Two men have ruled Bihar for 25 years – Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad. After weeks of wrangling, they have announced an alliance for the Bihar polls. Congress, NCP and some left parties will be a part of this rainbow coalition, and what will tie them all together is the opposition to the BJP. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s plan to implant the saffron flag in the eastern state has just got a lot tougher, but it is no easy ride for the Janata Parivar either.
The need for survival has brought Nitish and Lalu together. RJD has been out of power in the state for ten years; it has lost two consecutive Lok Sabha polls; Lalu faces legal trouble and his children – three of whom are politically ambitious – have not accessed power; one more defeat and keeping the party intact would become a struggle. Nitish’s party machinery is weak and his own social base limited; he has won both his assembly elections with a powerful ally, the BJP, which is now a foe; the Lok Sabha setback, the appointment of Jitan Ram Manjhi and the subsequent fallout have also deepened fault-lines within his own party.
But if there is one person who has brought both Kumar – who came to power by speaking out against Lalu’s ‘Jungle Raj’ – and Lalu – who harbors deep resentment and bitterness against Nitish for ‘betraying him’, it is Narendra Modi. If the Modi ‘wave’ had not wiped out other formations from Bihar in 2014, the alliance would not have happened. RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha however asserts that this is not a ‘leader-driven’ but a ‘social-base driven’ alliance. “Our respective social constituencies gave an unambiguous message to leaders to come together.”
But is the alliance a ticket to success?
Saibal Gupta, Bihar’s foremost social scientist, told HT, “It is a formidable coalition. Nitish first forged a coalition of extremes with BJP. After the falling out with Modi, he carved out a coalition of the poorest and the marginalised in the 2014 elections. This time, it will be an alliance of the poor and marginalised with the upper backwards Lalu brings in.”
In other words, the Nitish-BJP alliance brought together upper castes with extreme backward groups, with segments of Dalits and Muslims. The Nitish-Lalu alliance will bank on a high degree of Muslim consolidation, a convergence of Yadavs as well as extreme backward castes, and sections of Dalits. In addition, Lalu retains support of a section of Rajputs; Nitish hopes his ‘development image’ will ensure support of a section of middle class and upper castes; and Congress has some older upper caste loyalists in pockets.
But this will not be easy to translate on the ground. Even in Bihar, identity based mobilisation does not operate neatly anymore. It is also not clear if votes are transferable anymore based on party diktats. For instance, will a Yadav supporter of Lalu Prasad’s party vote for a JD(U) non Yadav candidate or a BJP Yadav candidate? Sources in the alliance claim that at least half to two thirds of the votes of their party are transferable. But this is to be seen.
The exact division of seats has not been worked out, and whichever way it will pan out, there will be disgruntled RJD and JD(U) local level leaders who will be left out. They may stand as rebels or BJP will co-opt them. The fact that the central government is with BJP, and the Modi-Shah machine will invest enormous resources and unleash a publicity blitzkrieg, will also play a part. With Ram Vilas Paswan and Manji, in all likelihood, going with BJP, key segments of Dalit votes may move to NDA.
But at the moment, it is definite Janata Parivar advantage. A confident alliance leader says, “Our main task now is to take the message of unity to the people and decimate the BJP even before the dates are announced.”
Read: Mulayam says Nitish will be CM face of Bihar's anti-BJP alliance, Lalu agrees