Comment

The mandate was about Nitish

Politics in India never ceases to surprise even seasoned observers. Notwithstanding the ground realities, the mandate of the 2020 Assembly election in Bihar broadly reflects the intense competitive nature of the polity, backroom strategies and political management. This especially holds true for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bihar, which has increased its seat tally from the previous Assembly election. However, it would be too early for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to rejoice given that the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan are neck and neck at the time of writing. At the outset, the Secretary General of the Janata Dal (United), K.C. Tyagi, conceded defeat and attributed the debacle to COVID-19 . He probably sensed the imminent losses of his party and leader.

The BJP’s goal

It seems like the NDA has safeguarded its social base and has also succeeded in not letting anti-incumbency favour a sweep for the Opposition. The JD(U), though, has lost seats. Did the BJP’s apparent electoral arrangement with the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) work in its favour? LJP president Chirag Paswan’s polemical spree against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar seems to have compromised the latter’s winning possibility in at least 25 seats. The LJP’s cadre support was selectively used in favour of the BJP and fiercely against the JD(U). Mr. Paswan’s chosen way did not help boost his party’s performance . Without the charismatic leadership of Ram Vilas Paswan, the LJP has turned out a cropper in seat terms. Also, it would be wrong to assume that Mr. Kumar will have an easy ride if the NDA wins the majority. The BJP’s offering to Mr. Kumar is likely to be a smaller throne or it may repeat its experiment in Haryana that might mean imposing an ideologically committed candidate to further make Mr. Kumar a redundant force in Bihar. Silently, the BJP has achieved its goal and broken the myth that it can’t be the lead force by making the NDA a deeply divided camp.

Bihar Assembly Elections | What lies ahead for JD(U) with a diminished Nitish Kumar

Will this be acceptable to Mr. Kumar? No matter how he had altered his political journey in 2017, he still has the bandwidth to unsettle the BJP’s plan in the State by returning to where he originally belongs. With diminishing stakes in State politics, he can opt to reclaim his old brand of politics that is at odds with the dominating BJP. The tightly contested election opens up the possibilities of shrewd post-poll makeovers. At the crossroads, there will be an opportunity for Bihar to reassure the country about its continuing significance as the ‘political laboratory’.

Another key highlight of the Bihar elections is the resurgent performance of the Left parties as the constituents of the Mahagathbandhan. The Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) fought on 29 seats and are inching close to getting more than 60% success. This shows that after a long gap, Left politics is making headway in Bihar. It is speculated that they could have fought 20 more seats where the Congress has fought half-heartedly and with a surprising selection of candidates.

Tejashwi, a game changer

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), being the lead party in the coalition, made enough space for the Congress — possibly because of the Congress’s significant performance in 2015. The RJD’s own performance has been satisfactory. In fact, the party’s seats are close to what it achieved in 2015 in alliance with the JD(U). There can’t be any denying the fact that Tejashwi Yadav has proved himself to be a game changer and the leading political player at the young age of 31. His fight was against the experience and credentials of Mr. Kumar and the popularity and resourcefulness of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He should be credited for coping with the challenges gracefully and leading Bihar towards a refreshing change where ‘development’ instead of ‘identity’ was spoken of as the central electoral plank.

 

The Mahagathbandhan’s poll promises were in sync with mass aspirations. It re-prioritised the notion of inclusive growth and emphasised on working decisively for deepening the industrial base, creating 10 lakh job opportunities in the government sector, checking the alarmingly high rate of out-migration, ending the contract culture in the government jobs, and serving the last man standing in row.

The Mahagathbandhan should also be hailed for raising the standard of election campaigns, which in recent times has gone lower and lower. The BJP’s star campaigner didn’t shy away from pursuing a polarising agenda, while the JD(U) showed an obsession with caste arithmetic. Wherever possible, the NDA featured the development narrative but that too was engulfed in poorly presented historical contexts. At no point of time did Mr. Kumar show any inclination to assess his coalition’s performance in absolute terms.

Bihar Assembly Elections 2020 results | Updates

With the pandemic and the lockdown, the design and process of the Bihar election have been unusual. Consequently, it should not be shocking to anyone if the suffering due to the lockdown and the public health crisis do not fully influence the mandate. The people of Bihar have not shown a preference for Mr. Kumar as their next Chief Minister. With the status of a junior partner, it would be difficult for him to justify his stay in the coalition. The road ahead for him and his party is foggy. This is a road less travelled by someone like Mr. Kumar. If he stays on, he will be the iconic protagonist of a tragic play that would be performed in Bihar’s new political theatre.

Bihar Assembly Elections 2020 | Full coverage

Making a choice

It is hoped that Mr. Kumar reads the mandate and makes his choice accordingly. He has to remember that his political existence and relevance are not limited by instantaneous considerations. A seasoned leader, Mr. Kumar should listen to his inner call and give Bihar another reason to stand apart. This is also an occasion for him to give public life a fresh lease of life by chasing larger goals rather than trying to stay in power. The mandate from Bihar was all about Nitish Kumar. Even in his personal defeat, he can be the force of course correction in the State or become a shadow of his own past.

Atul K. Thakur is a policy professional and columnist. email: atulmthakur@gmail.com


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Printable version | May 18, 2022 5:44:58 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-mandate-was-about-nitish/article33069044.ece