The article was written in 1976 by INFA Editor Late Inder Jit, which reveals that our political parties only confirm that “politics often makes strange bedfellows.” What we witnessed three decades ago — new alignments in the Janata Party, are being replayed. This time in Maharashtra and the developments continue to baffle the electorate. It is again witness to opportunistic politics. Indeed, some things shall never change.
Janata affairs at the Centre have never been more baffling. Nobody who is anybody in the ruling circles is quite clear about what is happening or where the party is going in the wake of the recent developments in UP. Politics, like today’s “liberated” youth, often makes for strange bedfellows. However, there is no convincing explanation for the hitherto unthinkable decision of the Congress for Democracy to suddenly jump into the bed of Mr. Charan Singh and his BLD. There are almost as many sets of facts about what precisely brought the CFD and the BLD together as ensured the election of Mr. Banarasi Das as UP’s new Chief Minister. Suspense has been introduced into the overall scene by Mr. Jagjivan Ram’s reported refusal to disclose to a close confidant his reasons for supporting Mr. Banarasi Das and his significant remark: “Wait for six months to a year. You will then appreciate the wisdom of our action.”
Many questions are, therefore, asked especially in Parliament’s privileged lobby, Central Hall and outside. What after UP? Is it a precursor of new alignments in the Janata Party? What are the implications? Is a change at the top on the cards? Unfortunately, not many answers are available. As a shrewd but unassuming Janata leader candidly told me: “Let the puzzling developments not bother you. Even those who have caused the puzzle are puzzled!” others aggressively put across their views in the form of brief but meaningful comments. Said a top leader: “Something pernicious is happening.” Another remarked: “Very deep game is being played. Don’t ask me what it is? But the game is on.” A third summed up the situation as follows: “We have had politics of defection in the past. Now we have politics of betrayal. Watch out — and forewarn others before it is too late. There is a lot more to it than meets the eye.”
Each ghatak has its own explanation and interpretation about what has come to pass. Take the erstwhile CFD first since its stance has caused the greatest sensation. Many Janata leaders and MPs denounce as “a stab in the back and a betrayal” Mr. Bahuguna’s decision to support Mr. Banarasi Das for Chief Ministership and to “ditch” Mr. Raj Mangal Pandey, his own protégé and principal lieutenant. But CFD leaders point out that their decision to ask Mr. Pandey not to contest the election on behalf of the pro-chancers, including the former Jana Sangh, was essentially an exercise in punishing “indiscipline” on his part. Mr. Pandey, it is argued, had no business to withdraw his own “agreed” candidature and instead request Mr. C.B. Gupta to contest the leadership election without consulting either Mr. Jagjivan Ram or Mr. Bahuguna. That Mr. Gupta, thereafter, withdrew his name made little difference. Mr. Bahuguna (and Mr. Jagjivan Ram) had by then reviewed the changed situation and entered into a firm commitment with Mr. Charan Singh.
The CFD’s decision was essentially prompted by two considerations. First, there is no love lost between Mr. Bahuguna and Mr. Gupta. Mr. Bahuguna could not, therefore, possibly opt for a situation in which he would continue to be made to feel as an “unwanted outsider” in his home State. (Mr. Bahuguna is said to have been denied accommodation in a State guest house in Bareilly last year). Second, it enabled the CFD to settle old and mounting across with the Jana Sangh. Explained a CFD leader: “The Jana Sangh has knifed us time and again from the word go. We were taken for granted all along and invariably let down. This time, too, it was agreed that Mr. Pandey would be the candidate. Yet, Mr. Gupta’s name was suddenly brought up. If Mr. Morarji Desai and Mr. Charan Singh could come together after all that has happened, what is wrong with our clasping the hand extended by Mr. Charan Singh?
The BLD promptly took advantage of the opening offered by Mr. Gupta’s candidature. Mr. Charan Singh, aided Mr. Biju Patnaik and Mr. Devi Lal, by successfully sought Mr. Bahuguna’s cooperation. Happily for Mr. Charan Singh, his recent initiative in inviting Mr. Jagjivan Ram and Mr. Bahuguna to a luncheon (together with Mr. Chandra Shekhar and, importantly, Mr. Madhu Limaye) helped, even if not politics was discussed at the get-together. Understanding was facilitated by informal contacts between the two sides which showed an identity of views on basic questions. The CFD found itself in full agreement with the BLD’s anxiety to teach the Jana Sangh a lesson or two for its “opportunistic manoeuvrings” and to prevent it from functioning as “the party’s fulcrum and exploiting this to promote the RSS.” Both were also agreed that the Janata should not only claim to be secular but must also appear to be so if it was not to lose the confidence of the minorities.
Top Janata leaders belonging to the erstwhile Jana Sangh deny that they have pursued any opportunistic policies. “We have tried to uphold certain principles” said one leader “and done our best to merge our identity in the new party and forget that we were once separate.” Specifically, these leaders deny the CFD charge of “knifing them” and assert Mr. C.B. Gupta’s candidature was not our idea. The suggestion came from none other than Mr. Raj Mangal Pandey himself when he “grew a little doubtful of his ability to beat Mr. Banarasi Das.” Indeed, one of their top leaders promptly got in touch with Mr. Jagjivan Ram and Mr. Bahuguna the same night to set the record straight. He clarified that the Jana Sangh had decided at the outset to accept any candidate put up by the other groups among the pro-changers and not to put up anyone of their own. But, explained the leader, all this was of little avail. The cause of the pro-changers was nevertheless “betrayed.”
This, however, is only one part. Top Jana Sangh leaders assert that all the trouble has arisen simply because they had refused “to play the game” of the Socialists, described as ‘villain of the piece” —- or to be “exploited by Mr. Charan Singh and his BLD for their own ends at the Centre” ignoring healthy principles and the larger national interest. A Jana Sangh leader explained: “initially, the Socialists wanted a sizable share of power in the Janata States. But trouble erupted when the BLD and we refused to oblige. The Socialists had neither any strength nor any men of stature. Last year, they wanted us to join hands with them and Mr. Charan Singh at the time of the Janata Parliamentary Party elections and quietly work for Mr. Morarji Desai’s ouster. But we, once again, refused to toe their line on the basis of the understanding reached at the time Mr. Desai was unanimously elected leader of the Parliamentary Party. Now, therefore, both want to isolate and eliminate us, conveniently ignoring our role in bringing Mr. Charan Singh back in to the Government.”
Informed leaders of the erstwhile Congress (O) are not altogether unhappy over the predicament of the Jana Sangh, notwithstanding its stout and continuing support, to Mr. Desai. A good few have been far from happy with the manner in which the Jana Sangh virtually forced the hands of Mr. Desai to take Chaudhary Sahib back. Nevertheless, they hope that the Jana Sangh would now be wiser by its latest experience and not create problems in the future. (A Jana Sangh leader thought aloud: “I wonder if we were really wise in taking the view that all the Big Three of the Janata should be in the Government.”) They also agree with the assessment that the increasing denunciation of the Jana Sangh (via the RSS) as “communal, reactionary and obscurantist” and repeated calls by the Socialists for the unity of “secular, left forces” is ultimately aimed at Mr. Morarji Desai and for achieving their oft-repeated objective: installing a Government of their own choice at the Centre.
Matters have, meanwhile been complicated by the recent interferences by the Soviet Union in India’s internal affairs and the liberty taken by some of its leaders on a visit to this country. Not long ago, the Tass picked on Mr. Biju Patnaik’s reported interview attacking the RSS to state that the RSS constituted “a real danger to India’s democratic institutions.” The New Delhi datelined dispatch, which reportedly stated that the RSS functionaries “were murdering their political opponents, especially of the CPI, said that the RSS was out to militarise India and convert the country into “an outpost of reaction in Asia.” New Delhi’s protest to Moscow against interference in India’s internal affairs has not helped much. Mrs. Zinaida Kruglove, Deputy Election Commissioner and a member of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, said in New Delhi on February 19 that China had “insulted” India by invading Vietnam when Mr. Vajpayee was on a State visit to Peking. And, to New Delhi’s embarrassment, added: “It is a shameful act towards India…”
The Soviet Union has undoubtedly been a friend of India and New Delhi looks forward to Mr. Kosyging’s visit later this week. But its own sections and those of its resourceful lobby in India leaves New Delhi with the clear impression that it has reconciled neither to Mrs. Gandhi’s ouster nor to India’s determination to follow a policy/genuine non-alignment. In fact, not a few of senior Janata MPs, known for their independence, even see the hand of the Soviet lobby in some of the recent developments in the Janata Party. Said one leader: “The idea is to identify Mr. Desai with the Jana Sangh and then seek his ouster. Any other Government is certain to be more friendly to Moscow….” Nobody in his senses is prepared to believe that any top Janata leader is playing the Soviet game and seeking to undermine India’s independence, as evidenced by its firm and principled stand on Kampuchea and Vietnam. But needless misunderstanding is often caused when some of them allow their enthusiasm for the Soviet Union to run away with their better judgment.