My observation of politics in Bihar started as a kid who simply visited a few political rallies before the February 2005 assembly election to catch a glimpse of choppers carrying star campaigners. This chopper factor is still a big crowd puller in rural areas, but COVID-19 has taken this leisure away from people as well. No matter how startled it may sound to first-time voters now, but in that election LJP led by Ram Vilas Paswan, the greatest political “Mausam Vaigyanik” of India, had a vote percentage of 12.6 % as compared to 10.7 % of BJP emerging as the key to government formation.
He had fought that election forming a third front, upset over the preference given to Lalu Yadav as the Railway Minister in the first UPA cabinet. It resulted in a hung assembly which led to re-election in October 2005. That was the beginning of a change in political leadership in Bihar in the form of the rise of the ‘Social Engineer’ Nitish Kumar. The popular sentiments looked at it as the end of 15 years of “Jungle Raj” and the beginning of “Sushasan”. Since then, 15 years have passed and just before the elections; it’s time to introspect where the major political forces stand in Bihar.
There is a strong probability that BJP is going to be the single largest party once again, not just in terms of vote share as last year, but also in terms of seats won. The party is capable enough to win on its own and it would definitely have been a bold move to ditch Nitish Kumar this time. However, the political pundits believe that the party doesn’t want to take any chance especially before Bengal elections where they are in a direct fight against Mamata led TMC. The not so favourable results in recent elections of Jharkhand and Haryana have made them go defensive.
|Vote Percentage (% in round figures)||Election|
|10.7||February 2005 (Assembly)|
|15.7||October 2005 (Assembly)|
The interesting point looking, at the above table, is the dip in vote share from 29.4% in 2014 parliamentary election (fighting without JDU) to 23.6% in 2019 parliamentary election (with JDU).
No matter how assuring Amit Shah’s declaration seems that the election will be fought under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, don’t be surprised if BJP forms a government without JDU after the election considering their track record of poaching MLAs from opposition camps.
They certainly need to get 75-80 seats for that to happen. What about the anti-incumbency factor? Looking at the ground, it is Nitish Kumar who will have to face the anger. BJP as always is banking on brand Modi and their marketing. They have in a way found the solution to this anti-incumbency factor by making LJP fight alone, as it is tough to decode what ‘secret recipe’ is cooking mutually between BJP and LJP.
As the campaigning is mostly social media-oriented, they are playing on their strong turf and will try to make the most of it. The only major disadvantage is the lack of a credible CM face in their camp. Even if we consider the new farm bill, the inability of the opposition to deliver the message to masses almost nullifies any chance of major damage.
If one wants to assess the condition of JDU, we should just analyse the slogans coined by the party for this election as compared to the previous election. From “Bihar mein bahar hai, Nitish Kumar hai” to “Kyun karein Vichar, Theeke toh hain Nitish Kumar”, there is a loss in confidence that is very well reflecting from the tones of the slogans. After coming to power in 2005, Nitish definitely changed the criminal culture of politics, launched social and economic development projects.
He deservingly earned the tags of “Sushasan Babu” and “Vikas Purush” investing heavily in infrastructural developments in the form of roads, bridges, power projects and revival of health centres. The welfare schemes like free mid-day meals, uniform and bicycles, the appointment of teachers at a large scale led to a smooth return in 2010.
However, it’s an open and shut case that Nitish Kumar is a rank opportunist, who can betray anyone for power. Betrayal comes very naturally to him. Frequent somersaults have resulted in a loss of credibility for a leader whose USP was his image as a principled politician. The downfall actually started from the 2014 general election where he suffered a humiliating defeat. Taking a high moral ground, he tried doing a Sonia Gandhi by naming Manjhi as CM, but unlike MMS, Manjhi turned a rebel.
The ouster of Manjhi angered Mahadalits (a product of his social engineering and cast equations) who voted heavily for JDU. Political urgencies forced the arch-rivals Lalu and Nitish to join hands and form a deadly combination to corner BJP. The success of “Mahagathbandan” was seen as a successful experiment and there were a lot of talks about opposition forming a Bihar like a national alliance.
Nitish was again the talk of the town being seen as a potential challenger to Modi. Call it Modi’s growing popularity, BJP’s mammoth win in UP or the heat of Srijan scam, he had to kill his national dreams and instead opted for immediate survival.
The famous volte-face of 2017 that earned him a tag of “Paltu Ram” in opposition camps brought BJP back into power.
Let’s discuss the anti-incumbency factor. The present government’s delayed and less than adequate response during Corona crisis had angered the migrant workers and young students. It will be interesting to see if they retain this anger till the voting day. The current tenure of Nitish Kumar has seen more failures than achievements in the form of Muzaffarpur Shelter Home case, acute encephalitis and the regular floods.
Despite being an ally of BJP, Muslims voted in the name of Nitish for his secular image but his stand on CAA has definitely done the damage. Contractual teachers also have issues in the name of same work same pay. The recent developments that will see LJP fighting only on seats where JDU will be in the fray is an additional headache. All in all, Nitish this time is playing on a tricky wicket for sure.
Lalu Prasad is physically absent for the first time during an assembly election and it makes RJD an underdog to start with. Senior RJD leaders are definitely sulking in his absence and the Late Raghuvansh Pratap’s resignation is the prime example of that. Opposition parties lack the leadership required to counter the central leadership of BJP in the absence of Lalu. Be it Tejpratap Yadav’s failed (political) marriage, regular feuds amongst Lalu’s clans and the undesirable tag of a family party, all of these have made matters worse after a dismal show in 2019 general elections.
However, anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar is the major hope for the party. Tejaswi on a personal front has a clean image and is a young leader. He has still to prove himself after the debacle of parliamentary elections. A positive sign for Grand Alliance is the addition of Left parties in the camp and have been given 29 seats. The left still possesses enough presence on few seats to influence the result and can make up for the caste-based parties that left Grand Alliance.
Kanhaiya Kumar could have been the star campaigner but with certain limitations on political rallies during COVID, he may not have much influence on this election. Another concerning worry for RJD is the arrival of AIMIM that is in alliance with RLSP and BSP. RJD knows it very well that if AIMIM grows in Bihar, it will be at the cost of RJD. Only the time will tell if ouster of Manjhi, Kushwaha and Sahni is going to hurt Grand Alliance (that no longer looks grand after the exit of HAM, RLSP and VIP) or turn into a blessing in disguise.
Coming to Congress, there is nothing much and new to write about them in Bihar. The ouster of small parties have resulted in Congress fighting on 70 seats (last time they won 27 out of 41) and will be an interesting watch considering the number of seats they are contesting. If they are able to retain the seats that they won last time and add few more to their kitty, it will give a much-needed boost to the principal opposition party at the national level.
The party to watch out for as the third front is certainly the LJP at the moment that has added a late zing to this election. Chirag Paswan of LJP had been singing a completely different song questioning Nitish Kumar regularly for his shortcomings in handling COVID-19, flood and migration crisis supporting BJP in the same breath and it has resulted in a really tensed situation in NDA camps.
After the demise of Ram Vilas Paswan, will sympathy turn into more votes and are we going to witness Chirag Paswan as the Deputy CM of BJP led government? It remains to be seen. Pappu Yadav had emerged as a messiah during last years’ flood and it remains to be seen how much of his effort turns into votes. AIMIM along with Kushwaha’s RLSP and BSP is also trying to be a key player in this election.
People of Bihar are certainly looking for a change in leadership and it may harm JDU more than the BJP. Alliance of RJD, Congress and Left appears better on paper as compared to the alliance that fought the general election last year. LJP and the newly formed alliance of RLSP and AIMIM may spoil chances of NDA as well as UPA. It will be interesting to see who is damaged more.
The big question is, will voters shift towards Grand Alliance looking for a change or will we witness a situation like Feb 2005 throwing up new permutations and combinations? Will the politics of Bihar see a significant change again after a gap of 15 years?