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Can ‘the coalition of extremes’ work again in Nitish’s new Bihar?

The Congress and RJD frittered away the social and political capital accumulated over the years; but Nitish Kumar worked out the nuts and bolts of subaltern inclusion through deft administrative and political strategy

analysis Updated: Jul 27, 2017 16:45 IST
Nitish Kumar,Narendra Modi,Laloo Prasad
Caste had always had a larger-than-life presence in Bihar, especially in electoral politics..(PTI)

There has been no political and social contradiction between Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad. Yet the coalition, euphemistically called ‘mahagathbandan’, which included the Congress, could not last for more than 20 months. The critical difference on the question of governance surfaced over the demand of resignation of the Deputy Chief Minister Tejeshwai Prasad Yadav. One will have to wait for the social implications of the new coalition of JD(U) and BJP and to see whether Nitish’s old ‘coalition of extremes’ is replicated again.

Nitish Kumar is likely to craft another ‘coalition of extremes’, which was the key social foundation of the then NDA government between 2005 and 2013. This coalition essentially combined the upper caste - 13%, a section of the upper backwards (minus Yadav) - 8.3%, lower backwards - 32%, Dalits - 14% and Pasmanda Muslim - 8%. That was an invincible electoral combination. To know whether this coalition can be crafted again with the same precision, one has to wait.

Way back in 2005, Nitish Kumar promoted sub-national Bihari cohesion through the strategy of a ‘coalition of extremes’ so that he could craft the broadest possible consensus in the state. He further consolidated his position by positive discrimination of 50% seats to women and 20% to lower backwards (annexure-I) in Panchayati Raj Institutions. It was sort of a ‘social coup’ when the most deprived within the Dalits was rechristened as ‘Mahadalit’ and various programmes were launched to bring them into the mainstream. With a better quality of governance, not only was the state being resurrected but its inclusive character was also getting a stamp of authenticity by its treatment of the minorities.

The Congress and RJD frittered away the social and political capital accumulated over the years; but Nitish Kumar worked out the nuts and bolts of subaltern inclusion through deft administrative and political strategy. The building of the state and its resurrection was done almost single handedly by Nitish Kumar in his first term. And this was not limited to techno-managerial strategy alone; a strong element of ‘inclusion’ was built in to the whole strategy. The BJP under Sushil Modi supported him to the hilt. In his second term, the state structure was strengthened further, and Bihar was converted from a ‘functioning’ to a fully ‘pro-active’ state and the social sector and development agenda was implemented.

In Bihar, however, there were essentially two identities – caste and national; there was no ‘Bihari’ sub-national identity. Thus, caste had always had a larger-than-life presence in Bihar, especially in electoral politics. While Nitish Kumar crafted the ‘coalition of extremes’ in 2005 and continued with the same in the 2010 assembly elections, the agenda till then was considered to be that of development, even though the ‘coalition of extremes’ did exclude a number of intermediate castes, specially Yadavs. Once Nitish Kumar broke the alliance with the BJP, this coalition was fractured. Nitish Kumar, thereafter, wanted to build a ‘coalition of the poor and the marginal’ in 2014, but it was immediately referred to as a configuration of chosen castes. With Laloo Prasad as a significant part of that coalition, the mahagathbandhan was considered as an out and out caste coalition. After the split with Laloo Prasad, 2017 is witnessing the return of the ‘coalition of extremes’. On the other side, it remains to be seen whether Laloo Prasad will be able to keep his base intact in spite of the surfacing allegations of corruption. The Congress has not been able to resurrect itself, which could have created a powerful combination with RJD. The social base of the RJD and Congress is relatively weak mainly constituting Yadav (12%) and Muslim (16%).

Dr. Shaibal Gupta is member secretary, Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) and director, Centre for Economic Policy and Public Finance (CEPPF), Patna.

CEPPF is sponsored by the finance department of the Bihar Government

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 27, 2017 16:45 IST