Ghar Vaapsi for Nitish Kumar and Project Bihar of BJP

In 2012 Nitish Kumar had said, “The leader must be secular and have an abiding faith in the democratic values“. In 2013 JD(U) executive had criticised Narendra Modi’s candidature for Prime Ministership on the grounds that he failed in discharging his duties as the head of the state to check communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. The same political party today sees him as upright and secular as Nitish Kumar moves back to his old ally. So, either he has become ‘communal’ or BJP’s Prime Minister has become secular since 2012. Whatever is the nature of transformation in the orientation of the two personalities it will have significant ramifications for Indian politics. Whatever the ‘ghar vaapsi’ of Nitish Kumar means it denotes more a victory for BJP than Nitish Kumar, who would only be a loser in long run because he heads a party which is without cadre. He only survives through populist policy measures. BJP will use these few years to demolish the support base of Laloo Prasad Yadav and extend the RSS presence in state and Nitish Kumar will happily oblige them as he did earlier.

BJP’s Bihar project seems to be nearing its completion. In an environment where corruption is abounding the selective display of efficiency of Enforcement Directorate or Income Tax authorities or CBI definitely raises questions. The recent expose about Chhatisgarh minister’s wife buying forest land, Shashi Karnawat’s complaint against corrupt bureaucracy in Madhya Pradesh, criticisms from within party have come and veteran leaders suspended for raising questions, Anandiben Patel‘s daughter took advantage of her mother’s political position, veteran lawyer Prashant Bhushan has been raising issues of corruption relating to Birla-Sahara papers and the related trail of corruption in the system or evidence have been there about the undue favours to particular corporate houses but nothing has been done. When there is so much of corruption around the country when the central government picks up certain cases (which are in the opposition political spectrum) and ignore the ones which are within their own realm it smacks of a deep seated motive.

There might be valid cases of corruption against the Yadav clan as they failed to learn even after the conviction of Laloo Prasad Yadav and, therefore, there is no ground for not raising questions about the same. However, the way BJP and JD(U) have managed to create a political atmosphere to delegitimise one political force and not others also need equal attention, which nobody seems to be doing. Nitish Kumar’s closeness to BJP is definitely not due to the sudden discovery of a corrupt Deputy Chief Minister but he has been consistently showing signs of going back to the old ally as pointed in an earlier article. In an alliance with Laloo Prasad Yadav Nitish was not getting any national significance and RJD was definitely going to be part of a national alliance against BJP. If he remained with RJD alliance he would have been gradually eclipsed. Nitish Kumar wants to be in limelight and is looking to play much longer innings and BJP seems, as of now, to be more helpful in that. He fails to understand that Narendra Modi would overshadow any political personality because of his own domineering and masculine traits.

Another Mockery of Democracy and Right-Wing Orientation of Nitish Kumar

The quick unfolding of events on 26th July 2017 are too quick to be taken as a result of some sudden development. The calculations and internal lobbying must have been going on for some time now. BJP has shown that if it cannot win by popular mandate it has other ways to come to power. It must be recalled that the 2015 assembly elections were fought by telling people that they should vote for a secular political alliance which also went by the agenda of social justice (it is a different matter if they really believed in it) against a brahmanical, communal political alliance. BJP and its allies were routed in the elections. People voted for a secular front. The upright Chief Minister of Bihar belied the hopes of voters and has now gone with the opponents against whom he was asking a mandate. He could have gone to people with the problem of corruption rather than going against a democratic verdict which brought him to power.

What also needs to be analysed is the fact that the upright politician is going back to an alliance which has shown its fangs post-2014 through encouraging mob lynchings of minority community, delegitimising the judiciary, parliament and office of President (where swearing-in is celebrated through slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’). His allies would be politicians who spew venom against minority communities. It would be interesting to see how he would defend his ‘secular’ credentials amidst all this.

Implications for 2019

It is increasingly becoming clear that the anti-BJP alliance of the so-called secular parties will be more cosmetic than with any potential to do damage to BJP in 2019 elections. With JD(U) going with BJP and Mulayam Singh, in all probability, will be siding with the NDA, the possibilities of a front would be between Congress, CPI(M), BSP, TMC, Akhilesh faction of SP and RJD as major parties. Whether these will be able to counter the corporate funded blitzkrieg and RSS cadre work on the ground will be a big question. Also, the positive outcomes for BJP in impending elections in states like Orissa will have a popular sway in their favour. Given the existing political circumstances, it would be difficult to counter the right-wing offensive even in 2019. The only option left for the anti-BJP forces would be to go back to the masses as BJP cannot be defeated now only through the mere arithmetic of alliances.

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Political Turmoil in Bihar and the Future of Anti-Communal Politics

When the 2015 assembly election campaign was in full swing central locations such as Dak Bungalow road had massive posters pointing to the way BJP fomented communal riots. The history of Laloo Prasad Yadav and the memory etched in the popular imagination of a leader who arrested Lal Krishna Advani when the ascendant BJP had taken out a rath yatra for the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Laloo could do it even though the Left government in West Bengal had failed to arrest Advani. This consolidated the secular support behind RJD and thereby JD (U). The initiation of the campaign through a mega congregation in Gandhi Maidan brought another section behind Laloo when he announced that the election was for Mandal – II. These consolidations also happened when Sangh Parivar leadership was spewing venom against minorities and reservation. The additional advantage that Laloo brought to the alliance was mass support. As the main campaigner, his eloquence connected him more to masses compared to the rhetoric of Narendra Modi (who addressed 31 rallies, more than any other leader) and Amit Shah.

BJP has overcome its defeat in Delhi and Bihar elections through victories in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur. Given the absence of any formidable opposition, it will perform better in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu compared to earlier elections. Bihar is one state where it would not be an easy ride for BJP even in 2019 and this is largely because of the brahmanical and anti-minority politics it has pursued. Hence, it is important for BJP to work out mechanisms to delegitimise Laloo Yadav, which would make it inconvenient for the possible allies to go ahead with him. And one way of delegitimisation is to bring up the corrupt nature of Laloo Prasad Yadav.

It is a universal knowledge that Laloo has been convicted once in case of corruption. One would assume that such a mature politician would not repeat the same as it jeopardises his political career. If the charges are proven against him it would reflect not only his political immaturity but his failure to overcome the shortcomings of being trapped in family-led politics.

The challenge for Laloo

A lot of is being said about the dilemma of Nitish Kumar – wherein he can neither afford to be branded an opportunist and communal by going with BJP nor can he completely go against an image of anti-corruption leader that he has projected for himself. However, it may not be an easy ride for Laloo Prasad Yadav and his family in case they part ways with JD(U). Even if BJP is not able to fast-track the cases against them (which it can be given its authoritarian penchant) how would Laloo project himself to the voters will be complicated. One possibility would be that he goes to them and plays victim at the hands of a brahmanical and anti-minority party and whip up caste and religious sympathy and support for himself. However, it may not be that easy now given that there is an expansion of middle class, if not economic then aspirational, which has been made to feel that a corruption free India would ensure them a better life (the absence of any popular discontent against demonetisation and GST reflects this tendency). The OBC youth may not go in as large number as it used to go earlier with him. Minority vote might stay with him.

Given that BJP’s vote share in the last assembly was around 24.42 % of the total votes polled if JD(U) goes with it (its share was 16.83%) even with reduced votes from minorities it would a stronger alliance also assuming that some OBC votes would go towards it. RJD’s vote share was 18.35% and Congress’s was 6.66%. This would not match the BJP alliance unless they are able to bring towards them at least some savarna votes due to their disenchantment with the BJP leadership at centre as well as the state. They would also require bringing back the Dalit votes towards themselves from JD(U). This political scenario would bring a lot of difficulties for Laloo Prasad Yadav and the big breakthrough that BJP is looking for could be achieved. It must be recalled, as I had stated in an earlier piece in Scroll, that Nitish Kumar has been soft towards Sangh Parivar, hence, with its increased network, it would go to the masses with the BJP agenda like no other political formation. It would also depend on how effectively can the Sangh Parivar take the BJP’s message to the masses. Only Left could have challenged their ideological work at ground level but that is a spent force in Bihar, no doubt some of them would be aligning with RJD if elections happen.

The Long Term Loss

It seems that the battle against communal forces has not been taken seriously by the so-called secular formations. This is reflected in not only an absence of a counter-narrative at ground level to what Sangh Parivar does but it is also reflected in the many chances that they give to the BJP to delegitimise themselves through one charge of crime and corruption or the other. Bihar is important for the national level politics against BJP because if Laloo is delegitimised it would affect the national alliance and may delegitimise the anti-communal politics as well. An alliance of the spent forces like non-BJP forces from UP, Orissa (because BJD would loose in all possibilities) and then Bihar would not have much teeth to encounter the well organised BJP.