Nitish joins hands with BJP: Bihar’s political scenario

High premium, doubtful returns

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar may think that his political move of first resigning from his grand alliance (Mahagathbandhan) with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress and then very quickly joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form a new government is a master stroke. He may have thought that breaking away from the RJD by adopting the high moral ground on the issue of corruption would go in his favour, boosting his image as a leader who believes in no nonsense politics. He has also managed to retain his chief ministership by forming a new alliance with the BJP. Assuming that there are no hiccups, the ties could continue even after 2020 when the next Assembly election is due.

What Mr. Kumar has failed to realise is that his image as an honest leader may have been boosted nationally, but his move towards the BJP within hours of breaking up with the RJD has also projected him as being an absolute opportunistic leader. His two widely acclaimed positive traits, of honesty and integrity, are turning out to be a liability for him. His image is of a clean politician, and he may seem to be crumbling under its weight. What he has not realised is that in his commitment to fight against corruption, he has ended up making a compromise on the issue of secularism which is no less dangerous than corruption for democratic governance.

 

A different politics

The politics of Bihar is a bit different from the politics of Delhi. It may be possible to mobilise a sizeable number of urban voters with a clean image and we have seen that happening in Delhi in recent years. But this may not be possible in a primarily rural and caste-based society such as Bihar where identity plays an important role in electoral mobilisation. At this moment, Mr. Kumar is certainly the most popular leader in the State, popularly known as “Sushasan babu” but having such an image is not enough to win election. Even when the Mahagathbandan contested the election under his leadership, the electoral performance of his own party, the Janata Dal (United), was poor when compared to the performance of the RJD.

 

Contesting an equal number of seats, the RJD managed to win 80 with 44.2% votes per seats contested, while the JD(U) managed to win 71 seats with 40.5% votes per seats contested. The Congress managed to win 27 seats contested with 39.3% votes per seat contested. Mr. Kumar has been the Bihar’s Chief Minister since 2005, with his success linked to political alliances. While the 2005 and 2010 victories were in alliance with the BJP, his win in 2015 was a result of the Mahagathbandhan. The JD(U) was a major partner in 2005 and 2010, winning 88 and 115 seats, respectively. In the votes polled per seat contested, the BJP was only 2 percentage points behind the JD(U), while in 2010, the vote share of the BJP per seat contested was higher by 1 percentage point.

The inability of the JD(U) to attract votes which could win it an election is mainly because the party does not have a core base. The Yadavs, and to a great extent Muslims, have been core supporters of the RJD, with more than 65-70% of Yadavs having voted for the RJD in different elections. The two groups, roughly 16-17% each of the population, form a sizeable vote bank for the RJD. The BJP may only have the upper castes (15% of the population) as its core base in Bihar but they have always stood behind the party; 85% of them voted for the BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2015 Assembly elections.

 

The repercussions

Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan has a strong presence among the 16% Dalit voters in Bihar. The two non-Yadav upper Other Backward Classes, the Kurmis and the Koeris, are the only core supporters of the JD(U) but their numbers are not enough — together they constitute roughly 5-6% — to give the JD(U) an advantage over other parties. The lower OBCs, who roughly account for 25% population, are a divided lot but in the recent Lok Sabha election, shifted towards the BJP. Many of them did vote for the Mahagathabandhan in 2015. With Mr. Kumar forming a new alliance with the BJP, large numbers of them may tilt towards the new alliance. But how much he gains from this remains to be seen. I wonder whether even the upper castes, unhappy with Mr. Kumar for breaking the alliance with the BJP earlier, would be willing to vote for him in future elections. All in all, Mr. Kumar has been able to save his chair, but the premium he has paid is huge. The damage it has done to Opposition unity is even bigger.

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) Delhi. The views expressed are personal

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 6:59:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/high-premium-doubtful-returns/article19391749.ece

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