The alliance of Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar and the Congress to halt the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) progress in Bihar was a new experiment in Indian politics. After the shameful defeat of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, it is now obvious that the Congress on its own is not in a position to take the Bharatiya Janata Party head on. To stop the BJP, Nitish Kumar joined hands with his arch enemy, Lalu Yadav. The Congress took advantage of this opportunity and also joined this so called grand-alliance. The question is not just whether this grand-alliance of Lalu, Nitish and the Congress possessed the capacity to stop the BJP in Bihar in the recent by-elections, but whether it should be seen as an election trailer of the upcoming Assembly elections, and more important, whether this grand-alliance can last and remain capable of changing the direction of national politics.
The contradictions of the grand-alliance started coming to the fore even before the recent by-elections had taken place in Bihar. More than one year is still left before Assembly elections are due in Bihar, but a dispute in the grand-alliance has already started over who will be the next Chief Minister. Actually, this grand-alliance of Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Congress is a bundle of contradictions. To make this grand-alliance successful, the contradictions will have to be smoothed out. In the recent by-elections for 10 seats, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Janata Dal (United) (JDU) candidates were on 4-4 seats, while the Congress fought from 2 seats. For the grand-alliance to be successful, they would have had to win 8 out of 10 seats. If there was a tie, that is, they got only 5 seats, then the experiment of this grand-alliance would not be considered successful and if this grand-alliance would have got less than 5 seats, then an early end to this experiment – after the by-elections itself, was predicted. Caught as it was in such contradictions, challenges and expectations, there was no scope for even the smallest of mistakes right from the very outset. It was the assertion even then that one small mistake and one irresponsible statement could change the politics of Bihar forever.
If the relation of elections was only with figures and numbers, then in Bihar the result of the 2015 Assembly elections would have been known today itself. Many political analysts and veterans writing in newspapers forecast that the grand-alliance of Lalu-Nitish-Congress in Bihar was an unstoppable alliance. Many TV channels, too, on the basis of figures and numbers gave this argument. According to them, in the Lok Sabha elections, in the BJP alliance, the BJP got 29.4 per cent votes, Ram Vilas Paswan’s party, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), got 6.4 per cent votes and Upendra Kushwaha’s party, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party ( RLSP) got 3 per cent votes. It means that in totality the BJP alliance got 38.3 per cent votes, whereas Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) got 20.1 per cent votes, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) (JDU) got 15.8 per cent votes and the Congress got 8.4 per cent votes. This, it was argued, means that if the votes of Lalu, Nitish and the Congress are added together, then they became 44.3 per cent, which is much more than the votes that the BJP alliance garnered. It was belief in this argument that led Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar and the Congress to enter into this grand-alliance to defeat the BJP. They were confident that this was the only way to stop the BJP. But the thing to understand is this: that the relation of elections is more with algebra than arithmetic. In every election, there is an X factor which decides victory and defeat. It is those political parties and analysts who are successful in identifying this X factor who make correct election assessments and only they understand the pulse of the people.
The paradigm of politics in Bihar has changed. In Bihar, before 2005, for 15 years there was an era of darkness. There was Lalu Yadav’s monopolistic rule. When he got entangled in the fodder scam, then he made his wife Rabri Devi the Chief Minister. Neither was there any protest at this, nor were any feathers ruffled. In Bihar there was no rule of law; there was jungle rule. Criminal activities were of and at a level which people from outside Bihar, if told about them, would not believe. The Government machinery had become inactive. The police didn’t have any major role, because heinous crimes like murder, kidnapping, ransom, loot and rape were executed openly. In that era of darkness, all this had become a part of life. People were fed up and terrified.
Even today while remembering Lalu era, the people of Bihar get goose bumps. But whenever elections used to take place, Lalu Yadav used to win easily. On one hand was an indomitable Muslim vote bank; on the other hand was domination of party leaders. No opponent could stand in the field. Against this jungle rule only the Nitish Kumar led Janta United Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party alliance got people’s support. People isolated Lalu Yadav from the politics of Bihar. His party has had to continually see the face of defeat. In the last Assembly elections, Lalu Yadav couldn’t win even the requisite number of seats to claim the post of Leader of Opposition. The question now is, will Lalu Yadav in the next one year be able to get rid of the image of jungle raj from people’s mind? Will the common people of Bihar be able to trust Lalu Yadav? In Bihar, if the recently formed grand alliance survives, then to win elections, this is the first and last condition.
Nitish Kumar has been opposing Lalu Yadav since 1994. In Bihar, the politics of Nitish Kumar has in reality been anti-Lalu politics. Between both, not only has there been political opposition, but political enmity had taken on the face of personal enmity as well. For many years, no dialogue took place between the two. After 15 years of jungle rule, Nitish Kumar became the Chief Minister in Bihar because the people of Bihar accepted him as the leader of the anti-Lalu campaign. This was so because he gave an assurance that he will free Bihar of jungle rule, bring development. After winning the elections, Nitish Kumar tried to strengthen his position. Just like Lalu Yadav was winning elections on the basis of the Muslim-Yadav votebank, similarly Nitish Kumar too tried to create an extremely backward class-Mahadalit-Muslim votebank. But Nitish Kumar’s scheme could not become a ground reality. The anti-Lalu plank has actually has been the sole foundation for the post 2004 elections that Nitish Kumar has been winning.
For the past few years, the main issue of Nitish Kumar’s politics has remained opposition to Narendra Modi. This remained so due to political and personal reasons. Nitish Kumar wanted the support of Muslims opposed to Modi, and at the same time he wanted to see himself as the Prime Ministerial candidate. While in the NDA, he registered his objection when it seemed that the BJP would declare Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate, and then he snapped all ties with the BJP. Party leaders believe that the decision to split from the BJP was Nitish Kumar’s personal decision.
Just like Lalu Yadav was winning elections on the basis of the Muslim-Yadav votebank, similarly Nitish Kumar too tried to create an extremely backward class-Mahadalit-Muslim votebank. But Nitish Kumar’s scheme could not become a ground reality. The anti-Lalu plank has actually has been the sole foundation for the post 2004 elections that Nitish Kumar has been winning.
Nitish Kumar’s problem and misery is this: that his decision to part ways with the BJP proved to be very harmful for the JDU. A party having the strength of winning 20 out of 40 seats in the Lok Sabha elections was reduced to merely 2 seats. Party leaders hold Nitish Kumar responsible for this defeat. Now there is only one central point of Nitish Kumar’s politics: to prove that his decision of separating from the BJP was a correct decision. There is resentment amongst the MLA’s and local leaders of the party regarding Nitish Kumar’s decision to split with the BJP. Now, to prove this decision to have been a correct one, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav have gone to the extent of shaking hands with Lalu Yadav. Party leaders are even more angry now. The resentment is so much that it might be difficult to keep the party united. The dilemma of JDU’s MLAs is this: that they won elections in Bihar
by promising to end the jungle rule of Lalu and therefore,
how are they now asking for votes together with Lalu Yadav? Many JDU MLAs have now even become vocal against Nitish Kumar on the issue of this grand- alliance.
The news before the recent by-elections was that out of 116 JDU MLAs, those MLAs were in a majority who had decided to take independent decisions. They had decided to raise questions on the leadership of Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav. The problem for Nitish Kumar before the by-elections was that if 4 candidates of the JDU lose, then he would not be able to stop disintegration of the party and if 4 candidates won, even then disintegration of the party would simply be postponed till the Assembly elections. It was and is important for Nitish Kumar to win elections through the grand alliance, that being the only way through which he could give an answer to his MLAs, leaders and supporters that his decision to separate from the BJP was correct.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections were the biggest shock for Lalu Yadav. All his claims were proved to be false. Before the Lok Sabha elections, many analysts and surveys were ready to give 20 seats to Lalu Yadav. The reason for this was that some days before the election he had come out of jail. Many people assumed that in Bihar there was a sympathy wave for Lalu. After the alliance with the Congress his position has strengthened — these reports started coming in the media. But when the results came, they revealed that not even one member of Lalu Yadav’s family could win the elections. The RJD was reduced to only 4 seats. Moreover, those who won didn’t do so because of Lalu Yadav, but because of their own strength. In the victory of all the four winning candidates, Lalu Yadav did not have any significant contribution. If surveys and political analysts are to be believed, then in the Lok Sabha elections, the Yadav and Muslim votebanks were with Lalu, a sympathy wave was there, and anti-Lalu parties were also divided. And yet, Lalu Yadav had to face defeat in the elections. The decision of the people of Bihar heavily outweighed Lalu Yadav’s caste equations and his politics. If it is said in straight words, then in Bihar Lalu Yadav is synonymous with corruption, criminalisation, dynasty and jungle rule. The people of Bihar have rejected him. Many big leaders of the party have separated from Lalu Yadav. Some people like Raghuvansh Babu and Abdul Bari Siddiqui are certainly there in the party, but ever since Lalu Yadav has declared his successor, they have become inert. A party that dominated the politics of Bihar for 15 years wound up with merely 4 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. And regardless of the recent by-election results, there are bound to be question marks on the future of his party. A round of exodus from the party could start. Lalu Yadav’s strategy of joining the grand-alliance was to keep the party safe, but his challenge will be to maintain his claims in the 2015 Assembly elections.
Curiously, the by-elections in Bihar were a topic of intrigue for political analysts. Before Lalu Yadav was the opportunity to recover lost ground and come to the centre of politics in Bihar. He shook hands with his fiercest opponent because he calculated that he would gain the most from this alliance. For the BJP, the by-elections were a chance to assess its power, but for Nitish Kumar they were most significant. His reputation was at stake. By splitting from the BJP he had lost badly in the Lok Sabha elections. In the party there was stiff opposition to his decision. For Nitish Kumar the by-elections were the last chance to prove that his decision to split from the BJP was correct. Those were the reasons why the eyes of political analysts and various political parties of the country were fixed on Bihar. But amongst the people of Bihar there was not much of a stir. As far as voting is concerned, the by-elections will not have any bearing on the Assembly elections to be held in 2015. The people of Bihar and its voters are politically very mature. They understood the precise importance of the by-elections: the results of the by-elections were not going to have a bearing on the Government. No matter who won or lost, in Bihar there was going to be no danger to the Government and neither was any new Government going to be formed. If the result of the by-elections would have been seen to have any bearing, then the atmosphere of the by-elections would not have been as indifferent as it was. The participation of the people was less, an election atmosphere was not there. That is why it would be wrong to say that the recent by-elections were a trailer of the Assembly election of 2015.
It is difficult for a strategy to succeed in defeating a strong opponent through weapons like corruption and misrule. Strangely, rather than the Assembly elections of 2015, the effect of the results of the by-elections will be more on the JDU and the Congress. It has usually been seen that bi-polar election results are decisive. The picture of victory and defeat is clear. If an election bout is triangular or many angled, then the results are not decisive. In such a case for any party to get a majority becomes difficult. In Bihar, after the formation of the grand-alliance, it has been decided that in the upcoming Assembly elections one or the other alliance will get a majority. Now how the BJP in Bihar takes up this challenge depends on its preparations, because the BJP’s task is that it has to ensure that people don’t become disappointed with the promises made by Narendra Modi. Before Narendra Modi’s Independence Day roadmap, there was a feeling that in Delhi, a new Government has certainly come, but its moves and character both are like the old Governments. That is why the by-elections of Bihar were converted into a psychological war more than political war. Whichever alliance will be able to control its contradictions for the next one year and will be successful in keeping its motivation high will form the next Government in Bihar.
The alliance of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav is not only a store house of contradictions but there is also lack of self confidence. In the politics of Bihar, the BJP always remained at 3rd or 4th place. The need arose for Lalu, Nitish and the Congress to form an alliance because these people have accepted that it is difficult to defeat the BJP in elections. If Nitish Kumar had to defeat the BJP, then while he was the Chief Minister he should have taken good governance forward, should have reined in corruption and crimes, should have created new dimensions of development and should have won the trust of the people. But first, he angered his voters by breaking relations with the BJP and then, by quitting the post of Chief Minister, he ended the credibility of the Government. The rate of criminal activities increased. People are now worried about jungle rule making a comeback in Bihar. Nitish Kumar is constantly falling prey to wrong decisions. In Bihar, question marks have been put on the success of this grand–alliance formed to stop the BJP. That is because common voters don’t want a return of the Lalu era. Not only in Bihar, but in the direction and character of politics in the whole country a basic change has taken place. Voting on the basis of caste and religion had boundaries and limitations, which are being shattered since the last few elections. Young voters don’t give votes on the basis of caste and religion. In the Lok Sabha elections Yadav votes went out of Lalu Yadav’s hands in big numbers and a big part of Kurmi voters voted against Nitish Kumar. This is the reason why assessment of victory or defeat of any alliance on the basis of caste equations is deceptive. In the Assembly elections of 2015, if in the grand-alliance Lalu Yadav has the upper hand, the number of his candidates is more and if before the elections Nitish Kumar is not declared the Chief Ministerial candidate, then people will see this grand-alliance in the form of a return of Lalu Yadav’s jungle rule.