National politics’ Bihar moment

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:04 am IST

Published - November 21, 2015 12:48 am IST

On an afternoon of excess and enthusiasm at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, Nitish Kumar >took oath of office to be Chief Minister of Bihar again. News had long filtered out about invitations and RSVPs that there was little surprise at the spectrum of national politicians in attendance. It was expected anyway. Mr. Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Mr. Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal had formed a Grand Alliance of parties in a direct contest with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who, in the absence of a chief ministerial candidate, personally led the charge for the BJP. In fact, the only mystery that remained was whether one of Mr. Prasad’s sons would be Deputy Chief Minister and whether the JD(U) would retain the Home portfolio. In the event, both happened. Mr Prasad and Mr. Kumar had a bitter political rivalry going for two decades, and their vote banks were considered to be at variance. In the take-no-prisoners election campaign against the BJP, they overcame personal odds — and the new Council of Ministers indicates they are mindful of the continuing potential for internal contradiction. Tejaswi Yadav’s dynastic >designation as Deputy Chief Minister binds the RJD firmly in the governing coalition. The retention of the Home Ministry by the JD(U) hushes fears of the so-called jungle raj of the 1990s under Mr. Prasad’s watch. In the past decade, Mr. Kumar has grown the constituency for his unique, and effective, type of governance, centred on social inclusion and welfarism. His return has been hard-won, and he cannot afford political instability or the prospect even of rent-seeking strongmen operating under his coalition partner’s wings.

The Bihar verdict, significantly, has unsettled the discourse for the BJP at the Centre, and specifically for Prime Minister Modi. It is this development that casts the attendance of diverse politicians as something more than a courtesy appearance. From Rahul Gandhi to Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury to Mamata Banerjee, Farooq Abdullah to M.K. Stalin, all of Mr. Modi’s political foes, as it were, >were underlining the import, and possibilities, of this moment . Regional parties see the arc turning towards them after the single-party-majority challenge of the 2014 Lok Sabha result. In Bihar, with the Congress retreating from its episodic go-it-alone whims, they see faint contours of, first, more cohesive cooperation as the Opposition to the BJP at the Centre and, then, of coordinated mobilisation to arrest the BJP’s advance in future State elections. The fading afternoon light in Patna illuminated a congregation that may define Indian politics in the days to come.

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