Bihar Poll 2015: Nitish-Lalu alliance has advantages: Ramifications of defeat for BJP
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Today the prime political attention in India is focused on Bihar which is in the process of electing a new government to properly govern the state. Voting has been held for over half of Bihar’s 243 seats in three phases. Any positive change would occur in Bihar only if the Grand Alliance led by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar wins the general poll for the Bihar Assembly, now being held on three dates. The last phase will be held within the next week and votes will be counted on November 8. With the third phase of the Bihar polls now behind us, it is anybody’s guess what surprise the ballot-box will spring on us come Sunday when poll results would be out.
The BJP party which rules India is locked in a very close battle in Bihar state elections with what is called the “Grand Alliance” made up of the parties of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and the Congress. BJP is certainly finding the go tough.
Media reports clearly declare Nitish Kumar as CM in control of Bihar. His party is heading for a win in a wave election where the undecided voters may have finally decided to opt for him as the devil they know – despite knowing that he has Lalu Prasad as part of his baggage. If this happens, it will be partly because the BJP has repeated the mistake it made in Delhi – of underestimating the power of having a credible chief ministerial candidate. The BJP knows that Nitish Kumar has no real anti-incumbency working against him.
Bihar situation today is different from 2014 when the state faced Lok Sabha polls, and Modi, taking advantage of Anna Hazare-Kejriwal anti-corruption movement attracted major portions of non-Muslim, non-Yadav, non-Kurmi OBC votes from all aspiring classes, cutting across castes. BJP candidates were hoping that Modi’s ability to market his vision and Amit Shah’s managerial skills would carry the day again.
That doesn’t seem to be happening. Now the BJP and PM Modi have come to realize that their parliamentary victory owes a lot to the anti-corruption movement of Arvind Kejriwal-Anna Hazare. Modi’s development promises did not cut any ice with populations that have seen how politicians make empty promises. People of India now know BJP has leaders to talk big and achieve nothing for the nation. PM Modi and Amit Shah have not r not kept their poll promise that they would bring back to India black money kept abroad by Indian rich and corporate lords.
The BJP, which had won a series of state elections after it came to power at the Centre last year, was crushed by the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi this year, was stopped in Jammu Kashmir from forming government of its own brand in the last assembly election by National Conference, PDP and Congress. It would need a win in Bihar also to set the tone for important state elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu next year and then the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2017
Needless to state that the Bihar election outcomes, if the Nitish-Lalu wins with a majority as speculated by the media, can help India make sea changes in the political discourse of national politics to be characterized by emergence of a strong third front to take on both Congress and BJP . The Delhi ruling party AAP would be a part of that new political change.
Although anti-incumbency is often a buzzword in state elections across India, Bihar state being ruled by Nitish Kumar has proven to be different as it returned to power last time and the situation does not seem warranting a change even in the present scenario when Bihar is electing a new government.
Everywhere in Bihar where caste continues to be an individual’s primary identity, one realizes that Nitish continues to enjoy positive ratings. There are no allegations of corruption or ineptitude against him – a singular virtue in a state riddled with graft. Even upper caste voters, aligned on the other side, admit that he is a good administrator and not a corrupt leader.
While BJP is flaunting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s OBC credentials, the mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) of Nitish, Lalu and Congress has Yadavs, Muslims and Kurmis (Nitish’s OBC caste) on its side; estimated to be 34% of voters. The BJP-led NDA has upper caste votes in its bag. That’s about 15%. Influential rebels, dabang independent candidates, the Left, Mayawati’s BSP, even outfits of Pappu Yadav and Asaduddin Owaisi will play vote-katuas (spoilers). A substantial percentage of floating votes, especially among EBCs, the most backward of OBCs, remains up for grabs. BJP is trying to trap that section.
In various villages and kasbahs, one gathers that Nitish is the most-preferred choice for most, especially among those castes which are not directly aligned to either major formation. Approximately 30% of total voters, EBCs that one spoke with – Dhanuk, Kanu, Gaderiya, Mallah and others – seem to have a comfort level with Nitish. They see him as an erudite, improved version of themselves.
Nitish’s developmental plank seems to be working because Modi’s regime at the Centre has little to showcase for the hinterland and rural voter. Modi’s foreign visits promise to fetch millions of dollars as investment. His Make in India is an impressive economic idea. But none of these, or the PM’s announcement of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for Bihar seems to be tempting the floating voters.
Since Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is not facing any anti-incumbency issue, his return to power is almost assured. However, this Bihar electoral test is billed by the media as Narendra Modi’s biggest challenge, but it is also a life-and-political-death issue for both Nitish Kumar and his ally and former CM Lalu Prasad. If Nitish wins again, which is logical, he will soar on the national political landscape, and will be billed as a “secular” alternative to Modi’s Hindutva and even the Congress which promoted both RSS and BJP to “fix’ the Muslims.
However, winning Bihar is crucial for the BJP, which needs to boost its national image, which has been falling after the initial boost, and numbers in the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament, the members of which are elected by legislators in states. Though the Narendra Modi government has thumping majority in Lok Sabha (Lower House of parliament) it is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha (Upper house) and has found it tough to push through their agenda and key reforms.
On November 02 the BJP has lost the local polls in Varanasi district where PM Modi won the parliamentary seat. This is certainly not a good sign for the party and PM Modi.
Culture of intolerance
Hindutva parties in India embody overt intolerance towards other religions and cultures. . Since Independence politicians have systematically promoted Hindu-Muslim discord, communal passions. The Modi government has been, seemingly deliberately, fueling communal flames in the country by spreading conflictual themes, people are targeted, beaten up, lunched. PM Mod does not think it necessary to condemn the crimes by Hindutva elements. By his discreet silence, Modi overtly supports all Hindutva crimes, their intolerance to democracy and secularism.
Ghar vapsi, beef eating as crime, anti-reservations meant for social justice, etc exposed BJP as a really anti-humanity party. It all began with a series of statements by Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma on cultural cleansing and saying that how APJ Abdul Kalam was a nationalist despite being a Muslim. That was followed by an interview by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in the organisation’s twin mouthpieces like Organiser seeking a review of India’s existing reservation policy, that too when he was supposed to propound the Parivar’s biggest ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhaya’s philosophy of integral humanism on occasion of his birth centenary celebrations. Then came the ghastly act of Dadri lynching; Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar’s remark on Muslims and anti-beef politics; ally Shiv Sena’s regressive methods of using the Pakistan card for votes; and then Panchjanya’s hate mongering cover story defending the Dadri lynching, which attempted to find its justification in Indian civilization’s scripture Rig Veda.
What is actually troubling the BJP most is statement by chief of its ideological fountainhead Mohan Bhagwat, adversely impacting BJP’s electoral prospects in Bihar and the problem is that the RSS chief has not stopped from airing his views on reservation again and again. The entire BJP top brass — PM Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, party chief Amit Shah downwards — have been tasked with clarifying on the matter several times. Shah clarified that the BJP and the Centre had no intentions to review existing quota norms. These issues have somewhat succeeded in creating a confusion among a section of OBC and Dalits on BJP’s stand on quota. This is helping the Grand Alliance in Bihar poll.
The damage done to the BJP image was immense. The party realized that and it was left to Amit Shah, in consultation with Modi, to crack the whip on the likes of Mahesh Sharma, Manoharlal Khattar, Sanjiv Baliyan, Sakhshi Maharaj and Sangeet Som. Shah obviously did that the Prime Minister.
However, people of India are not impressed by amendment and not amused by a confused mindset of BJP.
Adding fuel to BJP crisis, RSS chief’s observation that the reservation policy needs to be reviewed has pushed the BJP campaign on the back foot. Denials by BJP leaders haven’t offset the damage. In Bihar, reservation isn’t just an economic issue; it is also an emotional concern. Not that the mahagathbandhan has enjoyed a perfect run. Lalu’s utterance, “Hindus too eat beef,” was a major gaffe. And Lalu remains the most favored politician among Muslims, who have further closed ranks, post Dadri lynching and the beef controversy.
The fall: Consequences for BJP
The Modi government with his handpicked cabinet that came to power with a bang and pledges to cleanse the corrupt system, has not done anything of that sort, but instead created a mess for themselves. With a view to providing a stable government, Modi offered ministerial berths to his close allies, as long as they are willing to play ball his way.
That PM Modi could not perform as much as people of India who voted for his BJP party could be gauged by the fact that corruption continues unaffected, prices of essentials keep rising, black money promoters continue to enjoy special status in the country, backed by parliament and state assemblies.
BJP is falling slowly as people view it as a pure dogma. Rivals shared agony of actor turned politician Shatrughan Sinha, who is BJP Lok Sabha member from Patna Sahib. RJD and JD (U) sympathized with rival BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha, who has kept himself off from Bihar elections and vented his ire at state party leaders for “conspiring” against him. The JD (U) said many important BJP leaders like LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Shatrughan Sinha and R K Singh have been sidelined by the current party leadership for questioning the style of functioning of PM Modi and Amit Shah. Possibly, there might be a big explosion within BJP after Bihar elections which the NDA is sure to lose.
India claims to be rising in the World Bank’s ease of doing business, but the there is no rise in people’s lives. Modi’s central theme includes subsidy reform using Aadhaar identification, Jan Dhan accounts, and mobile technology. If the strategy to push all subsidies to direct benefits transfer is pursued to the hilt, he will be seen as the man who gave the poor money and choice even while eliminating leakages and corruption. This idea must not only be implemented as direct financial empowerment of the masses. The fight against black money has to be fought economically, and not just with strong-arm methods.
In economics, Modi has to ensure that Arun Jaitley’s three remaining budgets are simply superb after two flops shows in 2014 and February this year. This is where politics and economics connect, Modi needs to clean up his cabinet and include more competent professionals if there are not enough party hands with domain expertise available. His ministers have really not done justice to most crucial of ministries in the digital age. But anti-democratic and anti-secular rhetoric of his friends can harm Modi and BJP more than other issues as people can wait to dethrone his rule.
In order to divert attention from domestic failures, PM began touring the world, ostensibly to get money from foreign countries and Indian Diaspora and also to arrange support for a veto handle in UNSC.
There are a few issues that RSS-BJP effectively used to get Hindu votes and come to power, replacing the traditional Congress rulers: Muslims- Islam, Babri mosque, Pakistan, Muslim populations, cow and other animals, etc.
In fact, BJP cut a lot of Congress voters by using all these issues. Amit Shah repeatedly said if BJP Loses Bihar Elections, Pakistan will celebrate and crackers will go off in Pakistan and he asked the Bihar electorate to vote for BJP. Addressing a rally in Raxaul, a day after Bihar voted in the third of five phases in the assembly elections now being held, Shah said, “If by any chance the BJP loses this election, while winning and losing will happen in this country, crackers will be burst in celebration in Pakistan. Shah has, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, fronted the BJP’s campaign in the Bihar elections, with the party choosing not to project a chief ministerial candidate.
Covert promotion of extreme Hindutva agenda has harmed Modi and BJP. But he steps up Hindutva agenda more forcefully than now his happy days would be over very soon. Discretion in decision-making has to be reduced to a minimum. The bottom line is simple: with just over three years to go, Modi has to wake up before Congress reclaims power from him. .
If Modi loses – which is quite likely – his opponents will be jumping all over the place claiming he has lost his mandate to rule India. They will try and ensure that he cannot perform. They may gain confidence and thus be less unwilling to do business with Modi, or they may become more arrogant in the belief that Modi’s days are over.
The problem for Modi is political, where he has to accommodate so many BJP flunkies who have no qualification other than a loyalty to the parivar and its pet peeves. These people cannot help Modi raise the profile of his team or deliver the goods. He needs to go beyond his party for talent, and the post-Bihar period is the best time for this change. With a comfortable majority in parliament, there is no threat to his ministry from within or without and disgruntlement will not spin out of control.
Clearly, the BJP itself lacks talent and honesty as the Modi government shields the ministers and Rajasthan CM implied in corruption projects. This has obviously wrecked its national image as a decent party. The answer to this is actually both politically important and economically vital. Ministers today should be talented, responsive and responsible, especially critical roles in economic ministries.
In politics, PM Modi has to share more power now with allies and also reach out to the non-Congress opposition to get bills passed. If he does not do this, he will face more of belligerence from them, especially when the BJP loses Bihar.
Modi now could pick the themes his government will be known for. The UPA took the rights, entitlement and freebies route to create political space for itself. Modi too must pick his own themes.
Searching for extremist Hindutva themes, like compulsory Ghar Vapsi and Cow worship, is not answer to overcome the government failures.
BJP and Hindutva allies know that anything not promoting Hindutva agenda or hate politics or any criminal ideology is not anti-national.
For Modi and BJP (even RSS) the final results of the election will have serious consequences. Whether BJP wins or loses, there won’t be immediate obituary for BJP but its popularity would come down as PM Modi’s opponents could become more bloody-minded in opposing his every move. A win may make the opposition more intransigent or less. Modi’s own prestige would be very weak, despite the psychological boost if his party by chance wins. There is little doubt that, win or lose, Modi will have to reboot and recalibrate after Bihar –both his politics and his economics.
Post Bihar scenario could be difficult for the BJP, PM Modi and his government. After all, they chose arrogance-cum-intolerance as the chief tool for governance. By raking up senseless issues in order to keep the core Hindutva elements happy, BJP leaders including PM Modi have burnt their fingers and the fire is very much visible in Bihar electioneering.