If Bihar Hots Up, Delhi Develops Fever
When the Narendra Modi wave was at its peak in April-May 2014, the BJP with its allies Lok Janshakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party bagged 39 per cent votes, but the opposition camp, then a divided house, towered above it with 47 per cent. If the voters make the same choice in Bihar Assembly elections scheduled in September-October 2015, then the writing on the wall is very clear
Once the capital of the mighty Mauryas, Patna is today the political playground of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav who have buried their decades’ long hatred and near enmity to enter into an alliance with the CPI and Congress to try and defeat the BJP in the state assembly election expected in November. The statecraft of Chanakya has been replaced by the caste politics.
While NDA had steamrolled the opposition during 2014 Lok Sabha elections winning 31 out of the 40 seats in Bihar, the other nine fell into the kitty of RJD (4), JD(U)(2), Congress (2) and Nationalist Congress Party (1). But the coming together of RJD, JD(U), Congress and NCP presents a very formidable challenge to the NDA. Naturally the political temperature in Delhi has gone up. It is said when Bihar or Uttar Pradesh develops cold, Delhi starts sneezing. It is happening now. Both Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have been sure of a win in the state and arresting the wave of defeats of in the recent elections. But now faced with a formidable united opposition the almost certain win has become, maybe. When the Narendra Modi wave was at its peak in April-May 2014, the BJP with its allies Lok Janshakti Party and Rashtriya
Lok Samata Party bagged 39 per cent votes, but the opposition camp, then a divided house, towered above it with 47 per cent.
If the voters make the same choice in Bihar Assembly elections scheduled in September-October 2015, then the writing on the wall is very clear. With Nitish Kumar still enjoying the image of a clean, development oriented and hardworking leader, the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance believes it can get back the support voters who had opted for the NDA in 2014 keeping in mind that it was a national election.
Naming Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate had given back the initiative to the alliance. The BJP has till now indicated no likely chief minister if it wins, the only sign is that it may prefer going into the battle with Modi still as its mascot and decide on the chief minister later.
This is obviously to avoid a possible dissension in the state unit of which Sushil Modi has been president for a long time. But the reports from Bihar now indicate that most in the party do not like him. He has lost all by-elections. It is also said he is very dictatorial and did not listen to the MPs who suggested names for the by-elections held in their states. The dilemma is quite serious in both the camps.
Following the general elections both Nitish and Lalu realised that if they fought the BJP separately they were likely to be so badly mauled that they might from being giants in Bihar politics become footnotes on history pages. So it was a question of survival. And for that better to ally with an enemy rather than die. With the pact they have averted almost an existential crisis. And their alliance is formidable at least on paper and the BJP will have to pull all stops to win.
This alliance is unlikely to break even over seat distribution. It is said that Lalu and Nitish would get 100 seat each and the rest 41 will be distributed between the smaller alliance partners. But despite a united opposition the BJP seems to be hoping for a win. BJP chief Amit Shah recently held talks with Lok Janshakti Party head Ram Vilas Paswan as BJP-led NDA decided to jointly campaign in Bihar assembly polls to take on the Janata Parivar spearheaded by JD(U)-RJD combine.
BJP started discussions over seat-sharing with its allies and during the Shah-Paswan meeting, it was decided that all NDA allies will campaign jointly and a programme would be chalked out soon to hold public rallies in each commissionerate of Bihar. However, declaration of candidates for various seats would be done only after the schedule of polls is declared.
“We have decided to campaign jointly. BJP, LJP and RLSP will campaign together and hold public rallies jointly and a date will be finalised soon on when to campaign in each of the commissionerates in Bihar,” Paswan said after the meeting.
“We held discussions on how to strengthen NDA. We will move jointly and campaign in each commissionerates in Bihar. We will expose the unholy alliance of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav which has cheated the people of Bihar and is trying to push the state into ‘jungle raj’ and will win with a three-fourth majority,” he said.
Asked about the seat-sharing arrangement between the alliance partners, he said, there is no fight for the leader and this will be decided by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
“Narendra Modi is the supreme leader of NDA. There is no fight over seat-sharing. When the elections are declared, we will get together and decide,” he said. Party general secretary Bhupender Yadav, who is incharge of party’s affairs in Bihar, said, “Amit Shah and Ram Vilas Pashwan held discussions over NDA strategy for Bihar polls. We will jointly launch our poll campaign and will reach out to the public on all issues, where Bihar is gripped with poor law and order and will bring the state back to good governance.”
BJP’s national secretary Shrikant Sharma said: “Good governance and development is the main agenda of BJP in Bihar and to save the state from the clutches of jungle raj-2.”
BJP also made it clear that the final call on seat-sharing with allies will be taken by the state unit after mutual consultations and seat assessment. Shah will be visiting Bihar and will hold discussions with party leaders in the state. Paswan said both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav were giving statements against each other, with one talking of bad governance and law and order during one’s time and the other talking of “swallowing poison”. “Why is Nitish Kumar with Lalu? With one responsible for bad law and order and the other ‘poison’, then who will save the people of Bihar? It is only NDA. BJP, LJP and RLSP are of one family and there are no differences between us,” he said.
Asked about former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s move to join NDA-fold, the LJP leader
said: “His coming will certainly benefit the alliance. There is no second thought about it.” “We only know that a Mahadalit was insulted and Dalits were sought to be divided by Nitish Kumar,” he alleged.
To chalk out the NDA poll strategy, Shah has already met Union Minister Upender Kushwaha whose RLSP is an ally with BJP in Bihar. He has also met Mahadalit leader and former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi who has expressed his desire to contest the Bihar assembly polls as “part and parcel” of the BJP-led alliance to “defeat” the Janata Parivar combination.
Sharma said “the people of Bihar have already seen a trailor of this ‘jungle raj’ in the last few months ever since Nitish Kumar has come together with Lalu Prasad.” He said “Lalu claims to have swallowed poison by accepting Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister, the people of Bihar will not take this poison. They will never accept Nitish who is carrying the saddle of corruption by Congress and ‘mis’-governance’ through ‘jungle raj’ during Lalu’s time.”
Between the rhetoric of the two camps, what do figures and facts predict? Some indications are that the BJP will try to avoid naming anyone for the post of chief minister unless it becomes imperative for winning the election. In that case Ravi Shankar Prasad would be the choice. He is quite popular and well-regarded.
Lalu has said he can take poison if that is needed to defeat the BJP. But ,in fact, he has swallowed poison to accept Nitish Kumar as the leader of the alliance. Otherwise, Lalu is hard nut to crack and knows Nitish is a biggest name in Bihar politics today. No RJD leader comes anywhere close to Nitish. Lalu has also ensured that he runs RJD through a close coterie which now includes his children and a few others resulting in a total lack of second rung leadership.
Only an alliance with the JD(U) would ensure his political survival as he himself is barred from contesting following his conviction and sentencing for five years in jail in a fodder scam case. There are more cases against him and his legal troubles are not going to end any time soon. Both Nitish and BJP also know Lalu does not have too many options and his troubles will only mount if there are not-so-friendly governments in New Delhi as well as Patna.
Even then Lalu played a tough game and opposed Nitish as chief ministerial candidate, well aware of the fact that neither JDU nor Congress would accept anyone from the RJD. Although he commands a committed vote bank, there are huge gaps in it now.
Despite the pact between Lalu and Nitish the biggest challenge for them is to bring their respective vote banks, who have fought each other bitterly for more than two decades, on one platform.
Both Yadavs and Kurmis are affluent and have been rivals. The alliance’s electoral success depends on the two castes voting according to the pact between their leaders. There is a big if about this.
As election nears, Lalu seems to be getting progressively megalomaniac. He recently declared himself Lord Ganesha, for whom prikrama is done by everyone. If this reaches its climax at the time of seat-sharing, even God will not be able to save the alliance. As it is, all Yadavs are not with Lalu. In the last election, it is said, 19 per cent Yadav voters did not favour Lalu. Now Pappu Yadav, said to be the voice of poor people in Koshi area and surely is a charismatic personality of politics in Bihar after Lalu Prasad Yadav in his peak years, has been collecting signatures against the alliance and has come out openly. At a very well-attended symposium-cum-meeting sponsored by Hindustan, an HT publication, Pappu was at his satirical best in lambasting Lalu. And Lalu has every reason to fear him. A member of Parliament from Madhepura, which is the popular place of Gope (Yadav) as there is a popular saying, “Rome Pop ka, Madhepura Gope (Yadav) ka”, Pappu Yadav there is virtually ‘king’. He declared at the symposium that both Nitish and Lalu are caste-biased and must be defeated. And if that needs his joining BJP, he might do it.
In any case, all is not lost for BJP. In Ram Vilas Paswan, the NDA already has a tall Dalit leader and Manjhi crashing into, the party will not go unchallenged. Paswan has his own turf to defend and the wily leader from Bihar knows very well that BJP will use any bargaining chip to undermine him lest he creates trouble for the party.
BJP has been trying very hard to send across the message that the JD(U)-RJD partnership is one of deceit and Nitish is bringing back “jungle raj 2” by joining hands with Lalu. While Modi may still be a factor but as Delhi Assembly elections showed, states are won and lost on entirely different issues many of which don’t even exist during Lok Sabha elections..
The BJP will be hoping to win back all the assembly seats in the 31 Lok Sabha constituencies that it won in 2014. That would translate into well over 70 per cent seats of the total 243. But, for the party to retain its constituencies, it will have to retain its Dalit and backward classes vote bank.
But the results of Bihar assembly bypolls for 10 seats which the three parties contested in alliance and won six of them in August after the Lok Sabha verdict last year, must be haunting BJP which will contest the assembly polls for the first time as the lead player after JD(U) snapped ties with it in 2013 over Narendra Modi’s projection as the PM pick.
The BJP has set its “Mission 185+” based on the 31 seats the NDA won in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but it is highly unlikely that the BJP and its allies will repeat the Lok Sabha performance in assembly segments and reach the magic figure out of the 243 assembly seats in Bihar. The BJP is also banking on the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) post Lok Sabha election survey data in Bihar which shows 19 per cent of the Yadav electorate, especially the youths, voted for BJP. RJD had the apprehension of losing a substantial percentage of Yadav votes as Nitishhas been projected as the alliance’s CM candidate since Lalu or any of his family member are not in the race for the top post, the BJP will eye the same to its own benefit. Added to its kitty will be 4 per cent Dusadh votes which its ally Ram Vilas Paswan claims to command. But the Congress-RJD-JD(U) combine will have solid 16 per cent Muslim voters.
BJP in caste balancing act ahead of Bihar polls
Union IT and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is also BJP’s face on television channels, is known for his communication skills and legal expertise. He belongs to the upper caste Kayasth community. There is a saying in the local Hindi dialect that if BJP is sure of any one support, apart from traders, it is the Kayasths. Prasad is said to be in the good books of Modi and the Rashtriaya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the latter for his family background as his father was one of the founders of Jan Sangh in Bihar.
Though Prasad said that he was not in the race for the chief ministerial post unlike Bollywood-actor-turned politician and BJP MP from Patna Shatrughan Sinha, another Kayasth face, leaders in the party say that Sinha was unhappy for not being taken in as part of Modi’s cabinet, and is keen to be the chief minister.
Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Ravi Shankar Singh are ‘Babusahebs’ as their powerful Rajput caste is known here. Both are close to union home minister Rajnath Singh and the RSS. Even the name of another vocal Hinduvta champion known for making controversial statements—Griraj Singh, union minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprise—is also doing the rounds. Singh is a Bhumihar.
Since last year a powerful group of upper caste leaders in BJP have been opposing projection of former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi as the chief ministerial candidate. Modi, who is from a backward caste, is the most influential face and commands respect even among upper castes, say some leaders. But Modi’s disadvantage lies in the fact that two BJP leaders from backward caste are also dead set against him.
Former minister and senior BJP leader, Prem Kumar, has also staked his claim to the chief ministership. He belongs to an extreme backward caste. “BJP should project a leader from an extremely backward caste like him to take on the new combination of JD(U), RJD, Congress and NCP, which were together eyeing support of the weaker sections and the OBCs,” he said.
Another backward caste leader in the fray is Leader of Opposition Nand Kishore Yadav. “His USP is that he belongs to the caste of RJD chief Lalu Prasad and BJP has to project a leader to eat into the traditional support base of Lalu,” BJP insiders say. Yadav opposes
Sushil Modi’s projection as chief ministerial candidate.
In Bihar, all election arithmetics relies on caste. Most parties also lean on backward castes, Dalits and Muslims. Even Congress, till its influence began to wane from 1989, aimed at securing support of such a combination.
With RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, both from powerful agrarian backward castes—Yadav and Kurmi—the stage is set for a major caste battle in the state, though through the ballot box. Though they contested separately, the Congress, JD(U) and RJD had a combined vote share of 45 per cent and the BJP-LJP-RLSP had 36 per cent. The substantial Mahadalit vote swing will prove decisive. And now that BJP is having alliance with former Chief Minister and Mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi to defeat the “unholy” alliance of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, it is a plus for the party.
Making the announcement after a meeting with BJP president Amit Shah, Manjhi said a strong alliance is needed to defeat the ‘Janata Parivar’ in the upcoming assembly elections.
“In Bihar, an unholy alliance between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad has been formed… I spoke to Amit Shah in this context. We have to work together to prevent Lalu and Nitish from coming to power,” Manjhi told reporters after the 30-minute meeting with the BJP chief.
Manjhi said he had held rallies across the state where the “consensus” was to get “rid” of the Lalu-Nitish combine. “Yadavs feel that Lalu has betrayed them by joining hands with Nitish, who put thousands of Yadavs behind bars on petty charges. They no longer think that Lalu is their leader. Under these circumstances I felt that an alternative was needed,” he said.
Asked about seat-sharing agreement with BJP, he said, “It has been decided that we will go to whatever extent possible to help each other. We have not held any seat-sharing discussion. Our core committee will meet on June 15 and take a decision there. Our preparations are in all 243 seats.” If BJP and Manjih stick together, the saffron flag could fly in Bihar. And if that happens both Nitish and Lalu will be consigned to history. But if reverse happens Modi will have to work more than 18 hours.
By Viajy Dutt