5 December 2021 02:01 PM



Signals From Bihar

Nitish Kumar at the mercy of the BJP

No one from the Bharatiya Janata Party congratulated JD(U) chief and former Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar for the NDA victory, and yet he seems to be set on becoming the top boss again despite his party’s poor performance in these Assembly elections. It is clear that he has taken the brunt of the anti-incumbency in the state with the BJP steering clear of the blame and putting him in the dock. And in case anyone missed the point, former ally Chirag Paswan who now leads his father’s Lok Janshakti Party was unleashed on Nitish Kumar as the CM and the individual responsible for Bihar’s ailments.

Good strategy that worked, with the BJP gaining at the expense of the JD(U) even though the LJP barely performed with just one seat in its coffer. However, Chirag Paswan who was instrumental in his father Ram Vilas Paswan in joining the BJP can be sure of rewards for a job well done.

One would have expected Nitish Kumar to indulge in some introspection, and chart his way forward with the realisation that he is being eaten alive —slowly but surely—by the BJP. And his political ambitions already diluted —remember he was once the almost certain Prime Ministerial candidate of the non-BJP parties—might become extinct altogether if he becomes the CM of Bihar as the leader of a minority party in a majority alliance. But that thought,judging from his chief advisor KC Tyagi’s remarks has not been allowed to cross Nitish Kumar’s mind, with the JD(U) having decided to remain with the BJP live or die.

The BJP and the Left have gained from these elections, both parties with a cadre, strong ideology and work on the ground. This in itself is a strong signal from this highly political state that is significant in itself.

Although the mahagathbandhan did not make it to the top it is the signals from that side that make for interesting reading. The RJD under Tejashwi Yadav has emerged as the single largest party, a peoples tick mark for his strategy of appealing over caste and religion to the youth. He has acquired a set of able advisors, Professor and MP Manoj Jha and CPI-ML’s Dipankar, who have facilitated his emergence as a leader in these polls. In that he stepped firmly out of his father Lalu Prasad Yadav’s shadows, and moved away from the limitations of caste and religious alliance, to embrace a wider constituency of youth. In the process he also left behind the baggage of corruption that had followed Lalu Prasad Yadav and at the age of 31 years has sent out a signal, despite the electoral defeat, that he at least is in position to play the part of a strong opposition. And has age on his side, and the mandate on his side.

It is easy here to say that the Congress should sit down for deep introspection, but this is not going to happen. Before the elections the party demanded more seats than it has the capacity to contest in Bihar, and even when given a good 70 was unable to make much of it, losing a good 50 seats in the process. And thereby ensuring a mahagathbandhan defeat. It is sad that as soon as it was clear that the Congress was on the losing wicket, it latched on to Owaisi and his AIMM to insist that he was responsible for defeating the grand alliance. Owaisi won five seats only, and while many do regard him as a BJP mole, the Congress whining certainly does not merit respect.

There is a certain sense of entitlement within the Congress party that feeds into its greed. Instead of, like the Left parties, selecting the seats where it has a base and possibility of winning, it wants to contest all that it can lay its hands on despite having little to no organisation in states like Bihar that can mop up the votes. I would not blame Rahul Gandhi for this defeat, as he has no organisation to rely on and the party managers do little except render advise.

The Left has emerged from these elections, like the BJP, as a sure winner. For the first time in years it was accommodated by the RJD and given a fair number of seats that it won . The performance of the CPI-ML that has kept its base in Bihar despite setbacks is admirable as is of the other two communist parties. Interestingly, the Left win shows that politics today has little space for the neither here nor there attitude of parties like the Congress and prefers a clear cut alternative that does not mince words. This backed with work on the ground brought the Left parties the vote, and will ensure a strong voice against the BJP government in the coming months and years.

It is clear from Bihar that Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to hold sway, as the BJP sought votes under his name. The party accepted Nitish Kumar as the next CM but did not project him during the campaign. And definitely not now either. The Bihar CM has lost the courage he used to be identified with as this would have been a good time to mend fences with the opposition, and support Tejashwi Yadav as the chief minister. But the desire of power, or fear, or both has come in Kumar’s way and from being a strong candidate for Prime Minister he is now just a weak, supported candidate for Chief Minister.