Re-emergence of social justice politics may see a new combine in Bihar

By resigning as Bihar Chief Minister and bringing in Jitan Ram Manjhi as his successor, Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar has made a fresh political move to regain lost ground. His political calculations when he broke ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2013 to be the leader of a new backward caste-Muslim alliance went wrong as evident from the Bihar results of the Lok Sabha election.

While Mr. Kumar had the goodwill of the people, the consolidation in favour of the BJP was stronger for various reasons. Though beaten in the election, Mr. Kumar is repeating his pitch for a social justice and secular plank, and this time, it could have better allure, given the rise of Hindutva and Narendra Modi on the national scene.

“The resurgence of a social justice and secular platform that includes the JD(U), the Congress, the Left and even the RJD [Rashtriya Janata Dal] is possible in the State. Nitish Kumar will be the leader of this emergent alliance,” Shaibal Gupta, member secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute, said.

Empowerment

Mr. Manjhi’s elevation is a clear signal to the 15.5 per cent Dalit population of the State. His Mushahar community is the lowest in the caste hierarchy, and Dalit empowerment has so far stopped at the upper crest among them such as Paswans and Jatavs. The extremely backward castes that constitute 32 per cent of the population have been targeted by Mr. Kumar, though they appear to have voted for the BJP in large numbers in the Lok Sabha election.

What threw Mr. Kumar’s calculations in the Lok Sabha elections out of gear was the Congress alliance with the RJD, which made it the primary choice of Muslims, who constitute 16.5 per cent of the State’s population. After its alliance with the RJD turned out to be a flop, the Congress has now turned to the JD(U).

Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel spoke to Mr. Kumar on Monday and offered him the party’s support. The Congress may even consider joining the Manjhi Ministry, though only Ms. Gandhi will take a final call on it. An alliance with the Congress will ensure the support of Muslims and a section of the upper castes for the JD(U). Mr. Kumar will stay on as the supreme leader of the party.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad, weakened by the drubbing in the election, is now willing to accede to Mr. Kumar’s leadership. Both have been in touch since the results — and that completes the re-emergence of social justice politics. Unlike in its Lalu avatar, Mr. Kumar’s social justice politics also has a strong component of governance.

In the 2015 Assembly election, Mr. Kumar will offer a combination of good governance and social justice against the offer of Hindutva and development from the BJP and Mr. Modi. Bihar 2015, therefore, will test the tenacity of the Modi electoral model as much as it will of Mr. Kumar’s new experiment.