Why the Lalu-Nitish tie-up is the death of the Janata Parivar
- The upcoming Bihar election is billed as a major face-off between communal and secular forces.
- Nitish Kumar\'s JD(U) and Lalu Prasad\'s RJD have come together to fight the Bihar assembly elections
- RJD and JD(U) were supposed to have merged into the Janata Parivar - a larger socialist-secular alliance - 2 months back
- Their tie-up indicates the Janata Parivar merger may not happen
- Seat-sharing is the main challenge. Both parties will find it difficult to contest less seats
- Can Nitish and Lalu as well as their party cadres shed 18 years of rivalry?
- The other Janata Parivar constituents don\'t have to face elections in the near future. Will the alliance last?
The upcoming election in Bihar has all the makings of cliffhanger political theatre. It is billed as a key face-off between communal and secular forces, its script is driven by complex caste calculations, and its result will determine the political capital of BJP president Amit Shah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the two rival satraps of the state: chief minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.
In this scenario, the long-promised stitching up of the Samajwadi Janata Parivar - a merger of six socialist-secular parties - has evoked not just cynicism but skepticism.
On 8 June, when Lalu Prasad announced that he was willing to accept Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate of their alliance and give up on his own ambitions, it may have seemed that the massive internal contradictions in the intended Parivar had been overcome.
But Lalu's announcement is a clever ploy. On the one hand, it projects the alliance as a formidable and cohesive threat to the BJP.
On the other, it neatly hides the fact that the grand merger of the Janata Parivar is all but dead.
Here's the lowdown.
Alliance, not merger
This is merely an electoral tie-up between the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, with the Congress and possibly the Communist Party of India being junior partners.
This is nowhere close to the grand merger of the Janata Parivar that had been promised.
On 5 April, Lalu had proudly announced in Delhi that six parties had merged and they will now have 'ek jhanda, ek nishan' (One flag, one symbol).
The grand merger was to be formally announced with details of seat-sharing and the chief ministerial candidate by 22 April. Nearly two months later, all we have is a confirmation of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav's status as the ceremonial head of the entity that is yet to be formed.
If indeed the six parties, which includes the JD(U) and RJD, had merged, then how does it make sense for two of them to announce a separate alliance? That would have been possible only if these two had decided to de-merge and then collaborate independently.
It is clear that the alliance is a step back from the merger.
An impossibility from the start
The Janata Parivar's merger evoked skepticism from the very beginning.
Out of the six constituents - Samajwadi Party, JD(U), RJD, Indian National Lok Dal, Janata Dal (Secular) and Samajwadi Janata Party - only the RJD and JD(U) are in a position to help each other. A merger, therefore, would be of little help.
A grand merger of 6 parties was to be announced by 22 April. Today, all we have is confirmation of Mulayam as the ceremonial head
The other parties will come into play only when their respective states go to polls: Uttar Pradesh in 2017 for SP, Karnataka in 2018 for the JD(S) and Haryana in 2019 for the INLD. It would have been unrealistic to expect such a ragtag coalition to last four years.
Clinching the deal
Even though the Janata Parivar merger seems a distant possibility, Lalu and Nitish have done well to resolve two critical issues that could have been deal-breakers in the alliance: leadership and seat sharing.
As far as leadership is concerned, Lalu didn't have much of a choice as he is barred from contesting elections following his conviction in the fodder scam. Seat-sharing is where the Yadav chieftain was flexing his muscle.
In the 2010 polls, JD(U) won 115 seats contesting in alliance with the BJP and the RJD won 22 out of Bihar's 243 seats.
In last year's Lok Sabha elections, both parties received a massive drubbing at the hands of the BJP. The JD(U) was reduced to two seats, the RJD did marginally better by winning four seats. It also had a better vote share, which strengthened Lalu's case in the seat-sharing negotiations.
The Lok Sabha debacle prompted Nitish and Lalu to shed their enmity. A month later, RJD helped JD(U) in electing two of its leaders to Rajya Sabha.
In August, they joined hands, got the Congress on board too and jointly contested bypolls to 10 Assembly seats. This arrangement worked out well and the alliance won six seats, wresting two from the BJP.
The Janata chieftains had tasted blood and they realised they could defeat the BJP by coming together.
Now their challenge is that the scale has amplified by nearly 25 times. Under the tried and successfully tested formula of dividing 80% seats equally between the JD(U) and RJD, the two big parties will have to contest 97 seats each, leaving 49 for the Congress.
If other parties like CPI and NCP also join the alliance, the Congress' numbers are likely to go down.
Will the marriage last?
Will the tie-up of JD(U) and RJD be so seamless that political identities of their candidates and workers will become one? Can they overcome 18 years of bitter animosity?
Cracking the seat-sharing arrangement will be difficult. The JD(U) is the ruling party with 115 MLAs, it won't be easy for it to settle for contesting a lesser number of seats.
The RJD, on its part, is used to being the dominant partner, having aligned only with smaller parties like the Congress in the past.
Both parties will have to deal with possible rebellion by those who are denied tickets.