The formation of the Janata Parivar has brought about a churning in the state’s political waters. A lot depends on the polls this year to see which way the tide will flow
By Mantosh Sharma
The lessons of Chanakya have not been lost on Bihar’s politicians. The philosopher learnt his winning strategy from a mother who was teaching her child not to eat a bowl of hot porridge from the center. Instead, she said it should be eaten from the periphery where the porridge was cold. Chanakya implemented this lesson to defeat the Nanda empire by winning and segregating peripheral areas before attacking Magadh. And what we see today in Bihar’s politics is a glimpse of this same peripheral politics, where alliances are being made, existing coalitions are being poached and a bipolar political axis is being created as the state goes to polls this year.
The first noticeable example of peripheral politics is the recent amalgamation of six political parties from different states to form a “Janata Parivar”. Although it seems like the combined group will be a role player in Bihar politics, there is no significant value add-on to the existing vote share that the Janata Dal-Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress combine has in Bihar. In the last by-election, this combination had secured 46 percent vote share and won six out of ten Vidhan Sabha seats. Other non-Bihari parties in the “Janata Parivar” are non-existent in Bihar.
There could be several factors that led to the merger. One, the smaller political parties are eyeing the success of perception politics. It is politically imperative to appear big to counter the BJP so that the minority votes can consolidate under one political force. Two, with the demise of the Congress in north India, there is a vacuum and thus the rush to capture middle or center politics. Three, the BJP itself playing “mandal kamandal” and aspirational politics in different states has baffled niche political players like Deve Gowda, Om Prakash Chautala and Laloo Prasad Yadav. It is not easy for them to consolidate their winning votes’ share with their traditional social engineering politics.
Leaders of the Janata Parivar (from left) Nitish Kumar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Deve Gowda, Sharad Yadav and Mulayam Singh
Let’s analyze the real players and parties which will matter the most in 2015 elections.
Jitan Ram Manjhi, the former chief minister of Bihar—who became the center of mobilization through his astute politics— allowed himself to appear as a puppet and was chosen chief minister because of his seniority, low-profile Mahadalit image and loyalty to Nitish Kumar, the JD (U) leader. His non-threatening image was instrumental in Nitish handing over power to him so that his agenda could be pursued. After taking oath, Manjhi said: “Our aim would be to complete the unfinished works. We would work hard for the development of the state.”
However, it didn’t quite turn out like that. Instead, during his chief ministership, Man-jhi meticulously worked to build himself as a Mahadalit leader. He thus created a ground-swell of support for himself, luring the BJP towards himself and trying to politically damage the JD (U). He had left the door open for future alliances by saying: “I am a man with independent thinking. I’ll walk on the path laid down by myself but take assistance of parties who join me on this path, be it the BJP or even Nitish Kumar.”
He resigned as chief minister on February 20, and Nitish replaced him on February 22. In a trust-vote on March 11, Nitish won comfortably, with 140 votes in favor in the 233-member Bihar assembly. Manjhi abstained from voting and the rebel JD (U) leaders ended up supporting Nitish due to fear of disqualification.
(From top) Mulayam and Laoo have extended their family relations into politics by coming under one banner; Sushil Kumar Modi and CP Thakur of the BJP’s Bihar unit
Manjhi, however, cannot be discounted as he commands the respect and sympathy of Mahadalits, who have more than 20 sub-castes. Historically, this community was a part of the Dalit vote bank and has been poached by various political parties. Bihar also has left and ultra-left entities, and a majority of their vote bank is from the Dalit population. However, associating with Pappu Yadav and Sadhu Yadav, both RJD politicians, will limit him in getting votes. Inadvertently, he will end up importing Laloo’s negativity through them.
Last, but not the least, Manjhi will struggle to establish a viable political party. His recent launch of Hindustani Awami Morcha (HAM) will help him align with a larger political entity and bargain for seats.
The BJP, meanwhile, supported Manjhi in an effort to isolate Nitish and created quite a strain. Comments by its state leaders have indicated that its unit will play identity politics. Sushil Kumar Modi, the leader of the state BJP, said that his MLAs felt “this would be a revenge for insulting a Mahadalit by Kumar”. Similarly Nand Kishore Yadav, the BJP leader of the opposition in the state, pitching for Dalit votes said: “The Dalit community is feeling cheated by Nitish. They are completely disillusioned with him.”
By playing hard on Mahadalit issues, the state unit of the BJP has left out the growth message of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This may well be hijacked by Nitish before the assembly elections. The BJP should have waited a little longer instead of exposing its Dalit strategy and giving enough time to the Nitish-Laloo combination to adjust and consolidate. What’s more, the BJP state leadership has no stalwarts like Vasundhara Raje or Raman Singh, who can pull the party to victory on their own political stature.
Sushil Kumar Modi, as deputy chief minister in the JD (U)-BJP government, was, till recently, Nitish’s man in the saffron party. Upper caste state leaders like Shatrughan Sinha and CP Thakur do not get along with Sushil. In this state of affairs, identity politics is counterproductive and could backfire, if pursued in public discourse. To top it all, the BJP became instrumental in cementing the bond between Laloo and Nitish. Alliances which were supposed to be a matter of convenience became a matter of compulsion to carve out an anti-Narendra Modi space.
Former Bihar CM Jagannath Mishra with Jitan Ram Manjhi; rivals Modi and Nitish
Regardless of this, the BJP has a strong partner if the HAM forms an alliance with it. It will translate into significant vote share. This combination will help the BJP fill seats which were given to the JD (U) in earlier elections. The alliance will fill the gap in the Mahadalit camp as far as its social engineering strategy for Bihar is concerned. The BJP has existing alliances with Ram Vilas Paswan, president of the Lok Janshakti Party, and Upendra Kushwaha, leader of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, since the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Coming to Nitish, he is an experienced politician with a broad support base. He is a product of the JP movement, defeated the Laloo-Rabri rule nine years ago, and has a legacy of governance, which saw Bihar making rapid economic strides, with remarkable improvement in roads, administration and law and order. Bihar’s economy grew at 14 percent from 2006 to 2014.
The credit for Nitish’s winning the trust vote should go to Manjhi and the BJP, as he captured the anti-BJP space in Bihar. Parties opposing the BJP rallied around him. Political pundits say this combination has the potential to garner 35 percent vote share in the Bihar elections.
There are likely to be two frontlines in this battle. First, will be the traditional battleline, including caste, religion and fear. While the BJP-Manjhi alliance will talk about 15 years of Laloo misrule and Nitish’s insult to Manjhi, the Nitish-Laloo alliance will campaign against the RSS-VHP combine and the incompetency of Manjhi. Amit Shah, Laloo, Sushil Modi, Manjhi and Paswan may fight at this frontline. The second frontline will be about aspirations and whether the voters will rise above traditional voting pattern, as seen in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. This frontline will witness a political battle exclusively between Nitish and Modi. And the battle between the BJP and Nitish will have these aspirations riding on it. It’s likely that a dark horse will emerge and swing votes.