Lessons from split up
By S Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
Assembly elections are to take place in five States Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh – between 11 February and 8 March. Coming in the beginning of the second half of BJP rule at the Centre, and soon after its most bold decision on demonetisation, there is reason to expect that the verdicts will reflect the extent of support for BJP in these States. But, the States, particularly Uttar Pradesh and its broken piece Uttarakhand have their own fierce internal party politics to decide their choice. This series of election will reveal the relative importance of the “autonomy of State politics” and the impact of national politics.
Split, truce, split, truce (no not what is in store tomorrow) is the story of the Samajwadi Party unfolding in the New Year. The home State of the party, UP, a big theatre of India’s electoral drama, once believed to be the sole producer of India’s Prime Minister, has lost its primacy with the decline of one-party dominance of the Congress and the emergence of regional parties in States and coalition governments at the Centre.
The split is between the Party President, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the patriarch of the party and his son and Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav. It is a case of split authority leading to break up of the party. Both groups claim the party symbol – bicycle – as the real SP. The test to be applied by the Election Commission will be the number in the organisational and legislative structures. Already Akhilesh claims that he has the support of 210 MLAs and 60 MLCs.
The son’s faction declared Akhilesh as the President of the SP – a post held by his father since the party’s birth. The move is followed by a spate of dismissals and appointments by both factions acting as the real party.
A State having 403 Legislative Assembly members going to polls in February when Presidential election is due in July is an event of no mean significance to parties in the field. Voters, largely unaware of the crucial link between the two elections, may be driven by local politics, but the parties, which always have their eyes on elections, have to look beyond. Uttar Pradesh has literally become the battleground for fierce electoral contest.
The speciality of this episode is that it is not merely a party split with which we are only too familiar, but combined with family split thanks to our ability to establish and nurture political families or better still, to develop politics as a hereditary family occupation. Terms such as “succession” and “heir” are commonly used and change of political leadership described as “coronation” and “anointing” to refer to political offices at top levels without any consciousness of democratic principles.
Incidentally, we shun the very concept of occupational caste linking it solely with lowly occupations, but want to promote “occupational families” engaged in certain high professions on top of which is politics. The nation has a number of such families in all States and the number is bound to grow day by day.
The Samajwadi Party, a faction of the Janata Dal formed by VP Singh in 1989, came into being under Mulayam Singh in 1992 by bringing together socialist groups, agrarian interests, and Backward Classes along with the support of the Muslim community. It acquired a name as the champion of the BWC-Muslim population though statistics never supports any wholesale support or opposition to any party by any category of voters.
Statistics apart, SP is seen as the rise of BWC, and the BSP, which won 2007 elections, as that of Dalits more by beliefs and repetition than by genuine solid support base. It puts a responsibility on these parties to safeguard the show in their own interest.
With the SP occupying lion’s share of media attention, the potential support for the BSP, which is somewhat distributed across the State, is likely to be ignored or underestimated. It took over 25 per cent of votes though it won only 80 seats while the winner SP succeeded in getting 224 seats with 29 per cent of votes in 2012. The BSP is now relying on Dalit-Muslim support and is fielding over one-fourth of its candidates from this combine.
The Supreme Court has banned appeals to religion and caste in an election, but this has not prevented parties from choosing candidates on religion/caste basis and also bringing this to public notice.
Party splits and alliances, and defection of individual leaders on the eve of elections are prompted by chances of winning elections and forming governments. These are not guided by ideological persuasions or promises of performance. Contrast this with earlier days of party system when ideology mattered.
The Indian National Congress experienced its first split in 1905-07 known as the Surat split. It was an ideological split between moderates and extremists in the party – the former supporting the path of deliberations with the government, and the latter for adopting agitational course like boycotts to win swaraj and swadeshi.
The moderates formed a breakaway party called the Swaraj Party which accepted Reforms in 1920s to enter Legislative Council. The split was fundamentally based on political ideology. The Communist Party split in 1964 following the death of Stalin in 1953 and the fallout of Soviet Union and China giving rise to pro-China CPI and pro-USSR CPI(M). A more radical wing formed a splinter group CPI(Marxist-Leninist) in 1967.
While Communists have not been playing splitting games, electoral politics has given rise to a massive split in the Congress at the national level in 1969, and many regional splits. It introduced the politics of splitting political parties on leadership factor aided by the natural growth of career politics.
In reality, splits are easier and frequent than mergers which are difficult to achieve and to sustain in this personality- based party system. Mergers are constructed and artificial whereas splits are natural. There can be no better specimen of this than the experiment of Janata Parivar in 2015 before Assembly elections in Bihar attempted by merger of SP, JD(U), RJD, and JD(S). It broke before its formation was completed under the weight of heavy leaders – a phenomenon not conducive to party mergers and acquisitions for unity.
Social bases do not disappear by splits, but they also break up and shift their support in search of governance that delivers or promises to deliver. Therefore, there are constant alignments and realignments across social groups and around personalities. They also end in splits and combinations which can tilt the scale in election outcomes. Electoral consequences of a party split are direct in the first-past-the-post system of election by majority adopted in India.
National parties – the Congress and the BJP – have a common factor of absence of a strong local leader in UP to be readily accepted by at least their own supporters unlike their rival parties. Critics are prone to depict this as a handicap against locally rooted satraps of their opponents. On the field, it may turn out to be an opportunity for their national leaders to carry on election battle on national plane which indeed will be the decisive factor in life anywhere in India. –INFA