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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 48, New Delhi, November 14, 2020

Lessons and Hopes From Bihar Election | Vijay Kumar

Friday 13 November 2020

by Vijay Kumar *

The results in Bihar Assembly Election could be summed up in one sentence. The juggernaut of toxic Moditva is rolling, nay, kicking, but could be countered through class solidarity by putting the issue of economic justice on the forefront.

The whole credit for NDA success attributed to P.M. Modi masks the massive investment made by the BJP. The BJP had been hyperactive with a virtual rally from September onwards and continued till the end, whereas there was no virtual rally from Mahagathbandhan side. It is true that Hindutva has obvious appeal among the forward castes, nay, conservative segments of other castes. But the reality was that BJP on its own was not in a position to win Bihar election. Continuing with the alliance with JD(U) and projecting its leader Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister was a sheer compulsion for BJP. It was due to Nitish Kumar the votes of extreme backward castes got transferred in favour of BJP along with almost en bloc votes of forward castes. Had BJP contested on its own, it could not have secured the seats it got only on the basis of votes of forward castes, whose votes constitute merely 15%. It is the votes of extremely backward castes, which was the votes of Nitish Kumar, that was transferred to BJP that resulted in BJP securing almost 30 seats more than JD(U) and emerging as a dominant NDA partner. Nitish was cut down to size because of the crass mechanism of the BJP by allowing one of its allies, LJP of Chirag Paswan to damage another ally, that is JD(U) of Nitish. This kind of brinkmanship ensured that Nitish has emerged highly bruised even after securing his Chief Ministership consecutively for the fourth time.

The BJP has also shown flexibility and adjustment towards alliance by accommodating Manjhi’s HAM(S) and Mukesh Sahani’s VIP after they left Mahagathbandhan. Both HAM(S) and VIP secured 4 seats each and their success proved out to be a clincher. On the other hand, Mahagathbandhan was let down badly by shockingly under-performance of the Congress Party and dent into Muslim votes made by Owaisi’s AIMIM, especially in Seemanchal region where Muslim votes is more than 30%. Had Mahagathbandhan accommodated Manjhi, Sahani and even Kushwaha from highly disproportionate 70 seats given to Congress, the Maha Gatbandhan would have ended up with almost 150 seats. The Congress has also damaged the prospect of the secular coalition by remaining extremely cagey-indeed downright defensive on the issue of secularism and it is this ambivalence of Congress that has opened the gate for Owaisi to step in and make inroad in Muslim votes. Taking Manjhi, Kushwaha and Sahani on board along with the Left groups would have made the Maha Gatbandhan coalition more broad-based.

Notwithstanding the fact the NDA has retained Bihar, the Man of the Match is undoubtedly Tejashwi Yadav. He is young and exuded tremendous energy by conducting as many as 253 rallies and has emerged an impressive speaker. The real significance of his style of campaign is bringing the issue of economic justice on centre-stage. He transformed social justice by grounding it in the notion of economic justice by moving away from his father’s variant of social justice rooted in caste identity. Here, the alliance with the Left parties lent considerable weight in putting the issue of economic justice as a main plank of Mahagathbandhan. Left forces have done well and it is their performance that propelled Tejashwi led Mahagathbandhan by almost reaching to the target. The legacy from Bihar verdict is that the issue of mobilization on the basis of caste has started. I have been arguing that the hegemony of BJP could be countered only through class mobilization rather than on the basis of caste identity (see: Combating Identity Politics Through Class Consolidation, Mainstream Issue dated 17.10.2020).

Tejashwi has also succeeded in setting up the agenda by raising the issue of unemployment and with the promise of providing 10 Lakhs jobs. This has forced the BJP and NDA to respond to it by promising 19 Lakhs jobs. Even since 2014, this is the first instance in which the BJP, even in his hegemonic moment, is compelled to respond to the agenda set up by opposition party. Tejashwi is going to be the leader of the opposition, and he must step up the demand for the jobs and should keep on harping on the issue of material deprivation, particularly the loss of jobs. He should also keep on acquiring further proficiency in his Hindi delivery. I have been arguing from 2014 that the Opposition Parties, including Congress, must have at least half a dozen mass-based leaders in Hindi heartland, who can also be impressive speakers in Hindi. It is equally puzzling that Kanhaiya, the former President of JNU Students Union, is an extremely impressive speaker in Hindi and yet he was not used by CPI or other Left parties. Kanhaiya toured extensively in Bihar in last year and wherever he spoke, he drew a huge crowd from the youth. One of the handicaps of Rahul Gandhi is that he is a better speaker in English rather than Hindi and that explains the shockingly poor performance of Congress in the heart of Hindi heartland: Bihar and U.P.

Notwithstanding the euphoria, the fact remains that Bihar is the only state in Hindi heartlands where BJP is still not in a position to have its own Chief Minister. Though Tejashwi led Mahagathbandhan missed the target by a whisker, he succeeded in bringing the material issue to the fore. The stellar performance of Tejashwi must lead to the consolidation of forces and groups of secularism and social justice with an emphasis on redistribution.

(Vijay Kumar, Advocate, The Supreme Court of India)

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