Battleground Bihar 2019

article

Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal has a captive vote bank of 30 per cent, but with jail sentences staring at him, and a son too young to tackle the machinations of the Modi-Shah duo, it will be a cliffhanger

Nalin Verma

Nalin Verma

The author is a senior journalist and Assistant Professor, Lovely Professional University, Phagwara (Punjab). who has worked with The Telegraph, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times and still writes for several journals and periodicals

After young Tejashwi Yadav, the deposed deputy to Nitish Kumar and new leader of opposition in the Bihar Assembly was over with his 45 minute speech, all fire and brimstone in the House on July 28, a former Socialist activist and senior Hindi journalist, Surendra Kishore said: “Now, Lalu Prasad will sleep in peace even if he goes to jail. His son (Tejashwi Yadav) through his disposition and manner of speaking has proved that he has become mature enough to lead the embattled RJD in the legislature and on the streets too.”

Not only Surendra Kishore, even some BJP legislators in the course of informal discussions admitted that Lalu’s son “spoke marvellously in the House”. “We did not expect that he would speak so well. He surely has the potential to emerge a big leader,” confided a senior BJP legislator while requesting anonymity.

In fact, Tejashwi against whom the CBI lodged an FIR in connection with earning wealth in an illegal manner and which became the immediate reason for Nitish to dump the RJD and get back to the BJP, had put some pointed questions before Nitish. The questions were as follows:

• The JDU entered into alliance with the RJD when my father (Lalu Prasad) was convicted in a fodder scam case. Did Nitish ji not know that RJD was a party of corrupt people then?

• If lodging of FIR is the only criteria, he (Nitish) himself is faced with an attempt to murder case that is pending in the court of law. Sushil Kumar Modi (deputy CM now) too has many FIRs against him. How are these people continuing in office while I, at the age of 28, have been made an scapegoat?

•Why did Nitish ji make four governments in the last four years? He dismissed 13 BJP ministers instantly to dump the BJP in 2013. The party, despite having 91 MLAs were made to sit in the Opposition. Now, we with 80 MLAs have been made to sit in the Opposition. Why did Nitish play such tricks with the people of the state? Does he do it to polish his image? Can a leader be allowed to use the mandate of the people to polish his individual image in so brazen a manner?

Though an articulate speaker himself, Nitish has so far not been able to furnish any categorical reply to Tejashwi’s pointed barbs. Political observers believe that Nitish will never be in a position to reply to these questions which would keep on gnawing him.

Bravado Enough?

But then there arises a larger question on the future of Lalu Prasad and his RJD: Is Tejashwi’s body language and also the supreme confidence that he displayed at the trust vote on July 28 in the Bihar House adequate to save the RJD’s boat shuddering in Bihar’s turbulent waters?

Despite the pluck the younger Yadav scion showed in the House, the RJD has a long way to go to regain power in Bihar. Of course, Lalu, despite his conviction in the fodder scam and the ongoing trials in several other cases of corruption, remains the largest mass leader in Bihar. If anything, Nitish’s turnaround has further consolidated Lalu’s core vote base, that is M-Y (Muslims and Yadavs), which constitutes about 30 percent of the state’s electorate. The Muslims who constitute about 16 per cent of the state’s voters and who have no reason to vote for the BJP have no option but running with Lalu.

And given the very strong caste loyalty in Bihar, the Yadavs too are not likely to desert Lalu, particularly at the time when Lalu—a Yadav icon, by all accounts—stands cornered. Moreover, the militant Yadavs perceive a youth icon in Tejashwi. It would not be easy for the BJP to impregnate into Lalu’s base, despite the saffron party promoting Nityanand Rai, Nand Kishore Yadav or other Yadav leaders.

But then, Lalu’s RJD has few other castes to back it. Lalu, despite having 30 per cent of assured votes, would not be able to defeat the BJP led combination that has made inroads in almost all the non-M-Y castes—upper castes, extremely backward castes, dalits and maha-dalits etc.

Beyond M-Y

The biggest challenge for Lalu and Tejashwi will be to expand the RJD’s support base beyond the M-Y. It will be a difficult task, given Lalu’s preoccupation with countless court cases going against him. He might have to spend a protracted period in jail. And it is a big gamble to predict, at this stage, that Tejashwi —still young, and has to learn the nuances of manoeuvering the intricate caste equations in Bihar will be able to increase his acceptability among the

other castes.

Had Lalu been unburdened, one could have expected the maverick leader to use his uncanny skill to connect with the poor masses to turn the table on his political opponents. But it will be too hard a task for Tejashwi, who still has to go a long way in establishing himself as a potent backward class leader.

Though Nitish has retained his position as the CM, the biggest gainer in the current episode is the BJP under Narendra Modi-Amit Shah’s stewardship. Like in many other states, the BJP has clawed back to power in Bihar, despite losing heavily to the Mahagathbandhan of the JDU-RJD-Congress.

The BJP had been reduced to 55 seats in 2015 Assembly elections in Bihar. Nitish Kumar in company with Lalu’s RJD and Congress had effectively avenged the defeat that he had suffered at the hands of Narendra Modi in the 2014 general elections in Bihar.

But through the “operation” of bringing Nitish back to the BJP fold, the Prime Minister – inarguably the most brilliant election schemer in Independent India has roundly defeated Nitish in the battle that Nitish had initiated against Modi in 2013 by dumping the BJP. By doing that, Nitish had tried to emerge the most credible opposition face against Modi. But Nitish has thrown in the towel midway by going back to the BJP.

Solid Loser

In a way, if the BJP is the biggest gainer in Bihar battle, Nitish Kumar is the biggest loser. It will be well nigh impossible for him re-establish himself as a credible leader. Moreover, Nitish’s JDU is devoid of its own base. Nitish has cut a very sorry figure whenever he has contested alone in Bihar. He must have known by now that he does not have much of a political existence on his own and he has to be either with the BJP or the RJD to be in power.But in the given scenario now, there doesn’t appear to be any possibility of Nitish deserting the BJP again. His options are limited now. He will not be acceptable to the anti-Modi camp, for he has created a clear trust deficit. He has to be with the BJP at least till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP is now in an unenviable position to use Nitish to its advantage in 2019.

Nitish has himself accepted Modi’s leadership by saying, “There is no challenge to Narendra Modi in 2019 elections.” One issue that has generated much hope among the neutral people is Bihar will prosper at a faster pace with the same political combination ruling the state as well as the Centre. Nitish Kumar, while tabling the trust motion in the Assembly on August 28 had said: “After a gap of 27 years, Bihar has got the government of the same formation that is there at New Delhi. Such a scenario will lead to faster development and better prosperity of Bihar.”

Duality and Dichotomy

But there is an obvious dichotomy in the process. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing an election rally in Arra during 2014 Assembly elections, had announced a special package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for the state. There is no substantial evidence to suggest that the central government has released even a miniscule part of that package in nearly three years after Modi came to power.

Moreover, Nitish at that time had described Modi’s announcement as “statistical jugglery” and had offered the Mahagathbandhan’s proposal of Saat Nishchaya (Seven Resolves) that included continued electricity in all homes, clean drinking water for all, toilet in every home, youth employment and skill development, better access to higher education and empowering women through reservation in jobs. It involved expenditure of Rs 2.75 lakh crore which Nitish led Mahagathbandhan government was finding hard to implement due to fund crunch. Though Nitish has switched over to the BJP, it is not clear how he and BJP have sorted out the road-map for Bihar’s development in the context of Nitish describing the PM’s package as “statistical jugglery” and the BJP finding no merit in Nitish’s Saat Nishchaya.

It is too early to say that new JDU-BJP combination in Bihar will usher in an era of development. A close watch on how Nitish and BJB move ahead on the social, economic and infrastructure development will tell the story in the days to follow. Of course, the previous JDU-BJP combination (2005—2010) had done some wonderful work in Bihar.

New Crop

Led by the same Nitish Kumar, the JDU-BJP had brought about a new work culture after 15 years of Lalu-Rabri’s ‘misrule’. The Nitish led first NDA government built roads, school buildings, initiated several welfare schemes for the extremely backward classes, other deprived sections and minorities. It was an era when the BJP’s high command was still under the stewardship of AB Vajpayee and LK Advani, with whom Nitish had the experience of working for a long time. He was railway minister and surface transport minister during the Vajpayee government. Both the central BJP leaders and Nitish understood each other quite well at that stage of history.

It is altogether a different BJP under the Modi-Shah combine that Nitish has befriended. So far, Nitish was hostile to this combination. It is to be watched closely how Nitish synchronises his work ethics with the new crop of the BJP masters.

More than fulfilling the Prime Minister’s electoral promises to the people, the new national narrative is veering around lynching of people in the name of cow protection, whipping of Hindutva sentiment in a more belligerent manner, growing insecurities among the minorities and allegation of intolerance against Narendra Modi led regime.

It is to be seen if Nitish Kumar led new JDU-BJP combination regains its 2005-2010 way to put Bihar on the fast track of development or becomes the part of the negative narrative that has overtaken the discourse with Narendra Modi’s third year in office.

Marred Image

Soon after, the new JDU-BJP government came to power, the Gaurakshaks or Bajrang Dal activists caught hold of a couple of youths purportedly transporting beef in Rohtas district of central Bihar. Such elements have gained in confidence with the JDU-BJP coming to power and the general people fear that such incidents might grow imperiling the communal amity in the state.

Political scenario too will not be as smooth as it was during 2005-2010. The people had voted out Lalu-Rabri regime through the legitimate process of vote and had mandated the JDU-BJP to rule. The Congress was nowhere in the picture then. Now, the Congress has 27 MLAs and the RJD is the largest party with 80 MLAs.

The RJD and Congress have all the resources to play the “victim” card on the plea to the people that they had voted them to govern but Nitish has usurped their mandate through machination and conspiracy.

And voted to power overwhelmingly in 2015, the RJD and Congress would not sound as weak as they were in 2005.

More than keeping a watch on the new government’s performance, it will be important to watch how the people take up Nitish in his new avatar vis a vis his opponents: RJD and Congress which

are not on as wrong a foot as they were

in 2005.

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