If an NDTV opinion poll is to be believed, the upcoming Bihar election seems a close-affair, one that could swing either way. That said, the conclusion really is one of Nitish Kumar’s waning invincibility at the hustings– nothing more and nothing less. However, the figures emanating from the recent survey are important for a number of reasons: they indicate a resurgence of the Congress; a deliberate non-alignment strategy by the party to weaken Lalu Prasad’s RJD and marginalize BJP in state politics; and a clear congruence of national and state-level electoral trends. To my mind, these are seminal changes in the political landscape, the effects of which will echo in elections to come.
If 2005 Assembly and 2009 Lok Sabha elections were a display of a resurgent NDA in Bihar, that trend has lost momentum in the last year. While small error margins in surveys get magnified in forecasts, what is apparent from these figures is that the NDA is neither consolidating its victories nor making fresh in-roads into opposition vote. Quite contrary to that, the RJD seems to be regaining composure in Bihar politics, limited as that may be. What is important in all of this is that the BJP, as a junior partner of the coalition, has greater elasticity in its electoral performance. The main reason for that is Nitish Kumar’s pro-development image that has become the vote-catcher for the alliance. Inherent in that are two problems for the BJP: first, that it has no leader to match Nitish’s stature and second, since there is a leadership vacuum in the BJP, the party is dependent on an alliance with the JDU to reap the electoral dividends of progressive governance. This has put the BJP in a vulnerable and markedly inferior position from the last election in which it emerged as the second largest party in the state with a voteshare rivaling the JDUs. This is reflected clearly in the NDTV projections factoring a possible JDU-Congress alliance (see below).
While overall projections indicate no change in the Congress’ seats, the party has increased its voteshare by 6.43% from the last election. The impact of this is terrific for it has the potential to produce seismic changes in state politics (from the table above it is apparent that any alliance with the Congress generates a formidable electoral combine).
From this it appears that the Congress would have a constitutive position in any coalition deal. Surprisingly then, why has the party adopted a policy of non-alignment? This is where the mystery begins to unravel.
While the Congress position has developed as a corollary of long-term political objectives (i.e. to rebuild the party), there is an ancillary component to this strategy as well– that of weakening the RJD and marginalizing the BJP.
Without the Congress the RJD is forced to play second fiddle. This is because a neutral Congress chips Lalu’s vote and compels a straight contest between the RJD-LJP and JDU-BJP– something that works to the advantage of Lalu’s bÃªte noir Nitish Kumar. In doing so, the Congress has virtually contained the political growth of the RJD in the state (and in the process, his influence in Delhi). Both developments aid the resurgence of the Congress at the state and national level.
The marginalization of BJP is another consequence of the non-alignment strategy. Essentially a JDU-BJP alliance is inherently self-limiting for the BJP, which over time would be reduced to freeloading on Nitish Kumar’s leadership and JDUs political preeminence. By not aligning with either the JDU or RJD, the Congress has made this strategically disastrous option an electorally viable one for the BJP. Lured by short-term gains, the BJP has itself initiated a degeneration process, one that will ultimately result in it being reduced to a position of perpetual childlike dependency on the JDU.
The fourth dynamic to this situation is the rise of the Congress. If Rahul Gandhi’s “plan” goes as-per-plan, then Bihar would have a bipolar polity in the near future. The isolation of the RJD along with the self-accentuated decline of the BJP would leave two dominant political forces in the state– the Congress and JDU.
The national ramifications of such a trend would be transformative. At some point, the BJP would realize the electoral costs of allying with the JDU and this could precipitate NDAs disintegration. More interestingly, a weakened RJD would stall the growth of a “third front” comprising former Socialist parties (because any such formation would hinge on a strong showing by the SP and RJD).
What NDTV put out were numbers, the veracity of which are suspect in the post-2004 world, but which if true, are indicative of an emergent trend in Indian politics.
The writer is an undergraduate student at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi and an old-boy of The Doon School (ex 46Â H ‘08).Â An avid follower of politics and international affairs, a keen debater and a regular contributor to student journals, currently, he is alsoÂ the student editor of the Wall Street Journal India Debate. He blogs regularly at Everything Politics.