Chief minister Nitish Kumar with JD(U) leaders at the party's national executive meeting, in Patna(AP Dube/HT Photo)
Chief minister Nitish Kumar with JD(U) leaders at the party's national executive meeting, in Patna(AP Dube/HT Photo)

Muslim-Yadav consolidation will help Nitish craft a ‘coalition of extremes’ with the BJP

Lalu Prasad’s rally, Sharad Yadav’s exit and the perceived snub in the recent cabinet reshuffle isn’t likely to affect the Janata Dal (United) electorally
By Shaibal Gupta
UPDATED ON SEP 05, 2017 03:34 PM IST

In the backdrop of the BJP’s massive political spread in the Hindi heartland, the recent RJD rally in Patna with leaders from 12 parties in attendance was impressive. Though Lalu Prasad has been convicted of corruption and is now facing a slew of fresh charges from the CBI related to financial irregularities, he can still galvanise his core constituency of ‘Yadavs’ and ‘Muslims’.

Earlier, by catapulating his two sons, Tejashwi and Tejpratap to Nitish Kumar’s coalition cabinet, he had signalled his succession plan . The rally in Patna that brought his two sons on a common platform further scripted their ‘hegemony’ before a galaxy of leaders. Even though Lalu Prasad is still the mascot of the party, it was Tejashwi who had done the mobilisation of supporters for the rally in various districts and the blowing of the ‘conch shell’ was done by Tejpratap. This indicates the shape of things to come in his family domain. Between the two sons, the quintessential vintage Lalu Prasad, may turn out to be Tejpratap whose brief address was applauded rapturously.

If one deconstructs the present rally, it had a much smaller turnout in comparison to the earlier ones. Lalu Prasad’s earlier rallies, ‘Garib Rally’ or ‘Garib Raila’ or ‘Lathi Bhajawan Tel Pilawan’, were all organised in the backdrop of a Bihar whose economy was almost stagnant. After the liberalisation of the economy in 1991, most of the undeveloped states, including Bihar, were further disadvantaged. Later, with the vivisection of the state between Bihar and Jharkhand, the public finance crisis in Bihar had reached a critical level. Productive ‘capital accumulation’ was practically absent. Poverty and misery got aggravated. Yet Lalu Prasad’s political supremacy was intact and his rallies attracted a substantial congregation of the backward castes, thanks to the mesmerising appeal of the Mandal Commission. Even though the ‘state’ was in retreat, the subaltern had hoped to enter its ‘sanctum sanctorum’ on the basis of ‘positive discrimination’. In the process, he became electorally invincible and leader of the broadest section of the poor in Bihar. After the demolition of ‘Babri Masjid’, his stopping of LK Advani’s chariot and controlling a string of riots, Yadav added a new social constituency of the ‘Muslims’ to his fold. But with his involvement in the ‘fodder’ scam and the installation of his wife Rabri Devi at the helm after his arrest, his support system started dwindling. He became essentially a leader of his own caste. Further, during the Rabri Devi period, the nefarious activities of his two notorious brothers-in-law shrunk his support even more.

The two high-profile leaders in the ‘social justice movement’ from the ‘socialist’ rank, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav, who revolted against Lalu Prasad earlier, ultimately combined to form the Janata Dal (U). It was a formidable combination. Even though Sharad Yadav was a rootless leader, his projection helped in providing a contrarian view away from Lalu Prasad’s social base. In the parliamentary election, he could defeat Lalu in the Yadav-dominated Madhepura election. Even after the emergence of JD(U), Lalu Prasad could retain his core social support, because they thought their leader was merely ‘implicated’ in the scam, and he is not really an offender. But interestingly, in the present financial misdemeanour which is an ‘open and shut case’ of individual accumulation, the support of his core constituency continues unabated.

However, the class complexion of this social base has changed. Contrary to the earlier multi-caste congregation of the poor, the RJD now draws its support from a relatively upward mobile well-clad youth of the same caste background. They have reaped the fruits of Bihar’s double-digit GSDP growth in the last 15 years since 2005 under the stewardship of Nitish Kumar. They are ‘bottom up’ contractors, power brokers, entrepreneurs and financially empowered youth.

Lalu’s rally, Sharad Yadav’s exit and the perceived snub of the party in the recent cabinet reshuffle will not affect Nitish Kumar electorally. With Sharad Yadav in the RJD fold, the ‘Yadav and Muslim’ combination, as it has resurfaced now, may get further consolidated. But, this will also ensure a counter mobilisation and help Nitish Kumar in easily crafting a ‘coalition of extremes’ with the BJP. The proposed ‘positive discrimination’ in favour of the lower backwards by the Union Government, a variant of the ‘Karpoori Formula’, will be the icing on the cake to stitch a coalition of upper castes, a section of the upper backwards, lower backwards, Dalits and a section of the Muslims as well. Thus Bihar may celebrate the authentic empowerment of its subalterns but it is yet to banish the brash criminalisation of the pre-2005 era from its world.

Shaibal Gupta is Member Secretary, Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna

The views expressed are personal

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