The battle for Bihar has begun in right earnest. The BJP launched its campaign with a rally in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on Ambedkar Jayanti, keeping an eye on the Dalit vote. The RJD and the JD(U)have closed ranks to overcome a muscular BJP.
So, what we have is more than an electoral battle — Bihar’s assembly polls are the BJP’s and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first real litmus test, as it is for Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar.
What prompted Prasad and Kumar to join hands was the poor performance in the 2014 general elections. The BJP-led coalition won 31 of the 40 seats in Bihar. The RJD, the JD(U) and the Congress together got 46.4% of the votes, while the NDA got 36.4%.
One of the major reasons for such a poor showing by the RJD and the JD(U) in the 2014 polls was that both of them wanted to defeat the Modi-led NDA, but were competing for the anti-BJP vote. Had the RJD, the JD(U) and the Congress fought in alliance, the results would have been different.
A substantial percentage of the NDA’s voters appreciated the good work done by Kumar, but voted for the NDA at the Centre. Even a bitter critic of Kumar would appreciate the development work done over the last decade. Bihar’s economy grew at an impressive rate of 10-12% between 2004-5 and 2009-10, and 13% in 2012-13.
Caste-based voting is a reality in Bihar. Modi had not won on the development plank alone. The BJP had a well-crafted political alliance to get the support of the Dalits and the MBCs. However, today if we go by caste combination, the Janata Parivar will have an edge over the NDA. A bipolar contest between the NDA and Janata Parivar will suit the latter.
In the last 15 months the BJP formed governments in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir. A common point among the states is that these were ruled by the Congress or its allies.
There was an anti-Congress wave in the country, which started with the Anna movement, capitalised on by the BJP. Bihar is the first state where the party in power is not the Congress. The BJP has leadership issues in Bihar. Sushil Modi is the most prominent and moderate face of the party in the state.
He is a baniya (a backward caste in Bihar) but leaders of other castes have expressed their displeasure.
By the time of the assembly polls the NDA government at the Centre will have completed 18 months and the people will have judged the party on the basis of its performance.
Negative perceptions on the land Bill could also hurt the BJP in Bihar, a preponderantly agrarian society. It would also be difficult for the party to attract voters on the Hindutva plank.
Some BJP leaders like Giriraj Singh have been making communal and divisive remarks and this may not help the party in the polls because Bihar has always had a tolerant society. India was going through a highly-charged and polarising phase during the Ram Mandir movement, but that passed off peacefully in the state.
For any party or alliance to win Bihar it needs the caste-based equation in its favour, the track record of good governance and the ability to take people of all social groups along. Now in a changing situation, the Kumar-Prasad combine seems to have fulfilled the conditions of new earthy caste alliance, including Dalit-Muslim, OBCs and EBCs.
Tanweer Alam is an activist
(The views expressed by the author are personal)