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Hope and anger mark a month of Nitish’s BJP-backed tenure in Bihar

Nitish junked the Grand Alliance in Bihar that trounced the BJP two years ago and returned to his old ally after weeks of tensions over graft allegations against RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his son

india Updated: Aug 27, 2017 07:25 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, Patna/Bhojpur/Buxar/Saran/Muzaffarpur
Nitish Kumar,Bihar,BJP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi at Paurnea Airport on Saturday.(PTI Photo)

A mix of aggression, elation, hope, anger, disappointment, and insecurity marks the mood of Bihar, exactly a month after Nitish Kumar took oath as chief minister, in a new avatar, with the BJP.

Nitish junked the Grand Alliance that trounced the BJP two years ago and returned to his old ally after weeks of tensions over graft allegations against RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his son.

“The realignment in Patna has catalysed a new round of social churning on the ground. On the one hand, the coalition of extremes - of upper castes and backwards - represented by the BJP-Nitish combine is back. On the other, the old social base of Lalu Prasad - of Muslims and Yadavs - is stronger than before,” says eminent social scientist, Saibal Gupta. This is most visible on the ground.

aggression and hope

If there is one constituency which is the most elated, and the most aggressive, it is the upper-castes.

In the Buxar bazaar, Narayan Upadhyay runs a shop selling construction material. A Brahmin, he voted for BJP in the 2014 and 2015 elections, and says, “Bihar slipped in the last two years. We remember the dark days of Lalu’s rule. RJD cadre bully their way around, the administration is helpless, and Lalu is corrupt.”

Nitish, he argued, had made a mistake in breaking with BJP - and was correcting that mistake.

But while Upadhyay framed his support in terms of development and law and order, others see it in terms of raw power.

Angad Rai is a Rajput farmer in Chillhari village. Sitting on his tractor on the Buxar-Bhojpur road, he says, “After Nitish-Lalu alliance, these backwards had become too big. This will show them their aukad (standing). We are back in power.”

The other end of this alliance is represented by those like Tapeshwar Singh, an auto mechanic in Muzaffarpur district.

A Kuswaha, which is among the backward castes, he says, “Nitish did the right thing. He and Lalu were pulling the government in different directions. Under Lalu, Yadavs become too dominant. We will get more space in this government.” An old voter of Nitish Kumar, Singh had shifted to BJP in the last election.

The disappointment

But precisely for the reason Singh is hopeful, Dilip Yadav is furious. As one turns at the end of the newly inaugurated Digha-Sonepur bridge into Saran district, Yadav is idly staring at the cars running past him.

“I am a Yadav. I support my side. Didn’t Nitish know two years back Lalu was tainted? Why did he ally with him then? Because he knew he would lose otherwise. He is a traitor.”

How does the change at the top affect people like him? He replies, “When RJD is in power, I can walk into the secretariat. There are often fights with upper castes, who trap us in false cases. If we have someone in government, forwards are cautious. We have the upper hand. All that is over.”

Yadavs had been out of the power structure between 2005 and 2013, and in the last poll, swallowed their pride to vote for Nitish as they saw it as the route to re-enter Patna’s secretariat. The door, they think, is closed again.

The insecurity

But it is another group which is even more wary. Jamaluddin Chak is a Muslim-dominated village in Danapur on the outskirts of Patna. Mansoor Alam is selling chocolates to three children, as he narrates the events of August 15.

“Bajrang Dal people came in as a part of a procession. They chanted slogans- Hindustan Zindabad, and then added Pakistan Murdabad, Mian Murdabad. Some village boys threw stones at them. There was a scuffle.”

But Alam is willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Nitish Kumar, for his government immediately controlled the situation. “See within an hour, police was here. For five days, security forces were stationed in the village.” Alam also nodded at the CM’s explanation for splitting the Mahagatbandhan, saying, “It is not easy to work with Lalu.”

But other Muslims do not share his assessment. In Ranipur Sagar of Bhojpur district, Mohammed Tasleem Ahmed is a local aspiring politician. He says, “We voted for a particular agenda, to keep the BJP out. It is a betrayal. Tensions have already started in our village.” Some distance away, in Shahpur, Ahmed says Bajrang Dal activists had recently attacked a truck and men transporting cow meat.

In all this, the Dalits remain the most silent constituency. Many remained non-committal; others were brushed aside by the more dominant castes as they thought through politics. But the wide social group of Dalits will remain a key swing constituency when elections approach.

High politics at the top has created new social realities on the ground. Navigating this would be the new government’s big challenge.

First Published: Aug 27, 2017 07:19 IST