BIHAR RESULTS; BJP effects shift in Bihar politics; forward castes come upfront to call most shots in power


KS Shankar

KS Shankar /IHN-NN

NEW DELHI: By what looks like a clever strategy, the BJP has managed to effect a tectonic shift in Bihar’s BC-dominated politics since the early 1990s, or in the aftermath of the Mandal mania in north-Indian politics. From now on, after a long period of virtual isolation, forward communities would call the shots via the BJP in Bihar.

This is irrespective of whether or not Nitish Kumar remains as chief minister of the state.

While the Janata Dal (United) is seen as the biggest loser in the Bihar assembly elections and chief minister Nitish Kumar’s own image took a hit, the BJP is smiling ear to ear. The party that also won most seats in a string of byelections across 11 states in one go has reinforced its dominance in Indian politics. 

Politically and electorally, Bihar is crucial and a kind of a bellwether state for the politics in the Hindi heartland. The BJP has gained massively in this election. In 2015, it won 53 of the 157 seats it contested; in 2020, it got 74 of the 121 seats it contested. The BJP can claim that it has catapulted the NDA to victory because its allies, especially Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) lost in more seats and won less of the seats it contested this time. Of the

115 seats that it contested, it could win only 43. Big question now is, the BJP having emerged as the single largest party, winning one seat more than the regional RJD, will it want any more to play flute to Nitish Kumar as the lead figure of the ruling alliance, or will it seek the CM post; if not now, then later?

Despite a groundswell of anger against Nitish Kumar and his continuation in left in a cloud, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nod to Nitish Kumar for a fresh term has raises eyebrows. As of now, word is that the NDA will formally elect its leader on Sunday. It could be Nitish Kumar, but the suspense is bound to continue until the final announcement is made.

Modi backed Nitish Kumar as the next CM while addressing BJP activists at the BJP headquarters to celebrate election victory. This ended

speculations that the party would push for its own candidate for the state’s top job. Modi had said: “Under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, the NDA and its workers will leave no stone unturned to fulfill the promises made to the people of Bihar.” Did Modi mince words to confuse his audience, was a question that many asked thereafter.

The NDA has won 125 seats in the 243-member assembly while the Opposition Grand Alliance 110 seats in a fiercely fought election. The commanding performance in the election will embolden the BJP to pursue its agenda in terms of policies, appointments, and government formation. It will open up space for the party to put its own leaders in top positions, and manipulate the situation to expand its ground beyond boundaries of castes and classes. If Nitish returns as CM, he will be forced to implement the BJP agenda first and foremost.

This also for the first time the JD(U) has been reduced to the third position in the state since two key events in Bihar’s politics: The bifurcation of Bihar in 2000 and the unification of Nitish Kumar’s Samata Party and Sharad Yadav’s JD(U) in 2003. Even in absolute terms, it is the JD(U)’s worst performance since the two events mentioned above. This gives the impression that Nitish might be a setting sun in the political horizon. The BJP is doing away with one alliance partner after another, and enlarging its influence. Modi always favoured a one-party rule, and spoke out against corrupt alliance politics, a la the UPA terms.

Now, there’s no denying that Nitish Kumar was suffering a great deal of anti-incumbency in the state and it is natural that the JD(U)’s seat tally goes down. However, the fall hasn’t entirely been due to the natural attrition in numbers that may take place due to anti-incumbency or even due to the spirited fight given by RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav.

Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) believe that there was an element of conspiracy behind the NDA ally, the LDP of Chirag Paswan, fielding candidates against it in all the constituencies it put up nominees. The BJP quietly watched the scene and did not reprimand the LJP in strong terms.

For the first time, Nitish was found as old hat and people looked for a change. Hubris had made him disconnected, aloof and arrogant, blind to warning signs of the need to shift from a singular focus on caste arithmetic to issues of competence and governance in cabinet formation and government performance. Sensing his star was on the descendant with calls of ‘Nitish hatao’, the promise of making this his last election helped Nitish connect emotionally with voters who may have flirted with the idea of deserting him: ‘Nitish sarkar, akhri baar’. This shows up in the reversal of strike rate from 66.2 per cent for the Mahagatbandhan in the first phase to 64.5 per cent for the NDA in the third phase of voting. Nitish also expanded the women support to his party, partly with the prohibition policy, partly from the joint Bihar-GOI Direct Benefit Transfer scheme that deposited money into Jan Dhan accounts of women.

Modi’s metaphor of a double-engine development worked, wherein he stressed that a scenario of the same formation is in power in Patna and New Delhi would work to Bihar’s benefit.

The NDA and Mahagatbandhan vote shares are near-identical: 37.26 and 37.23 per cent respectively. Remarkably, their 125-110 seats are exactly the same as in 2015.

The election saw the debut of two dynastic princelings. The Sun set on one but the other’s star lit up the sky in the firmament of Bihar politics. Both contain dangers for the BJP’s political ambition to colour the entire country saffron for years to come.

Chirag Paswan’s LJP contested 137 seats, 110 of them against the JD(U), but won only one, by a slim margin. He fully earned the ‘vote cutter‘ moniker, helping to slash the JD(U) seats. Short-term tactical cunning betrays long-term strategic stupidity. BJP became the senior partner with the Machiavellian promotion of Chirag to reduce Nitish’s clout.

There are many issues that the Bihar assembly results have thrown up. But three major political currents sum up this election. First, upper castes finally managed to take back control over state power after over three decades of power-wielding by the  OBCs; meaning 15 years by the Lalu family and 15 years by Nitish Kumar. Secondly, Nitish Kumar has been reduced to the role of a puppet in Bihar politics even if he is made the chief minister of the state for the fourth time in a row. And finally, Lalu Yadav’s legacy of social justice is not yet over as Tejashwi Yadav emerged as the tallest opposition leader to fill his father’s vacuum on the ground.

The Narendra Modi-led BJP had cut out two game plans to wrest Bihar from the backward castes’ control to deliver it to the upper castes. Plan A was to somehow stop the Tejashwi Yadav-led Mahagatbandhan coming to power; as it primarily represented OBC political aspirations through the social justice plank. The BJP strategists put up two proxies to facilitate their job. The Owaisi-led All India Muslim Ittehad ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) was pitched into the minority-dominated Seemanchal region of Bihar. The AIMIM’s task was to dent the Muslim vote bank that has been a solid base of the RJD since 1989 and made a winning Yadav-Muslim (M-Y) combine for Lalu’s social justice politics. Alongside, the non-Yadav backwards (BCs) were pushed to a secondary partnership in power with the primary goal of making the upper castes the key players in the post-Lalu Yadav Bihar.

The second BJP proxy in this round of Bihar assembly election was the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) and its new chief Chirag  Paswan, whose assignment was to cut Nitish Kumar to the status of being the secondary partner so that non-Yadav backward classes too lose their bargaining strength in the new power dispensation. Both AIMIM and the LJP seem to have delivered on their assigned tasks well. The AIMIM has won only five seats. But it has damaged the Mahagatbandhan’s prospects in at least 10 seats in the Seemanchal region where it polled second. Every vote polled by the AIMM basically divided the anti-BJP vote, helping the BJP win those seats where the Mahagatbandhan could have easily won without the AIMIM’s presence.

But if there was anger against Nitish Kumar, it should have been a landslide win for 31-year-old Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav who was hoping to become India’s youngest chief minister. What went wrong? Yadav perhaps started his campaign too late and perhaps he became over-confident and lost the momentum midway. –IHN-NN


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