Allies in tussle: CPI-ML-Liberation demands its due from Lalu’s RJD | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Allies in tussle: CPI-ML-Liberation demands its due from Lalu’s RJD

Mar 16, 2024 10:43 PM IST

The RJD and its ally, the Communist Party (ML-Liberation) share a love-hate relationship and nowhere is this more visible than during seat-sharing talks

Even as the five-party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress-Left parties’ Mahagathbandhan, or Grand Alliance, is still busy finalising the seat-sharing deal for Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats ahead of the general elections, there are indications that the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD, the biggest constituent in the Grand Alliance, is facing a tough time negotiating a ‘sweet deal’ with the major Left party constituent, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (Liberation), or CPI-ML-Liberation.

Patna, Mar 11 (ANI): Former Bihar Chief Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Rabri Devi and party leaders Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Syed Faisal Ali, CPI-ML leader Shashi Yadav file their nomination papers for the upcoming State MLC elections in the presence of RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and others, in Patna on Monday. (ANI Photo)(Pappi Sharma) PREMIUM
Patna, Mar 11 (ANI): Former Bihar Chief Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Rabri Devi and party leaders Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Syed Faisal Ali, CPI-ML leader Shashi Yadav file their nomination papers for the upcoming State MLC elections in the presence of RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and others, in Patna on Monday. (ANI Photo)(Pappi Sharma)

The reason is the CPI-ML-Liberation’s growing dependability as a trusted ally for the RJD. The Left party’s strike rate in the 2020 assembly polls left a deep impression on Lalu, as well as on his younger son and heir apparent, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav.

Of the 19 seats that the Grand Alliance allotted to CPI-ML-Liberation in the 2020 assembly polls, the latter won 12. In terms of vote share, CPI-ML-Liberation won 12 seats with just a 3.16% vote share, while RJD won 75 out of 144 seats with a 23.11% vote share, as per Election Commission of India data.

The results had left the RJD top brass wondering whether it had been a miscalculation on their part to give fewer seats to CPI-ML-Liberation, which had last won an impressive eight seats in the 2005 February assembly polls, though only five in the subsequent assembly polls held in November that same year. In 2005, Bihar had witnessed two assembly polls in quick succession after a stint of President's Rule.

The Grand Alliance now comprises five parties: RJD, Congress, CPI-ML (Liberation), Communist Party of India, and Communist Party of India (Marxist), after Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) exited the Grand Alliance this January. The JD(U) realigned with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to form the state government on January 28, 2024. In the previous Grand Alliance government which lasted from August 2022-Jan 2024, CPI-ML-Liberation did not join the government but remained a key ally.

The other factor that has catapulted the outfit to an envious position of vote-transferring capability since the early 1990s is CPI-ML-Liberation’s cadre-based structure and substantial support base among weaker sections from backward classes/ scheduled castes. The ultra-left outfit CPI-ML-Liberation, formed in the late 1970s by late former general secretary Vinod Mishra, joined mainstream parliamentary politics after coming overground In the early 1990s.

After Mishra's death in December 1998, the party’s young leader Dipankar Bhattacharya took over as general secretary and continued to serve in that position for successive terms till date.

"CPI-ML-Liberation has a vote transferring capability and it is crucial for entities like RJD, which after successive losses in the past two parliamentary polls since 2014, is keen on winning a good number of seats by defeating the BJP-JD(U)-led NDA. After the 2020 assembly election, RJD has realised that CPI-ML-Liberation's support is required to give a tough fight to the NDA, as the left party continues to have a support base among the poorest sections of backward classes and scheduled castes in central and north Bihar," said a senior RJD leader.

History of ML’s rise, love and hate with RJD


The CPI-ML-Liberation’s rise as a major Left party in Bihar was quite dramatic, in the milieu of post-Mandal Commission Bihar, when in the early 1990s caste politics took centre stage as the erstwhile Janata Dal under Lalu mobilised backward classes to fight for government job reservations and bulldoze the upper caste hegemony.

CPI-ML-Liberation has been known for its assertive movements for land reforms in the early 1980s, through its front Indian People's Front (IPF). The IPF was the face when CPI-ML-Liberation was still underground, to mobilise marginalised farmers and oppressed classes against landlords in central and north Bihar. Later, after coming overground in 1992 to join parliamentary politics, the CPI-ML-Liberation emerged as a strong baiter of the RJD, which emerged from a split in the erstwhile Janata Dal. The CPI-ML-Liberation criticised the RJD for playing caste-based politics in the name of a social justice agenda, and for not addressing law and order challenges properly. The CPI-ML-Liberation was also fighting tooth and nail against RJD strongman and former Siwan MP Mohammad Shahabuddin.

CPI-ML-Liberation youth leader Chandrashekhar was killed by gunmen in Siwan in March 1997, a trigger event after which the party took on the RJD – then in power under Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi as Chief Minister – hammer and tongs in Siwan and across Bihar.

Observers like Rakesh Tiwary, a social scientist based in Patna, feel CPI-ML-Liberation’s main agenda of empowering the poorest among the poor and pushing a social justice campaign by championing the cause of land reforms, has been its USP and helped it keep its identity as a Left party, when other major Left parties CPI and CPM found much of their support bases eroded by the RJD’s caste-based platform.

However, CPI-ML-Liberation has also been often criticised for supporting RJD covertly at times of crisis, like abstaining from the trust vote when the RJD formed the government with a slight majority along with the Congress in 2000, after the NDA led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar failed to muster support to prove its majority after a week-long stint in power. In 2015, following the Narendra Modi-led BJP coming to power at the centre, CPI-ML-Liberation chose to align with the RJD-led Grand Alliance, which then also included Nitish’s JD(U). In 2017, the JD(U) walked out of the Grand Alliance to realign with the BJP-led NDA.

“CPI-ML-Liberation and RJD have come closer in the wake of the changed social and political scenario. Our common aim is to defeat the BJP, which is in power at the centre. Besides, we do have some agendas in common with RJD, like social justice and fighting against the feudal order. Of course, CPI-ML-Liberation stands for radical social justice and there could be some contradictions, but we are united in the Mahagathbandhan on a common agenda to fight forces which are trying to weaken secularism and change the constitution,” Dhirendra Jha, politburo member of CPI-ML-Liberation, told HT.

Insiders in the Grand Alliance feel the RJD and CPI-ML-Liberation bonhomie since 2015 has intensified as both the outfits know well how the rise of aggressive Hindutva politics was a potential threat to their own support base among weaker sections. Their concern is especially about their eroding support among EBCs – extremely backward castes that comprise 36% of the state population per the Bihar caste-based survey, released in October 2023 – and Dalits, as past state and Lok Sabha polls have witnessed a shift of some OBC, EBC and Dalit votes towards the BJP.

“For CPI-ML-Liberation, it’s more a compulsion than the choice to align with RJD and vice versa, as both are facing a challenge to keep their vote base intact among the poorest of poor, among OBCs, EBCs and Dalits. CPI-ML-Liberation also feels the RJD’s substantial vote base, especially among religious minorities and Yadavs, might help it to win more assembly and parliamentary seats as it did in 2020 polls," said one senior RJD leader. CPI-ML-Liberation recently got a berth in State Legislative Council with support from the RJD, after having made a strong demand for one Rajya Sabha seat in the last biennial polls.

Seat-sharing blues


Despite the bonhomie between the parties intensifying over the past few years, the seat-sharing deal between RJD and the major left constituent appears to be facing some roadblocks, as CPI-ML-Liberation is keen on settling on not less than five parliamentary seats against its demand for eight.

On March 14, the CPI-ML-Liberation leaders led by politburo member Dhirendra Jha and senior leader KD Yadav had met RJD state president Jagdanand Singh along with other leaders to thrash out a seat-sharing deal, but the meeting was inconclusive. " We want a respectable share of seats. Of course, we are in the Grand Alliance and would be in it. But at the same time, we want the seat adjustment to be favourable for us,” said Kunal, CPI-ML-Liberation state secretary.

Insiders in both parties said they are working on a seat-to-seat basis, with CPI-ML-Liberation keen on the Ara, Jehanabad, Karakat, Patna Saheb, Siwan and Katihar seats.

The hitch, according to sources, is on a few seats like Katihar where Congress, a senior member of the Grand Alliance, is a strong claimant keen to field senior leader and former MP Tariq Anwar, while Jehanabad and Siwan are strongholds of the RJD itself.

“We are in no way giving up our claim on the Katihar seat. We have a substantial share in Katihar and Seemanchal and we feel we have a winning chance. If it’s not given, it would only affect the Grand Alliance’s winning prospects,” said a senior CPI-ML-Liberation leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Jha too asserted that “CPI-ML-Liberation’s importance as a major Left constituent is still not being acknowledged as much as it should have been”, indicating that the party wants a bigger slice in seat distribution, no matter whether this suits RJD's poll plans, or not. The party has clarified that it would contest polls as part of GA irrespective of seat-sharing.

“At the Grand Alliance’s Jan Vishwas rally on March 3 in Patna, CPI-ML-Liberation had displayed its strength by mobilising a big crowd of its supporters. We do not feel the RJD would be less generous in giving us seats, as otherwise, it would not send the right message," said a senior CPI-ML-Liberation leader.

State RJD president Jagdanand Singh said the seat-sharing deal would be done within a day or two. “It will be done soon,” he told HT. There are speculations that the RJD might contest 25-28 seats on its own and allot three to four seats to ML, and five to six seats to Congress and distribute one seat each to the CPM and CPI.

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