Whose Waterloo Bihar Modi, Nitish, Lalu?
All eyes are on Bihar assembly elections. But the Bihari voters have foxed everyone, whether seasoned political analysts or psephologists. Considered the most colourful in the country because of display of the most extreme aspects of politics—muscle power, money, political rivalry, bloody competition for tickets besides tussle between secular and non-secular forces, the Bihar election is in the final stages. The NDA hopes to recover in remaining three closing rounds (169 seats) as on the ground it is suspected to have lost in the opening two phases (81 seats).
The BJP, caught unaware in the first two phases, has thrown in all its resources to secure maximum votes, every booth is being manned by 10 volunteers, whose responsibility is to get as many voters as possible registered for the booth assigned to them. Over 700 voters are assigned to a booth. All BJP ministers and leaders are putting up in the state and Amit Shah has now asked them to travel by car and meet at every place en route to their destination. So far, they traveled by helicopters.
Now, Narendra Modi has started addressing meetings again. After the first two phases, it was said that he would address no more meetings, triggering suspicion that the BJP was likely to be worsted the Grand Alliance. But now Modi would address 17 rallies between October 25 and November 2. Arun Jaitley admitted that the BJP had thrown in all the party to get a clear majority. Saying BJP would sweep the final three rounds he added, “17 rallies are being addressed by Narendra Modi.”
As it is most of the constituencies left, will be favourable to BJP (NDA) as upper caste is openly with it, but expect a few like Kishanganj and Bahardurganj.
It will be Don Quixote to forecast any outcome, with less a week left for the results. But, there are two extreme opinions, one group says the Grand Alliance will thrash NDA, limiting it to 80 or 90 seats out of 241. However, the other group is sure that the NDA will sweep the state. Logic does not work in the electorate which for generations has lived in divided by caste. Even young children are conscious of caste. So one cannot depend on the fact that Yadavs and Kurmis who have never been friends and interacted socially will, transfer their votes.
Secondly, with both Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar fighting on 100 seats each, both will try to secure more seats than the other, for whosoever gets more seats will have better chance to get its member become leader of the Grand Alliance in the Assembly. There is therefore the expectation that both leaders would become rivals sooner or later. Then the Congress has been allocated 41 seats. The party leaders are not expecting more than four to five seats. Then who wins in the remaining ones? Rumours are that both JD(U) and RJD have put up their candidates as independents and they will help win. But this is a long shot. General assessment is that most seats of these 41 will be taken by the BJP. If this happens, then NDA will be a clear winner.
Now, how is the Grand Alliance countering the increased high profile and intensive campaigning by the BJP? The answer is simple, by increasing abuses against Modi. This election has been full of profanity. Nitish and Lalu have also been addressing more rallies and interacting with people. Bihar is being referred to as Kurukshetra, where intense electoral battle is on for majority in the state assembly election. It will decide both Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar’s political future. And if Modi loses it will be a major setback for him at the national level.
But its rather an insult to call Bihar Kurukshetra because the combat in the epic battle never degenerated to the low level in the state’s assembly election. Apart from name calling—Modi calls Lalu shaitan, Lalu hits back calling Modi brahmpichaas, LaIu went to insinuate that Modi is not an OBC as claimed by him.
Apart from these preposterous allegations (Made only at poll time, and never before) he went on to ridicule Modi by saying that if he did not support quota than he is a nakli (Duplicate) OBC. The fact is that being a low class of OBC gives great advantage to Modi. Most OBCs, including large percentage of Yadavs, could desert Lalu to support Modi. This is why Lalu has been turning pages of dictionary to find new words to abuse him according to Modi, who once said at his meeting in Bihar. And he does come out with new allegations.
He said at a press conference that Modi, BJP and RSS must apologise to the nation for their anti-dalit and anti-OBC mindset. From such statements, false and devious, Lalu has thrown to wind all ethics and morality, he is trying hard to prove that Modi is anti-dalit and anti-OBC. With such personal attacks and allegations, no wonder gau mata has been brought into reckoning through charges that the man lynched for killing a cow for beef to eat, was pursued and captured by a blood-thirsty mob of BJP and RSS sympathisers. The repetitive verbal assault by Lalu forced Modi to give up development issues during chai pe charcha which turned into gau pe charche. The Holy Cow has, we can say,turned Bihar into Animal Farm (and not the Kurukshetra). Bovine blessings are sought after. Cow worship, Lalu claims it is like blood in his veins, so does Modi claims they are cow protectors.
The BJP state chief Mangal Pandey said this on-going Bihar polls could become a tussle between cow killers and cow protectors. After weeks of no holds barred campaigning in which the key players hurled real and perceived abuses at one another, the Bihar clash will show whether Narendra Modi will retain his charisma or not.
If pre-election surveys are to be believed, it will be no cakewalk for anyone including the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as well as the Grand Alliance of the ruling JD(U), RJD and Congress, some surveys have forecast a narrow win for the Nitish Kumar-led coalition in the 243-seat assembly. Others predict a win for the four-party alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
One thing that is slowly emerging is that it might be difficult for Nitish Kumar to be back as chief minister. Lalu has promised that he would not have any objection to Nitish for being Chief Minister. But devious that he is, he has not said he would help Nitish become chief minister. What if Nitish gets lesser number of seats than Lalu, which is most likely. No one should then be surprised to find Lalu proposing his son’s name to be the leader of the alliance in the assembly.
Kurmis are in any case number nothing in comparison to Yadvas (18 per cent). But indications are that sizeable number of Yadavs would not vote for Lalu. One of them said Laluji always signs his name Lalu Prasad, its only during elections that he becomes Yadav. “Why should I vote for him.” As it is Pappu Yadav is deadly opposed to Lalu. One is certain that at least 16—18 per cent yadavs will desert Lalu and vote BJP.
Nitish would lose considerable number of votes because of his alliance with Lalu’s RJD. Not until long ago, Nitish used to call Lalu’s regime as Jungle Raj.
The Left parties have ended their long bonhomie with the JD(U) and RJD. Also in the Grand Alliance, a few groups disassociated with it, making one unsure if the united alliance would roll on or stumble midway. There is also a Third Front led by the Samajwadi Party. And although it has put up only six candidates, the AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi is making waves.
But everyone agrees that the main battle will be between Modi and Nitish Kumar, who once sailed in the same boat but are now bitter foes. In fact only Nitish has the potential to become Modi’s biggest challenger—unless Modi succeeds in defeating Nitish in the election.
Despite gloomy predictions about the BJP allies: Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the RLSP of union minister Upender Kushwaha and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awami Morcha (HAM) can pull it through. Paswan has strog hold on Dussads and Manjhi on Mussahars. They are in large numbers in south Bihar and they combining with upper castes can give winning numbers to BJP.
The Importance of October 12, First Phase Polling
The intense campaigning for the first phase of polling in 49 seats in Bihar was closed on Oct 10 evening. The voters’ mood, as they went out to vote on 12 October, broadly indicated who would win these elections.
This first phase of polling was slightly more critical for the BJP-led NDA than the RJD-JD(U)-Congress Mahagathbandhan. The BJP has some concerns in Samastipur, Begusarai, Khagaria, Bhagalpur, Munger, Banka, Jamui, Nawada, Shekhpura and Lakhisarai, areas where this round of votes would be polled. If it is able to address these concerns then it would establish an early lead. Else, the Mahagathbandhan’s prospects could be brighter.
Priorities of Grand Alliance Partners
Observers of the Bihar political scene watch with interest the different priorities of the three alliance partners of the Mahagatbhandhan. Whereas RJD chief Lalu Prasad is making all attempts to polarise voters along forward backward lines and Mohan Bhagwat’s statement favouring review of the job reservation policy has only helped Lalu project BJP as pro-Brahmin and anti-backward, but for occasional references to the reservation issue, alliance leader and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been harping on development and governance.
For obvious reasons, Congress has by and large steered clear of forward-backward politics and development issues. Congress, in any case has been much more benevolent towards the upper castes in the matter of ticket distribution and as such the party can gain little by fanning the caste divide. On governance too, Congress has not much to write home about as UPA II has come to be regarded as both corrupt and non performer.
The best course under the circumstances for the Congress is to go negative and find fault with Narendra Modi’s governance style and its failure to deliver its parliamentary poll promises. This is being done by Sonia Gandhi in a surprisingly effective manner as her speeches in both Kahalgaon and Gaya did have much less Italian accent as compared to the past and as such she could relate to the audience at a higher comfort level. Moreover, Sonia has also started copying Modi on ‘Mila ki ‘nahin?’ (Have you received it?). The big take of it all is that Sonia’s barb on PM Modi for delivery deficit is getting receptive and responsive ears in her Bihar audience.
To their credit, Mahagatbha-ndhan leaders particularly Nitish Kumar have quite successfully marketed the ‘Jumla’ part of BJP politics.
In NDA too the partners are not on the same page on several issues and the perceived rivalry turned into virtual enmity between LJP chief Ram Bilas Paswan and HAM leader Jitan Ram Manjhi is a constant headache for the NDA leadership and the delicate balancing act to keep both Manjhi and Paswan in good humour is proving quite taxing.
By unnecessarily raking up the issue of job reservation in the private sector, HAM has further queered pitch for BJP, the alliance leader. BJP’s core support base of upper castes remains anti reservation and as such any further widening of the reservation ambit to bring, private sector too under reservation rules would be too much for BJP supporters to stomach.
The problem for BJP, according to observes of the Bihar political scene is that the party can ill afford to take a clear stand on the private sector job reservation issue and for that reason the BJP leaders have conveniently ignored a potentially explosive political issue.
According to Rai Madan Kishore, retired bureaucrat and keen observer of the Bihar political scene, by harping on beef and reservation, political parties were drifting away from real issues. Politics of convenience suits one and all, said Kishore.
Summing up the scene, Phagun, a middle aged illiterate rickshaw puller of Gaya town says it is ‘Apni Dafli, Apna Raag’.
The BJP faced pockets of internal turbulence in Samastipur, Bhagalpur and Begusarai when tickets were distributed and the seat-sharing arrangement made public. BJP president Amit Shah held a series of meetings with his party men and stationed senior leaders in all such regions. This was besides the fact that he had already divided the state into 12 zones each under command of front ranking central and state leaders. They were given specific tasks—contain any kind of dissidence, make all work together as a team and ensure that booth level workers felt sufficiently motivated. The polling pattern indicated how far Shah’s micromanagement strategy has succeeded. The other challenge for the BJP, not so much for the RJD-JD(U)-Congress, is to drive maximum number of voters to polling stations. After travelling to parts of Bihar, one gets an understanding that lower voting percentage would be beneficial to the Mahagathbandhan and higher polling percentage would work for the NDA. It is not guided by the conventional wisdom but the fact that Mahagathbandhan’s arithmetic in terms of committed voters, Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi is stronger than the NDA.
Though the BJP has its share of committed voters in upper castes and the Vaishya community and has expanded its social spectrum by aligning with Paswan’s LJP, Jeetan Ram Manjhi’s HAM and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP but its actual strength, if it happens, would come from the voters who come from the marginal sections of society—the extremely backward castes and Dalit-Mahadalit. The EBCs and Mahadalits appear to be inclined towards the BJP but they did not make their preferences explicit.
If age profile of the crowd at rally is an indicator, a larger number of youth could be attracted towards Modi and the BJP than towards Lalu Yadav-Nitish Kumar and Sonia-Rahul Gandhi combine. According to an estimate, 2.04 crore of 6.68 crore voters in Bihar are in the age group of 18-29 years. This includes 24.13 lakh first time voters in the age group of 18-19, comprising 3.61 percent of the electorate. Youth, however, is no monolith but then the BJP has made a concerted effort to make its campaign youth-centric. The recent elections in all parts of the country have shown that once initial phase of polling record a higher voter turnout, the pattern remains the same in later phases.
The areas that went to polls roughly encompass nine parliamentary seats, three were won by the BJP in 2014 elections, four by its ally Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and two by the RJD. The previous parliamentary polls can’t be taken as a mood indicator though. The LJP had won these seats riding on the Modi wave but its share in parliamentary seats ensured that it got good number of seats in these areas.
From the NDA side, of the 49 seats that went to poll on October 16, 2015, the BJP had fielded 27 candidates, the LJP 13, the RLSP six and the HAM three. From the incumbent Mahagathbandhan, JD(U) fielded 26, the RJD 17 and the Congress eight.
Researchers Interest in Bihar Elections
Sarthak Bagchi, a student of Leiden University, Netherlands, is camping in Bihar for the past two months to study the socio-political atmosphere and the change it brings during the elections. Bagchi is a PhD scholar doing a research on political science of South Asia. “My focus is basically on ethnic attachment of politicians, development and caste association of leaders. What I have seen so far in Bihar is that the discourse of development is layered with ethnic attachments,” Bagchi said.
Aditya Dhar, another scholar from George Washington University, spent around two months in Bihar before leaving for USA where he will do teaching. During his stay in Bihar, Dhar visited Nalanda, Jehanabad, Madhepura, Saharsa and several other places to find whether the discourse of development has percolated down to the masses or not.
The researchers met political think tanks of JD(U), RJD, BJP and Congress. They even attended rallies addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and functionaries of grand alliance. A PhD in political science from Delhi University, Kunal Kishore, who is also camping in Bihar, said the state’s politics offers an insight into the aspects of the world’s largest democracy. “I have observed that it’s a personality war in Bihar this time. The clash of personalities has overshadowed the issues of development,” Kishore said. Chinmay Kumar, who has done MPhil from the University of Oxford, is also engaged in research work on CM Nitish Kumar’s bicycle project. Another PhD in political science from Delhi University, who did not wish to be quoted because of the terms of his contract of research, said the Bihar elections will be the precursor of the NDA’s performance in Uttar Pradesh. “It will also be an acid test for Bihar CM Nitish Kumar,” he added.
A research analyst with Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, Ashish Kumar Ranjan, who is doing research on Bihar polls, said, “The Bihar elections offer the best perceptive in the models of democracy where even the people with very thin wallets have the chance to contest the election and project themselves as an option alongside the crorepati candidates.” Ranjan is focusing on the campaign strategy of political parties and the similarity between what the parties promise in the election manifestos and the elements of their on-ground strategies and electoral promises.
The subjects of other researchers include the rising political prowess of Dalits, Musahars and the backward classes in Bihar. JD(U) spokesperson Dr Ajay Alok said researchers from different fields keep approaching the party in the run up to elections. Similarly, other parties are also enlightening the researchers with the functioning of their respective units.
Either by strategy or by compulsion, alliance partners of the two major formations contesting the elections, viz Mahagathbandhan and NDA are harping on separate issues. It is strategic diversity in political unity. This diversity is more pronounced in Nitish-led Mahagathbandhan.
By Vijay Dutt