Bihar Assembly Elections 2015

The incredible Lalu-Nitish bond

Last year, when Jayaprakash Narayan’s protégés, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad came together — after a separation of around two decades — it was because they felt they were both facing imminent political irrelevance. Sixteen months after those disastrous Lok Sabha elections, when they were all but wiped out, Mr. Kumar is a few days away from being sworn in as Chief Minister for the third time, while Mr. Prasad has made the biggest political comeback in years, emerging as the leader of the single largest party in Bihar.





On Sunday, as they posed for the cameras, hugging each other, beaming from ear to ear, the question that everyone was asking was: can the two men who have together scripted this unbelievable victory stay together? Or will personal ambitions come in their way? Clearly conscious of the existence of these doubts, the two men — now both in their 60s — were at pains to address them.

On Saturday evening, when I met Mr. Prasad at his residence, he made it clear he had no chief ministerial ambitions and that he planned to leave the running of the State to Mr. Kumar as he was extremely capable. He, on his part, was going to launch a people’s movement, with his first stop in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency: there was need, he said, to provide a national alternative to the divisive politics of the BJP, and a victory in Bihar would provide that beginning.

On Sunday, Mr. Kumar said, “The people of Bihar have given us this huge mandate: they will not forgive us if we let them down again.”

The fears that people have about Mr. Prasad are the following: that his Yadav community will be on the rampage, endangering the law and order situation, and that as the largest party in the coalition, he might impose his views, MLAs and sons on Mr. Kumar. But as RJD leaders point out Sunday’s victory would not have been possible without Mr. Prasad — he is the one who pulled in the votes, he is the man with the mass base, something that Mr. Kumar is well aware of.

Today, in Patna, amidst the post-victory euphoria, there was even talk of merging the two parties, with party workers from both sides saying: all that is needed is to pull down the metaphorical walls between the two neighbours. It will also put pressure on the Samajwadi Party in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls in early 2017, to revive the idea of the merger of the parties of the Janata Parivar.

Given the backdrop to these elections — of growing intolerance and rising communal tension, to which the two men referred to on Sunday as they did during the polls — the two parties also see themselves as harbingers of change, a change that will end the BJP rule in the country.

Workers jubilant

On Sunday, at Mr. Kumar’s residence, as party workers milled around him, the slogan they were shouting was: “ Desh ka pradhan mantri kaisa ho, Nitish Kumar jaisa ho [what should the next prime minister be like? Like Nitish Kumar].” If these elections have given Mr. Kumar a third term as Chief Minister, it could also become a launch pad for him to play a national role. If he were to move to Delhi, Mr. Prasad could have a nominee of his choice in Patna.

In the end, Mr. Kumar cannot get to Delhi without Mr. Prasad’s help and Mr. Prasad needs to maintain a good equation with Mr. Kumar to stay in the game. At 68, he now sees his role as one who will complete the task of ensuring social justice to those who are still excluded; Mr. Kumar has his sights set on Delhi.


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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 11:15:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/bihar2015/the-incredible-lalunitish-bond/article7858668.ece

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