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.

What can Nitish Kumar’s support for demonetisation tell us about his political aspirations?

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 high-value notes would be withdrawn on November 8, the public outrage that followed offered the Opposition parties an opportunity to come together to form an alliance against the Bharatiya Janata Party.

But the Opposition failed to grab this opportunity for two reasons. First, because the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party followed a wait-and-watch approach due to the impending Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, and second, due to the conflicting aspirations of some regional party leaders.

One of the most vocal Opposition voices in support of demonetisation is that of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. This is despite his alliance partner, Lalu Prasad Yadav, severely criticising the policy.

The detailed article can be read at the Scroll.in

Meanings of Bihar Election 2015: Victory of the Local and Popular over the Ignorance of the Others

(Note: This was written immediately after the assembly elections in Bihar in October-November 2015. This was not published anywhere out of laziness and because publishing in magazines/journals also involves many constraints. It is being posted without any alteration. It would be interesting to see how things have moved since then and when the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh would be going to polls very soon.)

The exuberance at the daily labor haat at Kankarbagh the day after Bihar state assembly elections and the reaction of the so-called upper castes at their happiness or the response of some Muslims during elections that this was a fight for their existence when asked about their electoral preference said a lot about who turned the election around for the combine of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad. And there was contribution of women voters from the Other Backward Class (OBC) and Mahadalit castes as well. This was a combination which did the unthinkable in an age when elections are contested through the prism of publicity campaign industry, though the Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance (Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Janata Dal (United) or JD (U)-Congress Party) also could not resist the temptation of hiring the same company that worked for Prime Minister Narendra Modi during 2014 Parliamentary elections. It was the “mother of all elections” as stated by the construction worker in Patna when he said that this was a “battle between CM and PM”.

For Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad it was a question of survival when they had been marginalized by the “national” organized political forces. It is relevant to mention how they always headed formations, which flourished on personalities rather than cadre network. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it was not only about consolidating the march of an aggressive rightward politics in economic as well as socio-cultural sphere but also a necessity to reconstitute the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament where they were consistently facing tough opposition. At the end, the personality cult of the Prime Minister received a drubbing and more and more internal squabbles would come out when this defeat will be analyzed along with the recent defeats in the local body elections in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The voices of dissent coming from the senior party leaders will be only the beginning.

Trying to get over the Brahmanical Lineage

The BJP has historically been a brahmanical political force, which in a certain sense also substituted the Congress party in Bihar, which earlier represented the landed savarna population. The only way that they could have won was to bring to their side (which had a sizeable portion of Bhumihars, Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasthas) a little bit of Mahadalit and OBC vote bank. Their politics historically alienated these sections and the effort to get them in this time was through Lok Janshakti Party or LJP, Rashtriya Lok Samta Party or RLSP and Hindustan Awam Morcha or HAM. They could have added at least some votes to the BJP kitty even though their performance in 2010 assembly elections was not great. LJP had only three MLAs, RLSP and HAM were new entrants to politics.

However, the impression generated by the submissiveness of the three parties to the BJP during seat allocation as well as during campaign on issues of communalism and reservation did not go down well among people. The message that went across through press conferences and statements of leaders belonging to these parties was that of “surrender” to the BJP whether it was distribution of seats or expressing their opinions. One would recall how the BJP dictated terms about number of seats each partner would contest as well as gag orders that were imposed on these partners, which they readily agreed to. Their image of “junior partner” did not add any autonomy to their identity. These factors failed to bring those crucial additional votes from oppressed masses to the partners and hence to BJP. In the process, all of them were decimated.

Laloo-Nitish Wave for a Secular Ethos

If the 2014 general elections were termed as “Modi-wave” then the Bihar election was definitely a “Laloo-Nitish wave” evident in the way Congress piggy-rode to victory in 28 constituencies out of the 40 it contested. The 2014 wave was against the Congress-led regime, as historical amnesia did not let people remember that there were BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regimes in between as well. The continuous ten years of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had given an opportunity to the campaign by Modi-led BJP to project the possibility of a complete turn-around of fortune of every Indian. This campaign found resonance among people due to the rising cost of living, declining income and increasing gap between rich and poor. The 2015 wave in Bihar was against a divisive and arrogantly blasphemous politics of elite, brahmanical political forces trying to hegemonize the oppressed castes. This became apparent in the discourse in favour of reservation that was started by Laloo Yadav when he declared that this election was for Mandal-II and later on the RSS Chief – Mohan Bhagawat – talked against reservation.

Except the Left-governed states, Lalu Prasad’s government in Bihar was the only one which established its secular credentials. He not only had the courage to arrest the then aggressive face of Hindutva—L.K. Advani — on October 23, 1990 in Samastipur when his Toyota rath (chariot) was out to change the political history of the BJP by catapulting it to political power subsequently but he ensured that there won’t be religious rioting in the aftermath of Gujarat genocide. In fact, surveys among Muslims post-Gujarat riots termed Bihar as the safest place in India. Even the Left Front government could not stop Advani when he was going around in Purulia in West Bengal state. It is this secular credential which led to consolidation of the Muslim vote behind Laloo Yadav. And the dangers of a rightwing upsurge were quite imminent as rioting in Uttar Pradesh and some parts of Bihar, the cow debate and murders and an overall hegemonistic ideology of dictating food habits and lifestyles showed.

The rightwing propaganda could not work because of the ineffective presence of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadre base in the state though they did begin to expand during the Nitish-BJP regime. Nitish Kumar could manage to emerge as a secular figure due to his anti-Modi rhetoric and furthermore due to straining ties with the BJP. The field-visits in some of the constituencies during elections revealed that BJP was trying to rely on a huge bogey of exported campaigners which was not taken positively by the voters as it strengthened the BJP’s image as an outsider. This image, which led to the rhetorical battle of Bihari versus Bahari (insider versus outsider), had left a negative impression and was visually represented in billboards without any image of local leaders or alliance partners. It was replaced only after the second phase of the elections with images of local BJP leaders and alliance partners.

Aggression Backfired

The campaign by Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah appeared too aggressive for the people to digest. This aggression was also akin to the aggression that the oppressed castes and now the Minorities have faced at the hands of the brahmanical forces. A clear message was sent to this effect by Amit Shah, the BJP Chief when he indicated that if BJP comes to power Pakistanis (meaning Muslims, in fact) will be very happy. There were posters circulated by BJP that blamed communities for killing cows.

It needs to be remembered that in a largely rural society like Bihar, the massive chunk of voters, who voted for Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar are also embedded in local social relations where the aggression of the upper castes has been historically a matter of contention. Presenting this aggression through campaign added to the polarization that was taking a political/electoral form. A good understanding of how historically social relations have unfolded in the state would have taught the BJP campaigners that brahmanical symbolisms embedded in food habits, lifestyles and even verbal communication forms had been consistently challenged by the likes of Karpoori Thakur, Left as well as post-Mandal forces. Laloo Prasad represented the agenda of social justice through his post-mandal rhetoric and politics as well as of secularism. He could connect more with the masses through his calm and quiet rebuttal of whatever the star campaigners spoke against him. The connection between the masses and the leaders of the Mahagathbandhan was becoming the key element, which would consolidate their electoral base. The opposition was not able to establish this connection and could not gauge the level of matured politicization of the masses leading to this reversal.

The Language of Masses: Who Connects Better

The BJP campaign was about taking rhetoric to its optimum level, as a theatrics that sought to draw masses into a conversation with the speaker. Every time the speaker spoke he also prodded the audience to repeat the same in an effort to transfer that rhetoric to the masses but it did not really happen because the socio-cultural and economic realities which masses inhabit is completely different from what the rhetoric represents.

A new style of public speaking where the audience is asked to repeat so as to give an impression that the masses are speaking the same thing as the speaker is superfluous way of assessing the mood of the masses. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah that way are not only new to the field of rhetoric but also belong to a particular genre, which is incapable of connecting to the masses due to the absence of necessary language and voice modulation, which comes from the local culture. Even when it came to exploiting the mythical notions Lalu Yadav outdid Narendra Modi. This was reflected in the spat that occurred over Modi calling Lalu Shaitan and Lalu responding by calling Modi Brahmapishach. Lalu again emerged victorious because he sent a message entrenched in the social relations by using a nomenclature that is used for the spirit of a dead Brahmin who did evil things in his life or misused his knowledge to harm others. This was in bad taste for those sitting in Delhi but while doing rounds in fields backward caste and Dalit villagers understood the meaning of it. In other cases, for instance, one speaker loudly proclaims how Laloo Prasad would force Bihar to a dark, jungle raj while the other retorts that Laloo Prasad is known as a thief who stole fodder. He responded to many such theatrics without any aggression and with a very serious face when he said pointing to the neck “Narendra Modi, speak normally or your veins will burst”. Masses connected to him in Bihar more than to any other politician. Though Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar were calm speakers avoiding any kind of aggressive tenor the former’s aggression became more prominent when he talked of communalism and reservation — two things that masses awaited to hear from their leaders. Aggression on these two issues was seen as positive, as some kind of hope. It is not simply an electoral victory but questions the idea of politics, which bans a convicted leader, but masses send him back with a thumping majority.

The Myth of Jungle Raj

What the BJP did not realize was the level of politicization of masses in Bihar on account of historical factors, unlike the comparatively different nature of politicization in states like Gujarat which Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have been more familiar with. This ignorance allowed them to not only have problems mentioned above but also tell masses things that they were not ready to believe, such as the argument of coming back of the Jungle Raj. Laloo Prasad had already indicated his political in the first pre-election rally of the combined alliance when he said that this was a battle for Mandal II. Laloo Yadav is heading a party where forces like his two brother-in-laws, Pappu Yadav or Shahabuddin are either out of party or do not have the same significance as before. It is not the same RJD as the earlier avatar and masses very well knew that. Along with this absence of criminal elements from the party, what also made the alliance sober was the image of Nitish Kumar as the “Vikas Purush” (Development Man). In fact, Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar were able to thwart even this oppositional campaign though their counter-propaganda of development with justice that they stood for.

The Prospects of the New Government

The results of the Bihar elections gave a respite to anybody wanting to check the parochialism and aggression that the contemporary India is experiencing. However, it is not going to be a turn around for the lives of masses in Bihar. If the new government has to prove itself it will have to be on grounds of how well it can further the neoliberal model of development. Mr Kumar has been able to show in past that he could do that. The rhetoric that Mr Prasad used to consolidate his mass base cannot work now. In earlier political avatars he had basic achievements to show to masses — participation of oppressed castes as equals in everyday life. That was achieved when his 15 years of rule gave voice these castes. Now he is confronted with a much more difficult question — that of bringing the fruits of “development” to these masses. Even Mr Kumar could not improve the educational system in the state as the universities remain academically and physically in a state of decay; employment generation and developing agriculture along with expanding manufacturing and service industry will be some major challenges. This challenge is important when construction drives the growth rate and the share of primary sector has been decreasing in economy. Also, any serious effort in any field would drive up the growth rate but that would not necessarily mean that poverty and inequality would be taken care of. The post-electoral developments also cast doubts about how efficiently will the new government perform. It would have been wiser for RJD to have two sons of Lalu Yadav as ministers in the new government rather than making one of them Deputy Chief Minister. They are neither well read nor have any experience in governance or politics. In next five years it will be a challenge for Nitish Kumar to retain his image as Vikas Purush, more so when the hopes generated by the new government will be put to test.