Disjunction between this and that Janata Parivar
Most newspapers on carried a photograph of Messrs Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav and HD Deve Gowda sitting next to each other and smiling purposefully at the cameras. Looking at the images, most of us may have been transported back in time to another era.
Those with recent memories would remember the heady days of the V.P Singh Government of 1989-90, the previous occasion when the stalwarts of the Janata Parivar had supped together. However, those with longer memories will recall the halcyon days of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement in 1974-75 when the same set of leaders (Deve Gowda apart) were at the helm of the student and youth movement against Indira Gandhi. They would recall the 1974 Jabalpur by-election when the young Sharad Yadav was successfully fielded as the united Opposition candidate against the Congress.
This walk down memory lane has a direct contemporary relevance. It is some four decades since these inheritors of Ram Manohar Lohia’s mantle first made their mark on the national stage. Much has happened in Indian politics and society since those days preceding the Emergency. And yet, when the erstwhile Janata Parivar meet up in Delhi for a grand reconciliation, it is the same faces, carrying the same political baggage that are the public faces of Lohia-ism 3.0. The Janata Parivar has missed nearly three generations -not counting the dynastic inheritors.
There was a time, at least till the end of the Seventies, when the opposition to the Congress could be lumped under three broad heads. First, there were the radical communists, loosely linked to either the CPI(M) or one of the many Naxalite factions, who were inspired by Mao Zedong’s China and dreamt of a peasant revolution. Secondly, there was the Jan Sangh that had a distinct appeal that was both geographically and socially limited. Finally, there were the socialists that flaunted a pedigree dating back to the Congress Socialist Party of the 1930s and 1940s. Blessed with a bevy of talented leaders – Acharya Narendra Dev, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ashoka Mehta, Ram Manohar Lohia, et al – the socialists were the most formidable anti-Congress force.
Yet, while the socialists boasted a galaxy of talented leaders spanning the generations, they suffered from one major handicap: an incorrigible tendency to splinter. The loquacious Lohia once summed up what seemed to be the defining philosophy of the socialist movement: sudhro ya todo (redeem or split). Whether the desire of the purposeful and rather noisy activists belonging to one or the other socialist splinter groups was ever to forge a workable consensus or pursue Lenin’s “better fewer, but better” mantra wasn’t ever clear. But the fact is that the socialist movement dissipated a great deal of its energies fighting internecine wars.
The socialists failed to live up to their potential because each group believed it was morally superior to the other group. However, there were two principles most of the splinter groups adhered to.
The first was unflinching nationalism. It was their uncompromising commitment to Indian interests that, for example, separated them from the Communist parties that operated as extension counters of either the Soviet Union or China. There was loose convergence of views on economics between the CPI and the socialists but these were offset by a mutual hatred for each other on attitudes to the so-called socialist bloc. At the same time, a similarity of nationalist outlook brought the socialists and the Jan Sangh together on a number of issues.
The second rigid principle that defined the socialist movement was its unbudging anti-Congressism. In the mid-1950s, after the Congress committed itself to a “socialistic” pattern of society, a handful of socialists, notably Ashoka Mehta and Chandra Shekhar, broke away and joined the Congress. But this was an aberration. In the main, both Lohia and even those in the more moderate Praja Socialist Party firmly believed that no compromise was ever possible with the Congress. Lohia was so viscerally hostile to Nehru that he moved the first no-confidence motion against the Congress Government – prompting the patrician Prime Minister to accuse him of lowering Parliament to the level of the bazar. This Opposition did not abate during the administrations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. It wasn’t even diluted after the Ayodhya movement when a section of the socialists were propelled into an “anti-communal” combination. George Fernandes was the main upholder of the anti-Congress tendency after Lohia’s death and so was Sharad Yadav – until he was forced by circumstances to echo Nitish Kumar’s hatred of Narendra Modi.
No political formation can remain static and new challenges necessitate new initiatives. To that extent, the Janata leaders cannot be faulted for burying their differences and joining hands to prevent the Modi onslaught from overwhelming the state governments in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In waging the good fight against a resurgent BJP, the veterans of another era will have to make a series of strategic shifts. They will have to bury Lohia’s unwavering anti-Congressism; they will have to reconcile themselves intellectually to the realities of dynastic politics in the Mulayam, Lalu, Chautala and Deve Gowda camps; and they will have to face the grim realities of three lost generations.