Bihar’s political scenario has been changing rapidly over the past year.
Starting with the humiliating defeat of the JD(U) by the RJD in the Maharajganj Lok Sabha by-election in May, chief minister Nitish Kumar had to walk the tightrope following Narendra Modi’s elevation as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and subsequent split in the 17-year-old NDA.
After the NDA split, the JD(U) appeared to be exploring a possible tie-up with the Congress, which was cosying up to Nitish Kumar on the issue of special category status for Bihar.
In between, the imprisonment of RJD chief Lalu Prasad in a fodder scam case strengthened the impression that the JD(U) and the Congress would eventually form an alliance against the BJP in Bihar.
It was understood that the RJD vote bank, particularly Muslims and Yadavs, would split, with Muslims going for the JD(U)-Congress combination and the Yadavs opting for a party or combination with the potential to defeat the JD(U)-Congress alliance.
But the Congress debacle in four states and almost-simultaneous release of Lalu Prasad on bail seem to have upturned political equations in Bihar, triggering a realignment of forces, with the Congress rethinking its strategy and the JD(U) distancing itself from the Congress.
Kumar’s aggressive stance against the Congress is an indication of his changed strategy. He seems to be inspired by the success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi assembly polls.
Discounting the Narendra Modi factor in the BJP’s victory in Delhi, he said, “The BJP performed only in states where it was in direct fight with the Congress. Similarly, the JD (U) will be the only non-Congress and non-BJP alternative in Bihar.”
As the major political parties are busy contemplating alliances, all of them are besieged with the problem of retaining their respective vote banks. The JD(U), which roped in some criminals-turned-politicians into the party fold recently, soon shooed them away when rivals questioned the state government’s much-publicised plank of improving the law and order situation.
Another big task before the JD(U) is to keep its vote bank of backward castes, extremely backward castes and mahadalits intact. Besides, with Lalu’s entry into the poll arena, the JD(U) will face a challenge in winning Muslim support.
The RJD too is faced with the challenge of retaining its Muslim voters in view of Kumar’s desperate bid to make an inroad into the community after dumping the BJP. The RJD chief also needs to keep its support intact among the powerful Rajputs, who supported him in the Maharajganj bypoll.
The BJP is banking on its traditional vote base of upper castes and a section of backward castes, including the trading class. But this won’t be enough to fetch the saffron party a sizeable number of Lok Sabha seats. So, BJP strategists are relying on the charisma of Narendra Modi, who belongs to an extremely backward caste of Gujarat, to cut across caste lines.