Political Drama in Bihar Has Begun!

Though political crisis in Bihar appears to have ended with Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Nitish Kumar having taken charge of state government once again as its chief minister, the real political test for him and other politicians begins now. And this also implies that the state politics is likely to witness considerable political upheavals till Bihar assembly elections in November 2015. It may be recalled that Kumar decided to quit state’s chief ministerial position around a year ago following his party’s miserable performance in Lok Sabha elections. Out of 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar, JD-U could win only two, while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) succeeded in winning 22. JD-U apparently could not digest this shock and chose to hand over the reins of Bihar government into the hands of Jitan Ram Manjhi. The political importance of Manjhi was weighed in keeping with his backward caste. Manjhi belongs to a Mahadalit caste, which constitutes around 15 percent of population in Bihar. At that time, the JD-U leader apparently gave considerable importance to attempts being made by BJP to win Dalit vote-bank in the Hindi belt, particularly Uttar Pradesh. JD-U then gambled on Manjhi as politically essential to check BJP’s success in the coming assembly elections.

Political developments in around nine months’ time have, however, compelled JD-U to reconsider its earlier strategy of giving too much importance to Manjhi. A majority of  JD-U members and its associates were not too pleased with Manjhi trying to assume greater political importance than expected. Besides, it is well known that casteist politics plays a great role in Bihar. There lurked the political fear that in a bid to please a particular caste, JD-U may lose support of others. In all probability, the defeat faced by BJP in Delhi assembly elections prompted JD-U to revise its political strategy for Bihar assembly polls. It cannot be ignored that despite having won all seven seats from Delhi in Lok Sabha polls, BJP failed miserably in Delhi assembly elections. BJP’s strategy of promoting a chief ministerial candidate’s name during its campaign also failed to help it. JD-U apparently realized that if after nine months, voters in Delhi have changed their political attitude towards BJP, the same was possible in Bihar assembly elections.

It may be recalled that in Lok Sabha polls, though BJP won 22 of 40 seats, it secured support of less than 30 percent voters. In contrast, though JD-U, Laloo Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress won only eight seats, the combined votes secured by them were around 45 percent. This also implies that had these parties contested together, the results would have been different. This point bears crucial political significance for regional parties in Bihar and other states in the context of the victory of Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi. This party’s grand success was considerably decided by the strategy exercised by Delhi voters. A number of factors compelled the Delhi voters to vote for AAP, primarily because they did not want the state government here to be led by BJP.

JD-U and other regional leaders are apparently hopeful that BJP may meet the same fate in Bihar. Yet, it cannot be ignored that in 2010 Bihar assembly elections, BJP had performed well.  In the 243-member Bihar assembly, against 115 seats won by JD-U, BJP had won 91, RJD - 22 and the Congress - four. In the race for power, BJP finished second. And the BJP performed well even though at that time it was not in power at the Centre and its campaign did not bank on Modi-wave. AAP had also not emerged during that period.

The political scene at the centre is now totally different. If Delhi assembly elections had not been marked by a crushing defeat of BJP, JD-U may still have been in two minds about its political strategy in Bihar. There is a possibility that JD-U may have been waiting for Delhi results before taking the major decision of Nitish Kumar heading the state government again as the chief minister. Even if JD-U had not been waiting for Delhi results, the miserable performance of BJP would probably have compelled it to reconsider its strategy for Bihar assembly elections.

With Nitish Kumar assuming office as Bihar chief minister, JD-U’s electoral campaign for assembly elections has begun. In essence, the real political game has just begun. The coming weeks and months are likely to witness considerable political developments. Though caste-politics plays a decisive role in Bihar, Muslim vote-bank has its own importance. Muslims in Bihar retain a strong anti-BJP attitude. Muslims constitute around 17 percent of the state’s population. It varies from 30 to 40 percent in certain areas and is around 70 percent in Kishanganj. It may be recalled, BJP’s prominent Muslim member, Shahnawaz Hussain failed to win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In Bihar, a lot is dependent on whether regional and other anti-BJP parties decide to contest elections as a coalition or not. If they don’t, they face the risk of cutting into each other’s vote banks and Lok Sabha scene may be repeated in assembly elections!     

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 March 2015 on page no. 11

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