Joining forces

Published : Sep 29, 2001 00:00 IST

Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav join hands to increase their bargaining power within the National Democratic Alliance.

LOK Janshakti leader Ram Vilas Paswan and Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav seem to have realised the virtues of unity after being sidelined in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and shifted out of their high-profile Ministries of Communications and Civil Aviation respectively.

The two were seen together at a public programme at Dadri in western Uttar Pradesh on September 13, about two years after they fell out. Although they tried to make little of their coming together, attributing it to the solemnity of the occasion (the death anniversary of Janata Dal leader Mahendra Singh Bhatti), the political message that went out was lost on no one.

The differences between Paswan, now Union Minister for Mines, and Sharad Yadav, Union Labour Minister, intensified during the Bihar Assembly elections in March 2000. They fought for seats between themselves and with their ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The elections produced a hung Assembly and Nitish Kumar, leader of the Samata Party, another NDA constituent, was Chief Minister for seven days. Paswan's grudge against Sharad Yadav was that he propped up Nitish Kumar and thus prevented him from becoming Chief Minister.

At the core of the competition between the two leaders is the desire of each to project himself as the sole alternative to Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. The fight for the Bihar turf eventually spilled onto the national scene. Paswan split away from the Janata Dal(U) in December last and floated the Lok Janshakti. Paswan accused party president Sharad Yadav of inaction, lethargy and inability to carry out any political programme of substance. Sharad Yadav, he said, treated the party as his "personal fiefdom" and that it had lost relevance under his leadership.

The latest Cabinet reshuffle seems to have made them realise that had they remained united, the Prime Minister would not have transferred them from their high-profile Ministries. Post-reshuffle developments have only heightened their fears. Sharad Yadav was kept out of meetings that were held to discuss labour reforms in view of his opposition to layoffs and retrenchment, which are imminent in the government's policy course of the disinvestment and downsizing of public sector undertakings. According to informed sources, a change in the BJP's perception about the post-election situation in Uttar Pradesh led to the sidelining of Paswan, whom the party had planned to prop up against Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati. The BJP's calculation, they say, is that if it fails to get a majority in U.P. it could form the government by joining hands with the BSP.

UTTAR PRADESH Chief Minister Rajnath Singh's new policy of "quota within quota", which promises to provide reservation within the quota to the most backward castes among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalits, is said to be another factor that has brought Paswan and Sharad Yadav together. The policy, they fear, will adversely affect the interests of the Yadav and Pasi communities, which constitute their vote bank, and spoil the chances of their getting a foothold in the U.P. Assembly. The idea is to remain within the NDA, project themselves as the champions of social justice, and increase their bargaining power at the time of seat distribution in U.P. Winning a considerable number of seats in U.P., they hope, will increase their clout at the Centre.

The two leaders plan to organise a number of joint rallies in U.P, especially in areas where Yadavs are predominant. Such rallies, political observers say, are aimed at projecting Sharad Yadav as the saviour of Yadavs and Paswan as the messiah of Dalits. Paswan and Sharad Yadav hope to cash in on the resentment of Yadavs and Dalits (Jatavs and Chamars) against Rajnath Singh's reservation policy. Under the new policy, Yadavs have only 5 per cent reservation and the share of Jatavs and Chamars has been reduced by half.

Much to the astonishment of the participants of the meeting at Dadri, Paswan declared: "Ram Vilas Paswan is always there with Sharad Yadav for the sake of social justice and secularism. I will go to any extent with Sharad Yadav for these two issues." The reference to the issues of social justice and secularism assumes significance in the context of Rajnath Singh's announcement of a new reservation policy, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's declaration that it will start building a Ram temple in Ayodhya any day after March 2002, and the Prime Minister's promise to solve the Ayodhya problem before March next. Paswan, however, denied that his statement had any political motive; he merely said that he had always stood for secularism and social justice.

Lok Janshakti leaders, however, admit that the coming together of the two leaders has a political significance. "The two parties became weaker after they split; so the bid to come together is but natural," said Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, vice-president of the party.

Sharad Yadav's speech at Dadri also created ripples in political circles. He stopped short of lambasting the Union government for what he called the bleak state of affairs in the country. "The entire system has become corrupt," he said. Although he did not blame the government directly for the various problems he listed, political observers see the speech as reflecting the unease within the government.

The two leaders, however, do not seem prepared to go all out against the government at present. A close associate of Paswan said: "We know that even if we come together we will be in no position to form our own government. So there is no choice but to remain a partner in coalition politics for the time being, till the time we are strong enough again to stand on our own."

The signs, however, are disturbing for the BJP. The presence of Ashok Yadav, an OBC leader in the BJP and a critic of the new reservation policy, at the Dadri meeting pointed to the possibility of Paswan and Sharad Yadav joining hands with the disgruntled backward caste leaders in the BJP. Ashok Yadav made a fiery speech and declared "a war" for social justice. He said: "We will no longer plead for our rights, we will wage a war to snatch our rights."

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