It’s difficult not to think of American essayist and novelist, Charles Dudley Warner, when you think about the ‘grand alliance’ of Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD to counter the growing force of ‘communal’ BJP in Bihar. And no, the reason is not the intellectual similarity between Warner, Nitish and Lalu. The reason lies elsewhere. It lies in what Warner said more than 100 years back. He said – “Politics makes strange bedfellows”.
Well it does and how. Thus, however much Lalu and Nitish may shout from rooftops that they share the same ideology and that they were part of the same JP movement in 1976 and that they are coming together in the interest of the nation to stop ‘communal’ forces in the tracks and to keep the ‘idea of India’ intact, the fact is that not too long ago both the men in question were bitter enemies and did not spare any chance to attack or take pot-shots at each other.
Yes, in the world of politics nobody is a permanent enemy or a permanent friend, especially in the era of coalition politics but at the same time no political party can forget the fact that at the end of the day all the arithmetic can go wrong if they are not able to convince people to vote for them. This is the beauty of electoral politics and this is where the catch lies, even though every political party has the right to align with whoever they want.
JD(U) may have been forced to join hands with the RJD and the Congress for the upcoming Assembly by-polls for ten seats in Bihar after the drubbing that it got in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls winning only two seats out of 40 in the state. It lost badly to the BJP with whom Nitish had severed ties last year on the issue of Narendra Modi being projected as NDA’s PM candidate. But then the question is as to how Nitish is going to convince people that the same Lalu who not too long ago was dubbed by him as the harbinger of ‘jungle raj’ in the state now means ‘good governance’.
The question is also as to how he is going to convince people that Lalu and his cronies have had a change of heart and that they will no longer indulge in kidnapping, rape and other crimes and be totally apathetic to the sentiments of the people? There are many more such questions, the answers to which Nitish and other JD(U) leaders will have to give to the people.
It cannot be denied that caste and religion has always played a major role in determining the voting pattern in Bihar. It is precisely this reason why Lalu, inspite of terrible law and order situation, criminalisation of politics and almost no development agenda, managed to rule the state for fifteen years by milking the famous M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) combination to the hilt.
On his part Nitish too wooed the extreme backward castes or the Mahadalits, the non-Yadav OBCs and the Muslims who helped him become the chief minister of Bihar in 2005 for the first time. He was also helped by the alliance with the BJP which saw upper caste votes being consolidated in their favour. But the victory of NDA in 2005 and then again in 2010 was not only due to getting the caste and the religion combination right. The appeal of the NDA in the state was mainly due to the clarion call for good governance, growth, better law and order situation and women’s empowerment among other things.
To be fair to Nitish, even though he always kept an eye on his vote-bank in Bihar, he did go all out to change the perception of the state and bring it back on track, investing majorly in infrastructure, including roads, hospitals, schools and so on and creating an environment for businesses to invest there, which in turn generated employment, especially in his first term. One of his biggest achievements was better law and order situation in the state. Development was the buzzword in Bihar and the NDA under the leadership of Nitish was voted back with an even bigger margin in 2010.
However, much water has flown under the bridge from then till now and in desperate times Nitish is resorting to desperate measures, hoping that the coming together of the so-called ‘secular’ forces will consolidate the Yadavs, backward castes and the Muslim votes in their favour. Bihar has a sizeable population of all of them.
Lalu is no less desperate himself, having been relegated to being a fringe player in Bihar for almost a decade now. He recently told a news agency that the ‘Mandal train’ had started and those who were willing to board were welcome while those not interested would miss it. This was an obvious reference to politics of OBC that had catapulted him to power in the 1990s in the wake of the implementation of Mandal commission recommendations.
But in the recently held General Elections the people of Bihar, along with Uttar Pradesh, showed that they would vote irrespective of caste, creed and religion for a party which promised them a better life and would vote out those politicians who only indulged in lip-service. This is one the biggest reasons why, inspite of the fact that the BJP too worked on getting the caste and religion factor right in Bihar, the ‘Modi-wave’ worked and helped the NDA bag 32 seats in the state. There were other reasons too for Nitish`s loss and one of them was the anger of a majority of the upper castes against him for dumping the saffron party.
Given the above scenario, it will be interesting to see whether the upcoming Assembly by-polls in Bihar will bear dividends for Nitish and Lalu and whether the caste equations and the Minority card can be played by them in future for electoral gains. Or will they have to shun the old school of thought and finally accept the fact that the voting pattern of the electorate of ‘new India’, majority of who are in the youth bracket, has changed forever.
It will also be a reality check for Nitish, once again after the Parliamentary elections, to see whether he needs to go back to his agenda of development to come back to power and not go down the hackneyed path to garner votes with an eye on short term gains.