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Bihar polls overview: Can Narendra Modi pull it off against 'grand alliance' of Lalu-Nitish?

New Delhi: The  Assembly poll results in Bihar will not only decide the direction of Bihar politics but will also have a major impact on the political future of all three big faces in these
Raj Singh November 05, 2015 19:13 IST
Raj Singh

New Delhi: The  Assembly poll results in Bihar will not only decide the direction of Bihar politics but will also have a major impact on the political future of all three big faces in these elections – Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad.  

The people of Bihar voted in large numbers in these elections. The voting percentage was impressive in all five phases - 57% in first phase,55% in second phase, 53% in third phase, Over 57 % in fourth phase , over 59% in fifth phase

Interestingly, women outnumbered men in these elections.

An emphatic BJP victory will further boost the hold of Narendra Modi within the party, besides settling his personal political score with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.   On the other hand, a defeat will indicate that the loss in Delhi was not a fluke, and that it was a manifestation of a gradual decrease in popularity of the Prime Minister. This can give a handle to his detractors within the party who are waiting for the first real opportunity to challenge Modi's dominance of both the party and the government.

Bihar elections will decide political future of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad

These elections are equally crucial for both Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar.

It is for the first time that Nitish is seeking the mandate for CM's chair in company with Lalu Prasad. In 2005 and 2010, he fought elections in alliance with BJP, and Lalu was his principal opponent. A defeat in 2015 Assembly elections would vindicate his opponents charge that he has no political clout of his own, and that he can score win with the support of either BJP or RJD.

It should be recalled that after parting ways with the then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar under the banner of his new political outfit Samata Party could manage to win only 7 seats in 1995 Assembly elections.

The  electoral rout in 1995 forced Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes to join hands with the BJP despite the saffron party being reduced to a political pariah in the aftermath of demolition of Babari structure in Ayodhya on 6 December, 1992.  1995 election results had forced Nitish to change his strategy after he realized that he could not challenge Lalu on his own.  The rest, as we say, is history.

For Lalu Prasad, a defeat in these elections may prove to be the swan song of his political career.  He has already been barred from contesting elections after his conviction in fodder scam. He is trying to establish his two sons and daughter in Bihar politics knowing fully well that he is on the last leg of his political career. Interestingly, RJD has already announced the Assembly seats from where his two sons will contest although the entire list of RJD candidates is yet to be released.

Everybody wants to know who is the favourite in these elections? The answer could have been easy had there been no grand alliance between foes-turned-friends Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. A three-cornered contest would have suited BJP-led alliance and their overwhelming victory would have been a foregone conclusion.

But the fear of Narendra Modi, under whose leadership NDA won 32 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 parliamentary elections, left Lalu and Nitish with no other option than to join hands for their political survival forgetting all acrimonies and differences of the past.

Those who know Bihar from close quarters are aware that Nitish Kumar has no political support base of his own, given the fact that his caste men are miniscule in numbers and are concentrated mainly in two districts – Nalanda and Bihar. Right from the day one of his taking over as Bihar CM, Nitish was mindful of this fact and that's why he tried to create a loyal political constituency of his own. Carving out a separate category of ‘Mahadalits' was part of this experiment that unfortunately failed with his falling apart with Jitan Ram Manjhi who has now crossed the fence and joined hands with the BJP.

His emergence as a counterweight to Lalu Prasad was on account of the support that he received from all anti-Lalu forces led by the BJP. It was the opposition unity index that worked in favour of Nitish Kumar and helped him trounce RJD, both in 2005 and 2010 elections.

Will Nitish be equally effective after joining hands with Lalu Prasad who, most political observers believe, is still remembered for what has come to be known as ‘Jungle Raj' during 15 years of RJD rule?

Which way Muslims of Bihar will vote in 2015 Assembly elections?

Nobody can predict who will emerge victorious in these elections but the joining of hands between Lalu and Nitish has definitely united one major section – Muslims who are around 17 % of the total electorate.

Now this community will vote en bloc for the ‘grand alliance', In addition to Muslims, the other major pillar of this alliance is the Yadav community which is around 14 percent of the electorate. BJP is trying to get at least a small chunk of Yadav votes by flaunting OBC credentials of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even Modi himself does not forget to remind audience of his Dwarka connections in his political rallies.

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had benefitted because Nitish Kumar had succeeded in making inroads into Muslim vote bank although the majority of Muslim votes still voted for Lalu Prasad's RJD.  Since Nitish Kumar broke off with BJP opposing the ascendance of Narendra Modi as the PM candidate, he has generated sympathy among the Muslim electorate and this had caused split in the community.

Caste polarization in Bihar ahead of Assembly elections

Both Lalu and Nitish are well aware of the dangers  of a possible split in Yadav votes and that's why they have tried recently to polarize the voters on caste line. The arrest of Anant Singh , former JD(U) legislator and a close confidant of Nitish Kumar has to be seen in this context.

It all started with the murder of a criminal belonging to Yadav community in Mokama, a stronghold of Anant Singh's Bhumihar community. He was reportedly killed after being accused of eve teasing. Anant Singh, a JD(U) MLA at that time, was accused of masterminding the murder which he denied vehemently.  

Pappu Yadav, who is trying to come across as the new messiah  of Yadavas after he walked out of  RJD accusing lalu Yadav of practicing nepotism by promoting his sons as his political heir, tried to fish in troubled waters and accused the Nitish government of persecuting Yadavas.

Pappu's ploy to rally Yadavas behind me sent alarm bells to Lalu Prasad, who convinced Nitish to arrest Anant Kumar immediately  in order to checkmate the other Yadav. A desperate Nitish Kumar ,who is counting heavily on Lalu Yadav for mobilizing Yadavas in the favour of ‘grand alliance', decided to play the ball and ditched his onetime close confidant.  Interestingly, Anant Singh was arrested in an old case as the Police had no substantive proof against him in the recent murder case.

Not only this, Nitish further alienated Bhumihars by getting Sunil Pandey, another MLA  from the same community, arrested. This has created a sharp polarization not only among Bhumihars but other upper castes as well.

This polarization seems to be deliberately created, after Lalu openly confessed his pro-active role in getting Anant Singh arrested during the recent Swabhiman rally held at the historic Gandhi Maidan in Patna.

Role of Muslim-Yadav (MY) combination

Obviously, Lalu Prasad is once again depending on his time tested M-Y combination. And why not? The M-Y combination has a consolidated vote bank of 31 percent, comprising 17 percent of Muslim and 14 percent of Yadav votes.

Actually, this 31 percent loyal vote bank makes Lalu Prasad the most formidable political leader of Bihar, even today. No other political leader of Bihar is anywhere even close to Lalu Prasad, as far as individual following is concerned.

Now the question is Lalu has got such massive following then how come he lost two consecutive Assembly elections? What made Nitish trounce the “lantern party” in both 2005 and 2010 elections? The questions is not that difficult to answer. The sheer lawlessness and perceived hooliganism of RJD cadre created a fear psychosis among the non-Muslim, non-Yadav community. Politics of physical threat, extortion and kidnapping turned the majority of Bihar electorate against Lalu led RJD. They all joined hands under the NDA umbrella stitched by BJP and led by Nitish Kumar. That was the reason why Lalu got marginalized despite having the largest individual appeal among Bihar electorate.

Now that Nitish Kumar has walked out of NDA and joined hands with RJD, Lalu Prasad has sniffed the opportunity to replicate the winning formula of 1990s i.e. consolidation of M-Y vote bank.
But the emergence of Narendra Modi as the central force at national level has disturbed the electoral arithmetic of regional satraps like Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Will Narendra Modi's OBC background help BJP in Bihar Assembly elections?

Narendra Modi is deftly positioning himself as the tallest leader of  OBC community and he seems to be getting positive response all across the country including Bihar. He has held four rallies in Bihar in recent past. If the kind of gathering witnessed in these public meetings is any indication, then it can be easily said that he is getting support from almost every caste group in Bihar including a small but significant section of Yadavas.

In 2005 and 2010, Nitish Kumar rallied all anti-Lalu sections under one roof promising Good Governance (Sushashan) in the state that had allegedly witnessed worst kind of lawlessness and misgovernance under RJD regime. The rhetoric was so forceful that Nitish used to be taunted as ‘Sushashan Babu' by his opponents. Nevertheless, he succeeded in striking right chord with his political constituency.

Narendra Modi, interestingly, is treading the same path this time. He is playing the caste card tacitly although his entire campaign is publically centered on the issue of ‘development ‘.  Modi and his team is stitching alliances with all those who are unhappy with Lalu and Nitish with one or other reason.  BJP is all set to go for seat adjustment with former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, the new ‘Mahadalit ‘ icon in Bihar. He will definitely add additional support base to NDA which was largely with either Lalu or Nitish. Nitish Kumar's decision to unceremoniously remove him from CM's post  has antagonized the Mahadalits and now they are likely to put their weight behind BJP led alliance.

Role of Ram Vilas Paswan, Pappu Yadav and Jitan Ram Manjhi in Bihar Assembly polls

The BJP is reportedly is in talks with Pappu Yadav, who walked out of RJD after Lalu made it clear that his political heir will be from his own family. If political observers are to be believed, BJP is mulling over two options as far as Pappu Yadav is concerned. The party may enter into a formal alliance with him, offering him a few seats in his area of influence that includes Madhepur and Purnia. These areas have significant presence of Yadavas, and he will give Lalu a run for money in that region.

It's not that the BJP led NDA is not facing challenges. The major bone of contention among NDA constituents would be number of seats that they would be contesting. Upendra Kushwaha, Union Minister and RLSP leader is known to be a loose cannon. He is better known for changing sides according to his convenience. He considers himself to be a worthy claimant for the CM post and he has already struck a discordant note by asking the BJP to confine itself to the same 102 seats that the saffron party  had contested in 2010.

Same is the case with Ram Vilas Paswan. He considers himself to be the senior most among the acolytes of Jay Prakash Narayan. He has already reminded the BJP that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee favoured him as the Chief Minister of Bihar. However, it's also true that nowadays he is more interested in helping his son Chirag establish himself in Bihar Politics. But he is also likely to bargain hard when it comes to seat sharing.

Why did Mulayam Singh Yadav walk out of grand alliance?

Seat sharing will pose serious challenge to grand alliance of Lalu and Nitish. Mulayam Singh Yadav led Samajwadi Party has already walked out of grand alliance over being ignored in seat distribution.  Out of 243 Assembly seats, RJD and JD(U) decided to contest 100 each. They left 40 seats for Congress and 3 for NCP. A miffed NCP decided to contest alone and after that Lalu offered 5 seats to SP, while the party wanted to contest at least 12 seats.  SP supermo was also unhappy with the fact that the Congress, which has lost  almost all its support base , has been given 40 seats, way beyond what  the party, according to SP, deserves.

But the real story is something else. It is being said that Mulayam was not interested in contesting elections in alliance with Congress as it would have confused Muslims in UP who have stood by Mulayam and his party. The fear of Muslim votes getting divided between Congress and SP in 2017 UP Assembly elections forced SP to develop cold feet over continuing with the grand alliance.
Since SP and NCP have no significant presence in Bihar, their desertion may not pose any threat to RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine, but if they decide to contest independently, whatever votes they garner would hurt the grand alliance and help the NDA.

Internal conflicts within ‘grand alliance'

But the major problem would arise when RJD and JD(U) would declare their candidate list. As the two parties would be contesting 100 seats each, their cadre in remaining Assembly constituencies where they had contested last time may revolt.

In 2010 Assembly elections, RJD had filed candidates in 168 constituencies while JD(U) had contested 141 seats. In most of these seats, they were in direct fight with each other.  It will be a tough task for the leadership of the two parties to convince their leaders and cadre.

What is interesting is that JD(U) is trying to rope in Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in these elections. Kejriwal reportedly has agreed to share the stage with Nitish Kumar only. He, however, has refused to campaign for Lalu's RJD. Even Mamata Banerjee is said to be interested in campaigning for Nitish Kumar. Since, their parties are almost non-existent in the state, Kejriwal and Mamata have nothing to offer to Nitish Kumar. Yes, their support may boost the morale of the grand alliance.

Can Modi win this battle for BJP in Bihar?

Since the BJP has no credible face at the local level, they are relying heavily on the personal charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Despite spending 15 months in power, Modi's popularity remains entact, at least in Bihar, as was evident from the massive attendance at the Bhagalpur rally of the Prime Minister. He seems to have made inroads into almost all sections of society except for Muslims.

His strong ‘Hindutva' image has won the support of upper castes. OBCs, including a section of Yadavas, consider him as one of them. The presence of Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi has shifted a major chunk of both ‘Dalit' and ‘Mahadalit' votes towards NDA. Kushwaha brings with him the influential Koeris of the state. Another Koeri leader Nagmani is also expected to either throw his weight behind NDA or contest independently that will again work to BJP's advantage.

The consolidation of Muslim and Yadav votes in favour of grand alliance has made the contest very close. It looks like a neck to neck fight but the present political and caste equations also indicate the possibility of all anti-Lalu and anti-Nitish forces getting united under NDA umbrella.

Under these circumstances, we can safely say that it's advantage NDA in the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections, as of now.