Thursday, 13 August 2020

Bihar Polls: Put Indian Politics At A Crossroads

Updated: May 2, 2015 5:26 pm

It is to be seen if this Janata Parivar experiment would last for some time. It has leaders with bloated egos and until now have been bitterest opponents. Problems between Lalu and Nitish would most likely arise over the allocation of seats. Nitish’s JD(U) is a small party being dependent on 2 per cent of Kurmi votes as compared to RJD, which has 12 per cent of Yadavs. Moreover, head of the Janata Parivar is Mulayam Singh, who is closely related to Lalu

Considered one of the most backward states in India all thanks to successive governments which worked for their own needs than that of the state, yet Bihar has continued to be nationally important and political permutations and combinations in the state have had an impact on national political trend and direction.

Paradoxically, the degree of influence has increased rather than eased although today there is no Rajendra Prasad, Satyanarayan Sinha or L.N. Mishra at the centre. This is why people of all strata are following the political combinations and links being forged before the election in Bihar due later this year. It has assumed greater significance because it would be a sort of referendum on the popularity of Narendra Modi and his charisma. Moreover, for the first time, six Opposition parties including Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) (JDU) and the Congress, have joined forces to counter and defeat the BJP.

It is to be seen if this Janata Parivar experiment would last for some time. It has leaders with bloated egos and until now have been bitterest opponents. Problems between Lalu and Nitish would most likely arise over the allocation of seats. Nitish’s JD (U) is a small party being dependent on 2 per cent of Kurmi votes as compared to RJD which has 12 per cent of Yadavs. Moreover, head of the Janata Parivar is Mulayam Singh, who is closely related to Lalu.

02-05-2015

The seats would be much more for the RJD than JD (U) which would end the dream of Nitish to continue as chief minister. Would Nitish let it happen?

 Whatever be the result, it would have a cascading effect on the polls in Uttar Pradesh election in 2017. If the BJP succumbs to the joint force, then Modi could be one-term wonder. So, Bihar assumes great significance at the national level.

The first question is why Bihar, a state frozen in time, acquired over the years influence in Delhi which many bigger states do not have. The reasons include the influence, brilliant people from the state who made to the top in all their chosen fields, be it politics, bureaucracy, law, finance, social, literature or social reformers. Lal Bahadur Shastri, while addressing a meeting of top bureaucrats jokingly said, “My neck is caught between three Biharis”. He meant L.K. Jha who was his Principal Secretary, C.S. Jha, the Foreign Secretary and L.P. Singh, the Home Secretary. At the same time T.P. Singh was the Finance Secretary and S.P. Verma was the head of IB and RAW. One can say India was then being administered by Bihar. All of them were brilliant and strong personalities. They carried a lot of respect and their stamp on policies and administration is perceptible even now.

In political field, a succession of heavyweights from Bihar had formidable presence. Rajendra Prasad was Food Minister in Nehru’s first Cabinet, but he was not just one of the others. His importance is summed up in what happened when riots broke out in Delhi. Lord Mountbatten convinced a very agitated Nehru that the last regiment of the British troops which was at the Gateway of India for going back to England should be recalled. A cabinet meet was to be convened which in those days were presided over by Mountbatten and was held at the Viceroy House.

When Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others heard about the recall of the British troop, they were alarmed. They felt that if the troops returned, it would be extremely difficult to send them back. But all these apprehensions could not be voiced. So Maulana and other seniors told Nehru that the important decision about the recalling of troops could not be taken without Rajendra Prasad. Before that they told him to feign a severe attack of asthma.

In short, the cabinet met at Prasad’s house under Nehru. Protocol did not allow Mountbatten to come to Prasad’s house. Nehru presided and he was prevailed upon to get the troops back.

True that now leaders like Rajendra Prasad, Jagjivan Ram or L.N. Mishra are not to be found in Bihar—but its true of all states, in UP do we have a GB Pant, Sampoornanand or Rafi Ahmed Kidwai. L.K. Advani miscalculated the influence and fear of Nitish Kumar, nowhere near the stature of old Bihar leaders. When Narendra Modi was likely to be chosen with the support of the RSS to head the election campaign for 2014 General Election, Advani who was not only angry but upset at the choice of Modi, persuaded Nitish Kumar to threaten that he would break the 17-year-old alliance with the BJP if Modi was chosen. His threat did not work. Modi was made the Chairman of the Campaign Committee and Nitish Kumar was left with no option but to break away. It cost him heavy. He could not get one JD (U) candidate win.

02-05-2015

Coming to the forthcoming state election, one has to realise that it is important for both the BJP and the Janata Parivar. If the BJP loses, Modi would be severely affected. His charisma, his detractors would proclaim was finally over. The likes of Yadavs, Kumars and even Rahuls could suddenly feel muscular enough to wrestle Modi on equal, if not better odds.

The main leaders in the merger are LaLu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Nitish Kumar who between them have Yadavs’, Muslims’ and Kurmis’ as their supporters. The combination is formidable and the BJP can hardly expect to sweep away the Janata Parivar depending just on Modi. The RSS cadre and the leaders and party activists would have to campaign intensively just like in the General Election last year and should not be complacent like the leaders and workers in Delhi.

But like the BJP, the stakes for the newly-formed Janata Parivar, comprising six parties is high. If they manage to keep the BJP out, the combination would continue and possibly confront the BJP in 2019, but if it fails then the fragile stringing will snap. It could mean the fading of Nitish Kumar’s JD (U), Lalu Yadav’s RJD and Mulayam Singh’s SP.

So what could be the likely outcome, and its impact on the Indian politics?

The million dollar question is whether leaders like Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, both with bloated ego, can co-exist? If they manage to stop the BJPs onslaught, the combination would continue and possibly confront the BJP in 2019, but if it fails then the leaders do not have the ability to survive and fight out the bad times. So if the experiment fails, the political future of all the leaders would be doomed. They have no brilliance or command respects which say a Sri Krishna Sinha, Anugrah Narain did.

On its part the BJP is well-aware of the formidable Opposition and is preparing for the fight. The BJP is well aware of the challenges that Nitish Kumar could offer to them. Firstly, his perceived image of a good administrator and secondly, an expected merger of his party JD (U) with Lalu Prasad’s RJD, could broaden his social support base. Realising the two-front obstacle ahead, the BJP is thus shaping up its strategy accordingly.

From Giriraj Singh, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, Rajiv Pratap Rudi, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Mangal Pandey, Nand Kisore Yadav, Sushil Modi to Amit Shah, have regularly barraged the Nitish Kumar government over its performance, particularly for the period when the JD (U) is ruling alone after severing ties with the BJP.

“Jungle raj is back in Bihar. It is the bounded duty of every BJP worker to throw this regime out and usher into a new political era in the state,” Shah said. He was clearly playing on the fear psychosis of the upper caste and also of those social groups, caste and communities who dreaded the 15-year-long RJD rule under Lalu and Rabri Devi.

Since 2005, when JD (U)-BJP combines ousted RJD from the seat of power, the political narrative in Bihar had changed. From an intensely caste and community based politics, it took a tilt towards development and governance. There are many who see the proposed merger of JD (U)-RJD as nothing but a casteist coalition and as the return of the same identity politics, which was discarded about a year ago by the people during the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP’s success would largely depend on a wider propagation of this belief.

The message that the BJP wishes to underline is that the party acted as a power pack for Nitish to deliver popular goods. Without BJP, though by his own choice and guided by “his overarching prime ministerial ambitions”, the chief minister is nothing but like a wasted missile.

“The good governance plank became a casualty the day Nitish Kumar broke his long-standing coalition with the BJP. About 90 per cent of his time and energy goes in managing majority for his government and deliberating on merger with Lalu’s RJD. Can Nitish cite a single developmental work that he initiated in the last 23 months, since the time he separated from the BJP? Whatever achievements that he boasts about now date back to the BJP-JD (U) coalition government. He is now in the company of Lalu Prasad and Shahabuddin (dreaded don-turned-RJD leader from Siwan). What credentials he now has to talk about governance? People are smart enough to see through his designs,” said former Bihar deputy chief minister and BJP leader Sushil Modi. He then rolled out a list of governmental inaction and financial impropriety.

Earlier this week, sounding the bugle for Bihar Assembly polls due months from now, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah mocked the merger of the ‘Janata Parivar’ ahead of the elections, saying “zero plus zero remains a zero” and asserted nobody can prevent the saffron party from coming to power in the state.

Shah also attacked chief minister Nitish Kumar for “back-stabbing” BJP by disregarding the mandate given to BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance to govern the state. Kumar had ended JD (U)’s 17-year alliance with BJP in July 2013 after Narendra Modi was appointed its campaign committee chief for the Lok Sabha polls.

“Whether it’s ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) or ‘mahavilay’ (grand merger), nobody can stop BJP from coming to power in Bihar with a two-third majority in coming poll,” Shah said addressing a party workers’ congregation that coincided with 125th birth anniversary of Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar.

The choice of the date for the conclave is being seen as an attempt by BJP to reach out to the numerically significant Dalit vote bank, a large section of which is unhappy over the removal of Jitan Ram Manjhi as chief minister. Coming down hard on Nitish Kumar, Shah said he was trying to bring back ’jungle raj’, a sobriquet once used to describe ‘misgovernance’ of the 15-year Lalu-Rabri rule.

“Once again he (Nitish) is trying to usher in ’jungle raj’ (by joining hands with RJD) in the state which BJP along with JD (U) had ended earlier,” he said, sharing stage with home minister Rajnath Singh.

Both Shah and Singh dwelt on the achievements of the Modi government in the past 10 months and asked party workers to convince the people that a BJP dispensation in Bihar would help it become a “front ranking state” in the country”.

The rise of Nitish Kumar nine years ago was attributable to the revulsion of Biharis against Lalu Prasad’s jungle raj. The Lalu-

Rabri Devi combine which largely ruled Bihar from 1990-2005 had formed a Yadav-Muslim winning coalition, preying on Muslim fears over BJP’s chauvinistic Hindu agenda and flattering Yadavs with grandiose rhetoric only to deceive them in concrete results.  Infrastructure (roads, power) was completely gutted beyond Patna. The state witnessed an alarming flight of capital and industry. The only growth industry was kidnappings for ransom. Nitish invested heavily in upgrading physical and social services infrastructure, including roadways, public hospitals, schools and the food distribution system. Corruption was brought within the national bandwidth. Women were empowered down to the panchayats. People celebrated these favourable changes under Nitish.

His 2010 re-election resulted from a combination of good governance practices, a development renaissance, an astute alliance with the BJP, and the strategic error by Lalu of breaking with Congress. Returned with an 80 per cent majority, Nitish fells victim to hubris as he became convinced of his own political genius, helped by a coterie of sycophants (the bane of Indian politics).

His fall this year springs from three grave mistakes: caste politics miscalculation, communal politics miscalculation, and a fatal misreading of the political tea leaves. The end result is the proverbial Mr Choubey setting out to become Mr Chhabbey and returning a much shrunken Mr Dubey (one who knows all four Vedas set out to show the world he knew six, and returned diminished as master of only two).

During Lalu’s rule the most salient divide congealed around the backward-forward castes. Nitish won by breaking off non-Yadav OBCs and many EBCs, while the BJP hived off forward castes from Congress. After Nitish split from BJP last June, the latter’s alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan garnered Paswan votes for it. Not to forget, crucially, the attraction of backward caste Narendra Modi as PM.

Nitish miscalculated that in splitting from BJP over the choice of Modi as PM candidate, he would attract most Muslims. Ironically, fear-mongering about Modi’s Hindutva agenda drove Muslims back into the arms of the Lalu-Congress alliance as a more reliable bulwark against Modi. Besides, people noted that Nitish had managed to stay with BJP for eight years under L K Advani, the most public Hindutva mascot. So Nitish got neither Ram nor Imam.

Against Lalu, Nitish was effective in contrasting his development record. Given Gujarat’s decisive edge over Bihar on the development and good governance planks, Nitish was trumped by Modi’s national reputation for transformational rule in Gujarat. Nitish was forced back to fight BJP on its communal plank. He fell into his own trap: in 2014 it was Modi who talked of development. Far from broadening his voting base Nitish shrank it even further.

A BJP-JD(U) alliance would have swept all in Bihar this year and could have garnered 35+ of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. A year ago, it was not unreasonable to believe that the 2014 general election would follow form—Congress and BJP would be the nucleus of two alternative coalitions with a large number of regional parties; any regional ally that controlled a bank of 30-40 thousand votes would be in a strong position to assume the mantle of kingmaker, perhaps even king or queen. Seduced perhaps by the dazzling allure of being India’s PM, Nitish broke from BJP in the hope that this would maximise his room for manoeuvre with either a UPA or an NDA coalition in the wheeling and dealing after the general election.

Nitish’s calculations came unstuck. He was branded a backstabber by BJP, responsible for breaking the alliance for which people had given a popular mandate. Having courted Nitish, Congress abandoned him to recreate its old electoral alliance with Lalu, the opprobrium of corruption and criminality notwithstanding. This alliance with the toxic Lalu gravely compromised the Congress brand nationally without winning extra seats in Bihar. As in 2009, Lalu and Congress won just four and two respectively. Lalu’s wife and daughter were also decisively defeated.

No one quite anticipated the spectacular collapse of the Rahul-Sonia-led Congress brand by the time elections were held and few anticipated the fervour and enthusiasm of the Modi wave. Advance ripples visible already in November during a visit to my ancestral home, by the time the wave crested it was a veritable tsunami.

Nitish’s JD (U) collapsed from 20 seats in the 15th Parliament to two in the 16th. Owning moral responsibility, Nitish resigned on May 17 to avoid months of rising dissidence and defections, sniping from the sidelines, and destabilisation from Delhi. As he did not recommend assembly dissolution despite JD (U) already being in a minority with 116 MLAs in the 243-seat assembly, Bihar politics enters a fluid and uncharted period with election likely sooner rather than later.

His calculation is that when the fight coalesces into a contest between him and Lalu in state elections, most people will come back to him rather than risk a return to the destructive and vulgar Lalu raj.

The State is at a cross-roads. If the Janata Parivar does make inroads and defeats the BJP, the combination could firm up and it could become an All India force to fight the BJP. Bihar would live up to its reputation of influencing national politics.

But if the BJP supported by forward castes, backwards and Dalits courtesy Manjhi and Paswan defeats the Parivar, the latter will blow up like a fuse. Its demise would give the rampaging BJP overall control of almost all states.

This coming election could be historic and the Indian polity might reach a momentous milestone.

BIHAR’S SLOT IN HISTORY

Why did Gandhi launch his first struggle of independence from Bihar? In her attempt for second coming Indira Gandhi chose to go to Belchi. Rajiv Gandhi trying to win back power travelled second class from Champaran.
Why a state which is economically one of the worst attracted powerful personalities to launch their momentous campaigns?
Possibly Bihar’s rich history and cultural heritage have made it attractive to those who themselves are history-makers.
Patna, Patliputra was the capital of the biggest empire in the world. One of the powerful religions Buddhism spread from here. Its people are politically very conscious.
It is said Nehru was so impressed by Ashoka that he wanted to name if a son was born to him, Ashok Priyadarshi but when a daughter was born, he named her Indira Priyadarshni.
Apart from legendary political personalities who set the Congress on a liberal and service before self- culture, which helped the party remain in power for decades. Now that culture has been given up, we see the dreadful state that Congress is.
Then the State has given men of literature and other variety of cultural accomplishments. Vidyapathi, Kali Das, were the poets and writers whose works have made them immortal.
Then Tagore’s daughter was married in Muzzafarpur, the maternal grandfathers of Sarat Chandra and Ashok Kumar were in Bhagalpur. Bihar has been/ is part of India’s history. How can it be ignored?

 

By Vijay Dutt

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