Many in Bihar believe the Mandal (caste) versus Kamandal (communal) battles are passé. The outcome of the assembly bypolls on Monday could underline this belief in a state undergoing a reconfiguration of political forces.
The bypolls for 10 assembly seats could be the turning point for Bihar, where assembly elections are scheduled next year. This is because of the uneasiness surrounding the secular alliance that JD(U) strongman Nitish Kumar and RJD leader Lalu Prasad cobbled up hurriedly, and the leadership crisis that rival BJP faces.
Realignments, defections and splits hang heavy in Bihar’s political skies as Kumar and Prasad try to resurrect a militant brand of subaltern politics while BJP hopes to cash in on the Narendra Modi factor — as it did in the Lok Sabha polls — towards improving the NDA government’s strength in the Rajya Sabha, where it is in a minority.
For the secular alliance, things did not start on the right note with the CPI, CPI(ML) and CPI(M) contesting the by-polls as a group separate from RJD, JD(U), Congress and NCP. This was unlike the position in the parliamentary polls.
The Kumar-Prasad union prevented the fragmentation of the crucial Muslim votes, but old hostilities between RJD and JD(U) cadres persist.
“Lalu is our leader, but Kumar is irrelevant. If Kumar is allowed to have his way, all the women will get jobs and our men will be sitting at home,” said Mohammed Izhar, 85, of village Mangrouni. The village is in Rajnagar, one of the 10 assembly seats where by-polls were held.
Not too long ago, Kumar was the ‘super chief minister’ and a ‘master political craftsman’, having assiduously put together an ‘alliance of extremes comprising the upper castes and Mahadalits (extremely-backward communities).
“His rainbow coalition, having been substantially breached by the Modi juggernaut in the parliamentary elections, is today on the verge of collapse, as his support base among the upper castes and EBCs is being rapidly appropriated by a resurgent BJP. Kumar is being increasingly marginalised,” said Nawal Chaudhary, principal, Patna University.
The BJP too has problems at hand. Its concerns are not just about dissenters, rebels and ticket hopefuls for next year’s assembly elections, but also about leadership issues.
It has many leaders to choose its chief ministerial candid-ate from.
“Not having a credible leader is problem enough for the BJP. More importantly, the state party leadership does not seem to have a plan, vision or campaign issues. It seems to be banking entirely on the TINA (there is no alternative) factor and Modi’s personality,” a local scribe said.