India Changes Course: Golden Jubilee to Millennium

By Paul R. Dettman | Go to book overview

4

Requiem for the United Front

The United Front, which had been the third major player in the 1996 General Election and had produced the two coalition governments that emerged from the last two national polls, proved to be a spent force as the 1998 campaign unfolded. Its record of ineffective and unsustainable governance had led to its being discredited in the eyes of Indian voters, and the cohesiveness that had enabled it to stand firm in the face of the Congress Indira Party's demand that it expel the DMK members of the Gujral cabinet had evaporated quickly after its second government had fallen. To make matters worse, the unity of its keystone party, the Janata Dal, had also become a thing of the past. The Janata Dal had suffered splits in the three states where it had been strongest—Bihar, Karnataka, and Orissa. To add insult to injury, two of the three breakaway groups had joined forces with the BJP.

The sorry state of United Front affairs was dramatically displayed by the difficulty that Prime Minister Gujral faced in obtaining a party ticket for the coming election. He had held a Janata Dal seat in Bihar, but Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal had broken away from the party that had supported Gujral and now controlled the Bihar political scene. So Gujral had to find another location for his attempt to remain a member of Parliament and, in traditional Indian style, he returned to his “native place, ” the Punjab, to find a political home. What was surprising was not the location of the constituency which he contested, but the party auspices under which he campaigned. Because he was a Punjabi, the Akali Dal, Sikhdom's nationalist party, offered to support him by refraining from putting up a candidate of its own to oppose him and by directing their followers in the Jalandhar constituency to vote for him. Not only was the Akali Dal a “communal” party, founded upon the Sikh religion and pledged to achieving an autonomous Sikh state, but it had joined forces with the BJP to contest the Punjab's parliamentary seats. To the embarrassment of other leaders of the United

-17-

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