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Mainstream, VOL LX No 35 New Delhi, August 20, 2022

Bihar Politics: Tejashwi’s Trump Card? | Nilofar Suhrawardy

Friday 19 August 2022, by Nilofar Suhrawardy

Whose victory and whose defeat should the turn of political cards in Bihar be termed as? Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal-United) has certainly succeeded in checking his former ally, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s probable move of reversing political tide against him in Bihar. He apparently apprehended this move and did not hesitate in shifting his sides, aligning with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) - to ensure his command as chief minister and thus pushing BJP to ranks of opposition. Perhaps, BJP did not expect such a sudden move from Kumar. Given that Kumar has never been too friendly with RJD and has exercised little restrain in breaking its alliance with it in the past to shake hands with BJP, the latter did not probably expect the two former rivals to become “friendly” again. Kumar would have certainly not taken this major step if he did fear prospects of being pushed to the opposition by BJP. In essence, political desperation has forced Kumar to turn to RJD for help. To a degree, this is suggestive of defeat of the very cards he had exercised in past, that of allying with BJP. Kumar’s U-turn certainly spells failure of cards which BJP was probably planning to exercise to ensure its command over Bihar. This also indicates that BJP’s “success” in Hindi-belt has been considerably restricted by it being pushed to opposition in this state’s assembly.

Though RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav has exercised political wisdom loaded with courtesy in welcoming Kumar to their old “Grand Alliance” – Mahagathbandhan- , there is no denying that this development spells a major victory for him and his party. It may be recalled, RJD’s poor performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, prompted him to start convincing his father (Lalu Prasad) and other senior leaders to align for contesting 2015 Bihar assembly elections. This led to formation of the Grand Alliance and its success in 2015 polls. In 243-member Bihar Assembly, the Grand Alliance won 178 seats, with RJD securing 80 of 101 seats it contested from, JD-U 71 of 101 seats and Congress 27 of 41 seats they contested. RJD secured 18.4% votes, JD-U – 16.8% and Congress got 6.7% votes. BJP may have performed well in 2015 if the Grand Alliance had not been formed. It may be noted that during the preceding 2010 Bihar assembly elections, JD-U, RJD and Congress had contested as rivals. Their total vote share, 22.50, 18.85 and 8.9% respectively, was more than 50% while the vote share of BJP and its allies was around 40%.

However, JD-U decided to part company with Grand Alliance on July 26, 2017 and align with BJP. Political handshake between JD-U and BJP brought the latter from opposition to power and pushed Congress and RJD to opposition. JD-U fought 2020 assembly polls as an ally of BJP. But as recent developments indicate, JD-U has changed sides again.

Statistically, RJD has had upper edge in Bihar politics for quite some time. Though Lalu Prasad remains a political bigwig in Bihar, his son Tejashwi Yadav has been politically astute as RJD leader since 2010. His strategies have helped RJD gain more seats than JD-U in 2010, 2015 as well as 2020 assembly elections. Kumar’s attempt to secure strategist Prashant Kishore’s help in 2015 had limited impact. While RJD won 80 seats, 58 more seats than it did in 2010, JD-U won 71, 44 lesser. Tejashwi’s campaigns have focused more on what Bihar and its citizens really need, economic opportunities, jobs and better education. During 2020 assembly polls (2020), BJP did not succeed in securing a major win. RJD gained more seats and votes in 243-member Bihar assembly. While BJP won 74 seats and 19.4% votes, RJD secured 75 seats and 23.1% votes. JD-U won 43 seats and 15.4% votes. Not surprisingly, in this scenario, BJP emerged as a big brother to JD-U in NDA alliance. Kumar no longer enjoyed the earlier dominance his party had in Bihar assembly as well as state politics. Compared to 115 seats JD-U won in 2010 elections, 71 in 2015, in 2020, the party won lesser seats. In 2010, BJP won 91 seats, followed by 53 in 2015. In 2020, while BJP’s performance improved against its gains in 2015, the same cannot be said about JD-U.

The recent decision of Kumar to cross borders and align with RJD and return to their former Grand Alliance is a reflection of his finally having accepted political reality on two fronts. One it that he cannot afford to remain a BJP ally at the expense of his political future. It is fairly well understood now, BJP’s key motive behind it aligning with regional parties is to use the same to strengthen its own base in their states and then push them out of power. It may be recalled in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), BJP’s alliance with People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was short-lived. Following J&K assembly elections in December 2014, PDP and BJP reached an alliance in March 2015 to head the state government. The BJP walked out of this alliance on June 19, 2018. Not much needs to be said about the impact this “alliance” has had on Mufti’s political standing in her own home terrain. Fear of being politically side lined in Maharashtra probably compelled Shiv Sena leader Udhav Thackeray to turn his back towards BJP, walk out of NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and align with UPA (United Progressive Alliance). He stayed the chief minister from November 28, 2019 to June 29, 2022. BJP, as political developments indicate, used other tactics, to push him out of power and have its “man” head the state government. Kumar probably feared similar developments in his own state.

Irrespective of speculations being voiced regarding Kumar’s political grievances about being ignored for vice-president’s post and/or his eyes on prime ministerial position in 2024, as of now, he has ensured his position as Bihar’s chief minister. Perhaps, as indicated earlier, Kumar started deliberating upon his political future following 2020 assembly results. Despite their alliance, they did not spell electoral sweep for either BJP or JD-U. The attempt to use Ayodhya-card did not spell any major gain for BJP. Though Prime Minister Modi touched on Ayodhya-card during his campaign, it did not succeed in turning the electoral tide totally in favour of BJP. Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan even claimed that he wanted Sita temple in Sitamarhi bigger than Ram temple in Ayodhya. This didn’t help him.

Fear of being politically back-stabbed by BJP in his own home state apparently left Kumar no other option but to shake hands with RJD. This is a strong signal of him being forced to acknowledge and accept political importance and numerical strength of RJD in Bihar and assembly, respectively. Notwithstanding the prior political qualms he entertained about friendly ties with RJD leaders and acknowledging their strength, specifically of Lalu Prasad as well as his son Tejashwi, this has now been considered imperative to save himself from BJP’s political trap. Without doubt, BJP stalwarts were not prepared for this development. In essence, Kumar’s present “success” rests on that of RJD and political astuteness exercised by Tejashwi. Not Kumar but Tejashwi and his party should be credited for having wisely used their political trump-card as and when needed!

(Author: Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:— Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006). )

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