Thursday, Nov 06, 2003
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THE LEADERS WHO were part of the Janata Party experiment in the post-Emergency period have been part of an endless cycle of squabbling among themselves and coming together to form new political formations. The merger of the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) is a case in point. George Fernandes and Sharad Yadav began their term in the present Lok Sabha as part of the Janata Dal (United); they had Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramakrishna Hegde for company. However, soon after the elections, the party went into fission mode. The immediate provocation was the dispute over who should be the president of the JD (U). While Mr. Fernandes took charge of the Samata Party and rallied his faithful around him, Mr. Sharad Yadav doggedly clung on to the JD (U) with backing from diverse quarters including Mr. Hegde. Soon Mr. Hegde parted company with Mr. Yadav and a little later, the JD (U) saga took a new turn with Mr. Paswan floating his own outfit. Despite such splits and the bitterness accompanying them, virtually all these players remain part of the National Democratic Alliance. Mr. Paswan is the exception and his departure from the NDA had nothing to do with the JD (U)'s internal affairs. If the splits are the work of conflicting egos and power struggles, the series of mergers is a reflection of political expediency.
Since both are NDA constituents, the Samata-JD (U) merger will not have any immediate impact on national politics. However, the merger of these two parties that have bases restricted to Bihar will mean that the BJP will no longer be the main Opposition party in the State. The JD (U) will now occupy that slot. However, the merger and the consequent changes in party positions within the Bihar State Assembly will not trigger any immediate political changes in the State. The sharp polarisation of forces in Bihar between Laloo Prasad Yadav and those opposed to him is likely to force the JD(U) and the BJP to stay together, whatever their differences at the State or Central level. Those responsible for bringing about Samata-JD (U) `unity' have hinted that this has been done with an eye on the coming general election. Having increased its strength, in terms of both the number of legislators and ground-level support, the post-merger JD (U) is in a position to bargain much more effectively with the BJP in Bihar when elections are held. The hints thrown by Mr. Fernandes as well as Mr. Yadav that their party will now start looking at partners outside the NDA lend significance to the move. Although the JD (U) may have no partner other than the BJP in Bihar, its options are wider elsewhere.
For instance, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Kalyan Singh's outfit represent attractive options in Uttar Pradesh. These two leaders cannot think of an arrangement with the BJP for obvious reasons. With a substantial base in Uttar Pradesh, they have no use for the Congress, which is a very weak force in the State. Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party also falls in this category. The existing arrangement with the Congress in Maharashtra notwithstanding, the NCP is as unreconciled to an alliance with the Congress as it was at the time of its formation. The Telugu Desam Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are in an intriguing situation that is, in some respects, comparable to the Samata-JD(U)'s. Their leaders will be keeping a sharp eye out for pointers to what 2004 might bring, possibly political realignments and perhaps even a `third force' as in 1996. But all this is too speculative for now.
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