy of your enemy is a friend”. And so it was with the Janta Parivar. Over a period of time, various caste based and apparent socialist groups were formed in the Hindi heartland that managed to make their own position and power, and beat back the Congress and the BJP. At times they were so successful that the Congress and the BJP almost became extinct in these states – for example, in Uttar Pradesh, successive periods of BSP and Samajwadi Party rule meant that Congress and BJP would be left far behind. In Bihar, the situation was more complex, since there were 2 prime socialists groups already present, who had split with each other a long time back – these being under Laloo Prasad Yadav, and the other one being the leaders of Nitish Kumar / Sharad Yadav and George Fernandes (over a period of time, Nitish upstaged the other 2 and became the supreme leader).
Sounds fine for these parties, they would continue to run their parties like personal fiefdoms, and the Congress made compromises with them. In Bihar, the continued rule of Laloo and untra-low development model followed by Laloo meant that there was a lot of scope to gain votes on a development platform, but it also needed some consolidation. This brought together Nitish and the BJP together as allies, and combined with the taint of the fodder scam, they managed to defeat Laloo and take over control of Bihar, something which lasted for a long time.
However, for some time now, it was clear that the BJP needed a new leadership if it wanted to re-emerge as a political force, and it was the sheer popularity of Narendra Modi in the BJP that made him the natural leader. However, it was also clear that Modi was a far more polarizing figure than Vajpayee before him, and would not brook any opposition. Nitish would have realized quickly enough that this kind of coalition would impact his voting base, and decided to split from the alliance. This caused a weird fight in Bihar in the Lok Sabha elections where Nitish fought the BJP and they both fought against Laloo, with the Congress being a has-been.

However, the development promise of Modi combined with some deft social engineering and sheer anger against the Congress misrule meant that the BJP devastated all opposition in both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and came up trumps. This gave a great shock to Nitish in Bihar and Mulayam in Uttar Pradesh. Trying to fight the BJP meant that opposition votes needed to be consolidated and you had the spectacle of bitter enemies such as Nitish and Laloo joining hands. This combination actually won seats in bypolls in the Bihar, and this would have caused the grand plan to be formed to merge all such socialist caste based units as a secular alliance. Since Mulayam was in a far superior position, he was titled as the head of such an alliance.
Trying to picturize such an alliance does lead to a lot of doubts about how such an alliance could happen. These parties are all essentially run by one strongman who does not brook any opposition and runs the party like a one-man show (or with the help of family members). Trying to fit such leaders into a single party seems to be difficult, and the developments of the past few days seems to indicate the inherent tensions of trying to force such a merger together.
Further, except for Bihar, there really is no benefit to be had by the other parties. In Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, the members of this alliance do not really have other members of the alliance in any strength, and hence, would not perceive any benefits in terms of any more votes accruing to them. And this is what seems to be happening, with Mulayam exhibiting doubts about any merger, and the Bihar leaders starting to swing back and forth and make their own speeches, speeches and comments which have the potential of irking the other leaders.
If one were to venture an opinion, one would think that such a merger in the classic sense of forming a single coherent party is very unlikely, there would be compromises made, but they would not be really effective.

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