The late Ram Manohar Lohia had hung a framed inscription in his party office that said: “Sudhro ya tooto!” Meaning, reform or split. He did this perhaps to justify to his followers his propensity to split parties. But there is merit in the advice that for any committed ideologue it is better to split than to achieve patchwork unity through compromise on fundamental policy. The resultant loss in cohesion and credibility is incalculable. Today the BJP and JD-U are attempting a patchwork unity. The danger of a split has arisen from some cheap shots and posturing by both parties during the recent BJP national executive meeting held in Patna. It would be a mistake to confuse dinner cancellations or tactless posters for causes rather than symptoms of the discord. The cause of the rift is a fundamental divergence of policy. Both parties should either reform their relationship or split.
Preventing Narendra Modi or Varun Gandhi from campaigning in Bihar would provide no solution. For JD-U to pretend that the BJP can own a different policy in Bihar than in Gujarat or elsewhere in the county is hypocrisy too transparent for voters to swallow. And for BJP to pretend that it is acceptable for its core beliefs to remain untouchable to their ally in Bihar is equally hypocritical. Either one or the other party must revise basic policy if it seeks a meaningful alliance to endure. Neither party gives indication of doing that. A split therefore would advance the long term interests of both parties. Persistence with a transparently unprincipled alliance for short term gains will serve neither party.
The BJP’s dilemma is perennial. It has a committed vote bank that relies on the party’s promotion of Hindutva. This vote bank is limited. It cannot by itself help the party to achieve power. To advance in elections the BJP must ally with other parties. Other parties cannot endorse the BJP approach without harming their own vote banks. The result is patchwork unity, unstable alliance and lack of cohesive approach. The JD-U dilemma arises from the need today for regional parties to give promise of a voice in the centre to augment the support of their followers. Therefore a tie-up with either the Congress or the BJP has become an imperative for regional parties.
Can the BJP change its approach? It seems unlikely. Recently RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat seemed to be making an attempt when he started espousing the cause of Hindustanis rather than Hindus as evidence of Hindutva. But Bhagwat and his protégé Nitin Gadkari appear to be fast losing grip on the affairs of the BJP. They could not muster sufficient political expertise to prevail over the savvier entrenched establishment of the party.
The BJP therefore seems condemned to swing opportunistically from Ayodhya to Jinnah as events dictate. This is fatally detrimental to its credibility. The party’s strategy therefore falls back on the old expedience of stridently garnering committed votes before the polls and diluting policy with its partners after the polls. That was how the Akalis and BJP functioned in the early years of their alliance. The only time when the party overcame its untouchability was in the 1977 elections after the Emergency. All the opposition parties rose above narrow parochial interests to fight for a higher principle. They failed to stay together because they had not willed the change to happen. Indira Gandhi had gifted them an opportunity which they failed to exploit. Therefore as things stand the BJP would lose more heavily if a split with Nitish Kumar occurs to further weaken an already depleted NDA.
Nitish Kumar’s immediate prospects in the event of a split would depend on whether he can wean the Muslim vote away from Laloo Yadav’s RJD to join up with the extreme backward Dalits he has been assiduously wooing. The prospect of this happening cannot be ruled out. The long term prospects for Nitish Kumar going it alone might be even better. Both the NDA and the UPA alliances have never appeared more vulnerable. And the faint outline of a future new front minus both Congress and BJP is beginning to emerge.
Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Om Prakash Chautala, Prakash Singh Badal, Chandrababu Naidu, Jayalalithaa, Mulayam Singh Yadav and others are leaders divided only by state boundaries, not by policy. In the event that some, if not all, come together minus Congress, BJP and the Left, it could impact even the state level leadership of NDA, UPA, Congress and BJP. Mamata Bannerjee and Jagan Mohan Reddy are weak links in the UPA. The recent spate of sulks, walkouts and re-entry by BJP leaders like Jaswant Singh, Uma Bharathi, Madan Lal Khurana and Vasundhara Raje indicates that no political commitment is any more sacrosanct.
However, for a credible new front to emerge before the next general election there would have to be an election issue capable of creating a nationwide wave. There would also have to be an election campaign that could exploit that issue to create a wave. That calls for leaders with vision. There are none visible on the horizon. But sometimes when leaders fail a nation, events take the lead. Then events create the required change.