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Politics in Bihar has undergone a radical change since the heavy shelling by the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
Although still shocked, sworn enemies RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar have joined forces to clear the immediate hurdle — placing Kumar’s men in the Rajya Sabha with RJD backing since the rebels of his own party refused to play ball.
And Kumar quickly announced that his deal with Prasad had been sealed and signed. For, the aim, however, is to cut the losses and make joint moves to turn around in the assembly elections in November 2015.
The two big boys of Bihar, who together ruled the state for the last 24 years, are justifying the move — quite haltingly, though — as necessary to fight the larger ‘evil’, the BJP (read: Modi).
The strongest provocation is the way Modi identified and capitalised on their weaknesses when they fought each other and shredded all caste groups, managing to keep the anti-BJP formations sharply divided and their voters confused.
Prasad did a tad better in the polls as the Congress brought in Muslims, who saw the grand old party as the only hope against Modi. But the JD(U) — the only regional preference of the minorities so far — lost its major vote-base.
Recognising that the Muslims might not rely solely on the RJD in the assembly elections and that the upper castes had moved away to the BJP, the JD(U) and RJD — with the Congress and, by extension, the Left — are desperately trying to cobble together a backward-Dalit-minority coalition.
Since the upper castes account for 15 to 17% votes in Bihar, the BJP should have no future in the state in mathematical terms. But the LS polls saw the BJP and allies, such as Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, mopping up a 40% vote-share.
Clearly, Kumar’s focus on accommodating all the caste groups, promising equitable justice to all, is now swiftly shifting towards creating a backward-Dalit-minority combination.
After his victory in the RS polls, Kumar parried serious questions over his new-found love for Prasad, whose ‘Jungle Raj’ he had opposed for 18 long years. But his hand-picked chief minister, Jitan Ram Manjhi, said, “The issue of ‘Jungle Raj’ is old hat. The regime’s only concern is to stop the BJP and use any means to achieve that.”
It became clearer that Kumar had lost interest in the upper castes when Manjhi transferred 51 IPS officers overnight to place officers from chosen castes in critical positions.
But there are groups within both the parties, which are opposing the alliance. While the 19 JD(U) rebels, who had voted against the party’s RS candidates, said they would back the BJP, senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh saw “disaster ahead”.
The test could come sooner, when the new partners stand face to face against the NDA in the 11 assembly seat by-polls.
Also of interest would be the leadership issue, when the next assembly polls happen. Who among Prasad and Kumar will lead the coalition as the chief ministerial candidate. More critically, which party will fight which seats and how many?
Those issues would actually decide whether the coalition sinks or floats.