What were the reasons behind the Janta Dal’s abysmal performance in the south? And what could explain the Congress-I’s landslide victories there?

Santosh Bhartiya analyses the probable reasons behind the voting trends, in this thought-provoking essay.

If it is only the destination which is known and not the way to it, then very often a crossroad can leave one stranded. The dilemma of selecting the right path is further compounded when some people claim that they are the only ones who know the right way. At such times it’s better to stop and reflect because only then can one circumvent the problems which are bound to arise if one select the wrong way- one which reaches not our destination but someone else’s. And now that the general and assembly elections are over and done with, it’s time we sat down and analysed the results.

The first, and for some the most, surprising result of the Lok Sabha elections was the overwhelming victory of the Janta Dal in Uttar Pradesh. This victory, for a party, which has no organizational network worth the name in the state, is rather inexplicable. But to a political observer it is quite apparent that the victory was mainly due to the people’s determination over the past three years to vote the Congress out of power. A result of which was that every Opposition candidate found himself elected when pitted against a congressman. Most of these candidates, belonging either to the Janata Dal, the BJP or the regional parties fought the election on the promise that they would replace the corrupt, inefficient government with one that works, and with the VP Singh versus Rajiv Gandhi slogan as their catchphrase.

A point to be noted however is that neither the Dal, the BJP nor the regional parties provided any sort of official legitimacy to this stand-off between the Raja and Rajiv. So, when the elections for choosing the prime minister were delayed by two days, the country was gripped by tension, the rumours regarding the role of a rich businessman influencing the selection of prime minister became rampant. At that time, I remember may legislators telling me the people in case VP Singh was not made prime minister.

Another point which disturbed them greatly was that now in the world would they be able to prove VP Singh’s innocence in the Bofors case without him coming to power. So it was quite natural that the nation and the legislators heaved a sigh of relief when he was finally made prime minister. The Indian populace having successfully voted the Janta Dal to power was also successful in pressuring the party to select the leaders it wanted. In the south, however it was a different story altogether.

Rajiv Gandhi’s victory in the southern states was seen by many congressmen as the acceptance of Rajiv and his policies there. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Janta Dal’s lukewarm performance in the south was mainly due to the absence of any party organization in the region. And the absence of any such network was not because of negligence, but for the simple reason of avoiding misunderstandings between the various components of the National Front. Incidently, it was this suicidal decision of the Janta Dal which resulted in such abysmal performance in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The Janata Dal has done some good work in Karnataka, but as the saying goes, a pinch of poison is enough to kill, and so internal fightings within the party’s state unit spelt its doom. Having poisoned itself in the same way as the Janata Party did in 1977, the party dlid in ratings and that too at a time when the political climate was the most salubrious. There were no queues at ration shops, sugar sold at Rs. 2.40 and inflation and corruption were firmly under control.

In my opinion, one of the main causes for the Janata Dal’s defeat in the south was that it didn’t project VP Singh as a viable option to Rajiv Gandhi. What it did instead was to pit a regional leader like Ramakrishna Hegde against the former prime minister in Karnataka. The pattern was repeated in other states too, and Rajiv Gandhi found himself facing comparative light weights like N.T. Ramarao in Andhra Pradesh and M Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu. Naturally the people having seen these leaders perform reacted in the way they did.

Also, the lack of posters and pamphlets of the Janta Dal discussing its policies and programmes and VP Singh’s philosophy contributed towards the near total ignorance of the people about VP Singh and his policies. Given the circumstance then the result was not surprising actually many congressmen DMK legislators told me that in case the Dal had projected Singh as a leader in the south. The results would have closely imitated those of the north. So I feel that the congress victory in the south is more due to the Janta Dal’s miscalculations than due to its policies or stand on various national issues. The result in the south have quite easily let the congress and the Janta Das develop misconceptions about themselves.

One party which finds itself in a happy position however, is the BJP, which having taken advantage of the absence of the Janta Dal’s cadres in most states, cashed in on its link up with the party. And the Dal instead consolidating its position in states like Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat lost a large chunks of seats to the BJP in an electoral arrangement prompted mainly by the infighting within the party.

The only consolation in the whole affair was that though the Janata Dal’s organization was similarly absent in UP and Bihar, the motivation and the will power necessary to win was present among their party workers. And it is precisely this will power which was absent in Bihar and Himachal. The BJP predictably took advantage of this situation and won. But this victory should by no means be taken to be indicative of the BJP strength in the area. To do so would be wishful thinking. I make this statement because in Uttar Pradesh wherever the party was involved in a triangular contest with the Janta Dal and the congress, it lost. Bareilly and Etah were the only exception where a Hindu BJP candidate won over the Janata Dal and the congress’s muslim candidate. How true will it be to say that the Janata Dal won the last election. Thanks to a communal hindu vote? That the hindus having forgotten issues like inflation, rising prices, etc., concentrated only on the Ram Janam Bhoomi wrangle and let the construction of a temple in Ayodhya over ride all their other concerns. It was not possible to get an answer to this question in the general elections mainly because we had no public barometer to gauge the truth from. But the answer could definitely be gauged from the Vidhan Sabha results. In Maharashtra, the BJP, in an electoral alliance with the Shiv Sena, gave the formation of a hindu rashtra top priority. The initial reaction of most observers was that the rhetoric would do the trick and the combine would get a thumping majority and Bal Thackeray would be the next chief minister. The results, however, surprised everyone. The people of Maharashtra in a spontaneous gesture rejected the BJP’s and Shiv Sena’s communal politics and opted for the Congress. Their vote was for economic, and not communal issues.

In Bihar too, the BJP had made Ayodhya its constant refrain. But there too the people voted for the party which promised succour for the poor and underprivileged. In Rajasthan and Gujarat the result was the same for the BJP. So what does all this prove? That though issues like Ram Janam Bhoomi may be emotional ones for the common populace, when the question of its daily bread and butter arises, it stands up to give a decision and the right one usually. So, the Janata Dal may have lost in a couple of place but this defeat is not the defeat of the party but of those incapable candidates who put their selfish interests above the party’s ideals.

Conflicts in ideologies should always be welcomed and keeping this in mind I am an admirer of the BJP. Their cadres are firm believers in their party’s policies and will do anything to uphold their policies. During the Vidhan Sabha elections they had posters of VP Singh printed and went around convincing villagers that to vote for them would be to vote for him. On the other hand, the Janata Dal had only a minimal amount of posters of V P Singh printed for the general elections and did not bother to get more for the assembly polls. But yes, some candidates who were able to afford it, got posters of V P Singh printed. This is one reason why some sort of a struggle seems imminent in the future and every one should be prepared for this struggle. The only thing I am scared of is that, will the Janata Dal be able to face up to this struggle organizationally or not? This struggle will have to e undertaken by people outside the ambit of the Dal. The only danager in this could be that the people in control of the Dal could feel that they are the cause of the struggle. The Lok Sabha and assembly elections also will be to a certain extent responsible for this misconception.

In a propaganda similar to the one undertaken by Hitler and Goebbels, many people are today screaming themselves hoarse about the happenings in Kashmir and Punjab. They not only want answers to their questions but are also demanding full information on the current situation in the states. My opinion is that these people should be asked why having been in power just three to four months back, did they create a situation which led to the Kashmiris turning anti-India, and the Punjabi psyche being wounded in a way which will take years to heal. Also, one should ask them how many all party meets they held during their days in power and why were they so anti-press? Are Punjab and Kashimr not proof of these parties’ anti-India policies? What is really shameful however is that having crossed all limits of decency this party pretends to be one beneficial for the country. The authority to talk about all major national issues I think should be given only to the Janata Dal, the BJP and the regional parties. On behalf of the Congress if it is Kamalapati Tripathi, Narain Dutt Tiwari, Jagannath Mishra or Vasant Sathe who talk, then there are some chances of finding a solution. But if it is Rajiv Gandhi who talks, then no solution is possible, because he is like the fool who only knows how to tangle a thread and who having issued challenges to other to untangle it, is himself always ready to break it.

So, it’s time we stopped and listened to the ideological and other difference amongst the BJP, the regional parties and the Janata Dal, because only a constant dialogue will dispel doubts and reveal a clear path. One must always remember that it was from such dialogue and unrest that the Janata Dal emerged.

V P Singh has been constantly talking about the awakening of the people apart from discussing other questions of administration. In my opinion this awakening should be sought about rapidly by the Dal and the job of human reconstruction started forewith. Today there are not many places for the intelligentsia, the youth and those who want a change in the administration in the Dal. In order to facilitate their entry it becomes imperative that the existing wall in the party be broken down and these people invited to lay the foundations for the struggle for change. It is absolutely essential that the Janata Dal transforms itself from being a party fulfilling the desires of heads of religious mutts, to one which will fulfil the needs and desires of the people.

One of the main causes for the Janata Dal’s defeat in the south was that it didn’t project V P Singh as a viable option to Rajiv Gandhi. Instead it pitted regional leaders against him who seemed like comparative lightweights.

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