ON 4 DECEMBER, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, HD Deve Gowda, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav announced that they were joining forces to form a new party, the Samajwadi Janata Dal. Ravi Shankar Prasad of the Bharatiya Janata Party was quick to take a swipe at this reunion of the “Janata Parivar”—parties that claim to have their origins in the beliefs of Ram Manohar Lohia. Pointing to the long history of splits and mergers between these “disciples of Lohia’s ideology,” Prasad said, “they cannot remain together for two-three years and also cannot remain separated for more than a year.” He added, “I have great personal regard for Ram Manohar Lohia for his integrity and commitment to India ... But now naked family ambitions have come to represent his views.”
The barb had more than a little truth to it. Prasad was giving voice to a common perception in which the term “Lohiaite” has become shorthand for the combination of caste politics and personal ambition—an affront to the memory of a man who subscribed to neither.
Yet someone like Prasad, who comes from a political family with roots in the Jana Sangh, would be aware of the threat the new formation could present. The re-emergence of the Janata Parivar is a corollary of Narendra Modi’s unexpectedly large mandate—a sign that as the Congress and the BJP have exchanged roles at the national level, the original Lohiaite motive of opposing the concentration of power in a single party has not disappeared. But though the Janata Parivar parties can act as a unified political force when opposing the dominance of a larger party, their history suggests that they do not stay together long when themselves in power.