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What is common to Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda, Inder Gujral?

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Regardless of whether a national party is on the rise or decline, it presumes it must steer a coalition government at the Centre as it has a pan-India outlook. When denied the steering wheel, the national party wrecks the coalition in the hope of returning to power or acquiring a bigger footprint. This has been the history of coalitions in India ever since the Janata Party experiment ended in a chaotic failure in 1979.

In the 1989 general elections, the Congress secured 197 seats and the Janata Dal 143. The Janata Dal chose VP Singh as prime minister – his government got external support from the BJP and the Left, the two ideological rivals. In the manner of the Janata Party a decade ago, the Janata Dal was beset with ego clashes among its leaders.

Yet the decisive blow to the Janata Dal government was first delivered by the BJP. The face-off occurred because of Singh’s decision to grant 27% reservation to the Other Backward Classes in Central government jobs. The upper castes revolted. The backward castes consolidated against them.

Choosing to electorally exploit the upper caste outrage, as well as using Hindutva to paper over the caste divide, BJP leader LK Advani began his rath yatra from Somnath, in Gujarat, on September 25, 1990. This yatra made it a fashion among the middle class to flaunt their Hindu identity, to openly declare their support for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. After taking the yatra through several states, Advani was scheduled to reach Ayodhya on October 30 to participate in the kar seva for the temple. As the yatra triggered communal tension in the areas it traversed, leaving behind a trail of death and devastation, there arose a demand to stop it. The BJP responded that if this happened, it would withdraw its support to Singh’s government at the Centre.

That is what it did when Chief Minister Lalu Yadav arrested Advani on October 23, when the yatra passed through Bihar. VP Singh subsequently lost a no-confidence motion in Parliament on November 7, but not before he asked both the Congress and BJP, “What kind of India do you intend to create?” It is more or less the question that Congress president Rahul Gandhi persistently raises today.

Chandra Shekhar then split the Janata Dal to form the Janata Dal (Samajwadi), which consisted of just 57 MPs. In stepped the Congress, the other national party, to offer support to Chandra Shekhar, who took over as prime minister on November 10. Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi was........

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