India: Bihar poll: CM Nitish Kumar’s alliance moves ahead!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
With socialist background, Bihar in India generally opts for secular parties to govern the state. Bihar legislature assembly has 243 seats and assembly elections will be held in five-phases in October-November 2015 as the tenure of the current Legislative Assembly of Bihar expires on November 29, 2015. It is going to be a three cornered poll.
The JD(U) and RJD have announced to fight the election jointly under Nitish Kumar’s leadership under the Janata Parivar group (a group of six parties- Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (Secular), Indian National Lok Dal and Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya)), which is joined by the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. On the other hand, Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA front is fighting election alongside the Lok Janshakti Party , the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party and Hindustani Awam Morcha. All Left parties come together under one banner of Left Front to provide an alternative platform other than BJP-led NDA and Janata Parivar. Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) have some presence in the state.
The Aam Aadmi Party which rules s Delhi state and JVM-P have announced that they will not contest in Bihar Elections, but will campaign against the NDA. Sharad Yadav of JDU has welcomed Aam Aadmi Party’s step to campaign against NDA.
Bihar derivates from the Buddha “vihar” where lord Gautama Buddha, according to Indian ancient history, was born. Buddha propagated happiness through freedom. Unfortunately, a communal party likes BJP that does not seek peace anywhere in India and thrives on communal discord, wants to rule Bihar.
Both the alliances- BJP led NDA alliance and Nitish Kumar-led alliance are trying social engineering. On 7 June 2015, Lalu Prasad Yadav announced RJD alliance with JD(U) for the elections. On 11 June 2015, Jitan Ram Manjhi announced his party Hindustani Awam Morcha alliance with BJP for the elections. In April 2015, Bihar chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced decision to include few more castes including Teli caste in list of Extremely Backward Class in Bihar In July 2015, Nitish Kumar announced 50 percent quota for OBC, EBC and SC/STs in all government contracts up to Rs 15 lakh. In May 2015, Nitish Kumar Government increased Dearness Allowance (DA) by six to 11 per cent for state government employees and pensioners. In September 2015, Nitish Kumar government gave its nod to two major moves — creation of a dedicated fund for fencing of temples in Bihar and inclusion of two of Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs)- Nishad (Mallah) and Nonia, in the SC/ST category. The state government also decided to provide grants-in-aid to 609 more madrassas across Bihar from the list of 2,459 registered by Bihar State Madrassa Education Board
It is certainly a falsified conclusion that many right wing analysts on Bihar elections have synthesized to state that Bihar is poised for an NDA win. In fact, for all practical purposes, the Indian ruling party BJP has indirectly accepted its defeat in the ensuing assembly poll in Bihar notwithstanding PM Modi’s usual developmental assurances.
None in Congress party thinks it has even remote chance of returning to power on its own in the foreseeable future. It is quite likely that the era of Indian National Congress is finally over. Anna Hazare and Modi dismantled it while the latter capitalized the end game. Only Congress skeletons are now on display. Its game with the fate of Muslims by using the RSS-BJP against them did not help it in any way. Now not only Muslims but also Christians, Sikhs and even Hindus do not trust the soft Hindutva Congress party with hidden Hindutva agenda.
This situation has clearly left advantage for the incumbent JDU government of veteran Nitish Kumar, whose popularity has never suffered any set back, stronger even before the poll day. Clearly governance and development outcomes have an increasingly important role in shaping voter decisions even in a society as stratified as Bihar. The coming weeks will only consolidate this likely outcome.
As late as March 2014, survey after survey showed that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar enjoyed considerable popularity in the state. Many still considered him as the best CM the state had had in a long time. It was around the same time that the chorus of “Modi as PM and Nitish as CM” had begun to be heard all too frequently across the state. The chorus reached the CM’s ears also, forcing a change in his campaign strategy. This also means Nitish could be the next PM if politics changes to that much.
BJP targets the Dalit caste votes. As per, 2011 Census of India, Scheduled Castes (SC) constitute 16% of Bihar’s 104 million population. The census identified 21 of 23 Dalit sub-castes as Mahadalits OBC/EBC 51% and most of them are with RJD and JDU. In August 2015, Cobra post exposed many BJP leaders especially like JP president Murli Manohar Joshi MP and C. P. Thakur alongside former PM Chandra Shekhar associated with Ranvir Sena(upper-caste landlord militia) in Bihar Dalit massacres.
The fortune of the Janata Parivar under Nitish, however, will depend a great deal on how Mahadalits and extreme backward classes vote in the coming assembly elections. These are the two groups which had got special attention from him as part of his social engineering plan. They are also the ones who switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party in large number in the Lok Sabha elections. Will a seemingly more confident Nitish manage to win them back?
It was perhaps for the first time that following parliamentary electoral debacle Nitish Kumar seemed to have lost confidence in what he had stood for. Even after ousting Manjhi and retaking his position as CM, Nitish has continued to look less certain about his policies. Many of his dream projects are languishing for want of funds and attention. The law-and-order situation, which he had vowed to clean up and partially succeeded in doing, has deteriorated. Given this background, his recent assertion that his party was ready to face the electorate all alone can only be seen as a belated attempt to regain lost ground. Nudged by the Congress, Lalu eventually had to fall in line and grudgingly declare Nitish as the chief ministerial candidate of the Janata Parivar. The Janata Parivar offered Nitish a partial victory in the by-elections that followed the Lok Sabha elections, was seen as an endorsement of this new strategy.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) negotiators outdid themselves in the matter of seat-allocation to NDA allies in Bihar, especially to Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM. A political anecdote, dating back to 1995, will explain why the BJP should be seen as having pulled off a political coup of sorts by getting Manjhi to agree to 20 seats.
With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that Mulayam’s political prognosis proved accurate. Mayawati not only emerged as a powerful Dalit icon but also graduated into a powerful regional leader. Not only did Mayawati chew and spit the BJP first and then the Congress, she effectively pushed both the national parties to the political margins in the country’s largest state (where the BJP stayed till 2014 and Congress continues to stay). She used the Congress and BJP as crutches and cannibalized their political space. This was the precise political pitfall that the BJP was trying to avoid in Bihar. By propping Manjhi or conceding more ground to him than was absolutely necessary, it was determined not repeat the mistakes of Uttar Pradesh in Bihar.
Thanks to Nitish Kumar’s relentless courting of the Mahadalits in his first term and his sudden propping up of dalit Manjhi as Chief Minister in 2014, Manjhi has already assumed a stature that was not his till recently. Manjhi’s rebellion against Nitish and his subsequent dalliance with the BJP came as a critical accretion of votes for the BJP. Unlike Mayawati, Manjhi did not have organisational backing or mentoring of an outstanding leader like Kanshi Ram. Yet he wore the persecuted Mahadalit hat very well. In a way, he even outgrew Ram Vilas Paswan, who claims to be the only true reprehensive of all dalits and who till now claimed to be the sole Dalit face in the mainstream politics of the state. Any more propping up with a disproportionately large number for seats would have made Manjhi a bigger hero among Dalits.
In Bihar, the Hindutva forces used to have a limited social footprint confined to the upper castes. Lately the BJP has made inroads into OBCs and extremely backward castes (EBCs) by aligning with pro-Mandal forces. The party’s acceptability in the scheduled caste was negligible.
The delay in seat agreements was because of this difficult balancing act and the BJP may have been let off lightly by Manjhi when he accepted only 20 seats but with an additional five of his men getting BJP tickets. Manjhi has been effectively circumscribed to the role of a small factional leader whose amenability would always be easy.
Meanwhile, Bihar Congress President Ashok Choudhary received a communication that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, like RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, is occupied with seat allotment and selection of candidates and hence would not be able to it make to Rahul Gandhi’s Ramnagar program. Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar have expressed inability to come. Nitish Kumar will not be present at the rally of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi in West Champaran district Ramnagar on Sept 19 as he would be busy with ticket distribution. RJD President Lalu Prasad has already announced that he would not be able to go to Ramnagar and instead he would send his son Tejaswi Yadav.
Ramnagar, 40 km from district headquarter Bettiah, is dominated by Schedule castes and Tharu tribes. It borders Nepal and is about 15-20 km from Bhitarwah from where Mahatma Gandhi had launched his satyagraha in 1917. Ramnagar (reserved seat) is presently represented by Bhagirathi Devi of BJP. JD (U) General Secretary KC Tyagi said as Kumar would be involved in ticket distribution, he has to stay in the state capital and will not be able to make it to Rahul Gandhi’s program at Ramnagar on the occasion of birth anniversary of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar.
Of course, there are not hints so far to say that people of Bihar do not trust CM Nitish Kumar or his alliance and as such it appears the JDU government would be back to rule Bihar. However, how many seats his party would get in the state remains to be seen.