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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 19, April 25, 2009

Politics of Alliance in Bihar

Sunday 26 April 2009, by Subodh Kumar


Bihar politics continues to be full of surprises. The 14th Assembly elections in Bihar created history since Bihar is the only State in India’s electoral history where polls have been conducted twice in the same year (2005). The economy and governance became issues in a manner that is unusual for a polity more accustomed to personalities, caste and minority concerns. The referendum for development and good governance (susasan) encouraged the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) State Government led by Nitish Kumar to transform Bihar from the politics of social justice to the politics of the market. Hence, Nitish Kumar brought highly ambitious developmental projects. In the 11th Five Year Plan, the Government of Bihar aims to achieve the ambitious goal of removing poverty, hunger, illiteracy, chronic diseases along with generating 50 lakh jobs. Moreover, administrative reform, infra-structural reform, police reform, land reform, agricultural reform, educational reform and fast track courts are transforming the underdeveloped State to presumptive development.

In the light of these commitments and the work that the Government of Bihar has done in the last 41 months, Nitish Kumar is confident to sweep all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the 15th general elections. While analysing the prevalent situation in Bihar, we see that Bihar lacks sufficient development. This resulted in multi-dimensional failure on several fronts, particularly in the development of the market mechanism, distribution of public services, social security arrangement, agricultural degradation and environmental protection etc. Nitish Kumar must take stock of the contemporary situation as technology is helping in the process of accelerating growth, removing poverty and ensuring significant improvement in the living standards of the people. In the last 41 months, Nitish has taken initiatives but has failed to transcend the concept of economic development into social justice. Moreover, Nitish Kumar‘s pan-Indian strategy has suffered due to a fundamental tension between the lower castes‘ empowerment and development. The tension gets aggravated when the bureaucracy, police, media and judiciary are dominated by the twice-born castes. On the other hand, socio-political empowerment is challenging these structural inequalities. These inequalities leave the most backward castes (MBCs) once again frustrated. The danger to the Nitish Government is not from the Opposition parties but inequalities posed by the elites in the normal functioning of life. Now, there is a popular slogan in Bihar, that is, “Good Governance” (susasan) has been replaced by “Bhumihar Governance“ (Bhusasan).

Moreover, apart from structural inequalities, Nitish’s problem of implementing these projects is very difficult because of population density (approximately 880 per sq. km), literacy (approximately 47 per cent), Naxalism, rural poverty (79.07 per cent) and natural calamities. Thus, “socially comprehensive development” has not been on the right path. This has tarnished the image of Nitish Kumar. The present scenario has become morale boosting for Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan. Moreover, the 14th Assembly election results have also played a crucial role in bringing Ramvilas Paswan and Laloo Prasad Yadav on a common platform [the RJD secured 29.2 per cent votes, LJP secured 10.8 per cent votes whereas the JD(U)-BJP combine’s vote-share was 35.8 per cent]. In the contemporary situation the RJD and LJP alliance is politically fruitful. Important steps taken by Nitish Kumar to empower the Economically Backward Castes (EBCs) and poorer sub-castes within the Dalit community (the maha-dalits) may not be fruitful because of a fundamental tension between the EBCs’ empowerment and development. The vote-share may drift towards the Fourth Front of Laloo, Paswan and Mulayam. Even the Muslims, who voted for the JD(U) in the 14th Assembly elections, may not vote for it in the 15th general elections, since Lal Krishan Advani is the prime ministerial candidate of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Moreover, due to internal fighting within the JD(U) prominent Brahman leader Jagannath Mishra, who has influence of the Brahman’s population (approximately 4.7 per cent), Divijay Singh, the prominent Rajput leader (population of Rajput approximately 4.2 per cent), Nagmani, a prominent Koeiri leader (population of approximately 4.1 per cent) and the grand old man of the socialist movement, George Fernandes, have left the party. Thus, to some extent Nitish Kumar‘s assets, that is, the weaker sections, minorities and other backward castes, may become his liabilities.

Bihar’s society is based on multiplicity of castes, and the castes are getting transformed very fast. So, Nitish Kumar‘s vote-share may become narrow. Whereas in the 15th general elections, there is no hope for the national parties in Bihar, experience shows that all national parties neglected and did not give adequate importance to the regional and State units. The control of State affairs by the central leadership in the distribution of tickets, formation of Ministries, selection of the Chief Minister and State planning priorities were often arbitrary and not quite democratic. In this situation the vote-share of the national parties was bound to drift. The decline of the Congress as the dominant force in the political order was not matched by the ability of the forces of Hindutva and Left parties. As a result the spectrum of communities, caste clusters and classes that once voted for national parties drifted towards regional parties. Laloo’s RJD is in a win-win situation as compared to the 14th Assembly elections of 2005. Politics of alliance in Bihar is getting matured day by day and the bottom half of the society is participating in the democratic process.

Radhakrishnan believed that “socio-economic revolution” is a must, so that a ‘fundamental change in the structure of society’ could be achieved. The politics of alliance in Bihar also reflects the ‘socio-economic revolution’ which had been running parallel in Bihar. The relationship between the government and upper castes created an almost complete overlap between social and economic dominance. The changing nature of alliance in Bihar reflects the weakening of the dominance of twice-born castes. The politics of alliance in Bihar is a trail-blazer, as three democratic values, that is, inclusive participation, competition and representativeness, are simultaneously maximising. The alliance politics has made politics more competitive and popular because of participation in the political process at the grassroot level. Due to the politics of alliance in Bihar there has been constructive communication within intra-castes and the cultural gap has been reduced. This is reflected in the marked rise in voter turnout at the polls in the State. The goal of social justice that includes social relations underpinning economy and society, the social contract between state and society, the welfare concerns of the general population, rural-urban relations can be reinforced through the politics of alliance in Bihar.

Thus, the politics of alliance in Bihar is a forward-looking approach. Here, politics is moving from office-seeking models, that is, the objective of legislators is to get into office, to policy-seeking models where the objective of legislators is to emphasise on policy matters.


1. Kumar, Subodh, “Nitish’s Bihar Vision”, Mainstream, November 25, 2006.

2. Kohil, Atul (ed.), The Success of India’s Democracy, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

3. Giametti, Daneila and Benoit, Kenneth (ed.), Intra-party Politics and Coalition Government, Routledge, 2009.

4. Rahat, Giden and Kartz, Richard, Democracy and Political Parties, Vol. 14, No. 6, Sage Publications, 2008.

5. Downs, A., An Economic Theory of Democracy, Harper and Row, New York, 1957.

The author is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Maharaja Agrasen College, University of Delhi.

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