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Bihar politics takes a new turn

Bihar politics takes a new turn

<span style="font-size: 10pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; color: #222222; background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: initial initial;">Politics make strange bedfellows. Yesterday’s archenemies – Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar have join handed to ward off threat from the BJP. And the reward came fast; the three-day-old Jitan Ram Manjhi government in Bihar on Friday won the trust vote in the state assembly amid walkout by opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The confidence motion moved by Manjhi was passed by members at a special session by voice vote.

<span style="font-size:10.0pt;line-height: 115%;font-family:"Arial","sans-serif";color:#222222">_In the state assembly, whose effective strength presently is 237, the Manjhi-government managed getting the support of 145 legislators. Besides 117 Janata Dal (United) MLAs, 21 of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, four of the Congress, one of Communist Party of India and two Independents voted in favour of the trust motion while 88 BJP legislators staged walkout in the House before the motion was put to vote.

_Sixty eight-year-old Jitan Ram Manjhi had become Bihar’s chief minister on 20 May after Nitish Kumar resigned from the post after JD(U) fared badly in the recently-concluded general elections. So far Lalu-Nitish bonhomie is alright but how about the future? Will it continue till October 2015 when state assembly elections are? Let us wait till then. 

_Only on 4 May, Lalu had used strong words to run down Nitish as 'arrogant and greedy'. Lalu also called him opportunist who had marketed him well and there was also no development of Bihar. In a sudden and altogether unexpected volte face, Lalu declared his party’s unconditional and outside support for 'Mahadalit' Chief Minister Jitam Ram Manjhi-led Bihar government. Lalu further said, 'our support to Manjhi government is to foil the BJP’s design to capture power in the state'.

_A close associate of Lalu Prasad when he first became the Bihar chief minister in March 1990, Nitish parted ways with him when he launched the Samata Party in 1994 along with George Fernandez. Once called Lalu’s Chanakya, Nitish took separate path in 1994. From 1997 till 2005, Nitish attacked Lalu over fodder scam and ‘jungle raj’ in the state. Nine years on, they have joined hands.

_According to Indications Lalu is keen on sending Rabri Devi to Rajya Sabha with the help of JD(U) which is the single largest party in Bihar Assembly. Three Rajya Sabha seats are to be vacated by Ram Vilas Paswan, Rajiv Prasad Rudy and Ram Kripal Yadav. As there would be separate polls for the three seats, Nitish’s party would get all the three because of being the leading party in the assembly. Sharad Yadav is most likely to be nominated to the upper house. There has also been speculation on Nitish going to the Rajya Sabha.

_Nitish Kumar has sought to turn defeat into victory in Bihar by means of the twin strategy of stepping down from power and choosing a successor chief minister from Mahadalit ranks. The Janata Dal (United) chief obviously sees this as a master stroke; while he is perceived as having sacrificed a coveted post, his party is strengthened by a lofty gesture shown to a member of one of Bihar’s most oppressed population segments.Jitan Ram Manjhi is a Mushahar Dalit, a deprived community placed among the lowest rungs of the state’s Scheduled Castes. Yet the sacrifice rings hallow because in actuality Manjhi’s role is only to keep the seat warm for Nitish. The resolution adopted at the JD(U) Legislature Party meeting says this in as many words: 'Nitish Kumar will lead the party in the Assembly election (that is due in October 2015) and after victory, he would assume office  of the chief minister again.'

_As Chief Minister Nitish invested heavily in upgrading physical and social services infrastructure, including roadways, public hospitals, school and food distribution system. Women were empowered down to the panchayats. People celebrated these favourable changes under Nitish. His 2010 re-election from a combination of good governance practices, a development renaissance, an astute alliance with BJP, and the strategic error by Lalu of breaking with the Congress. Returned with 80 per cent majority, Nitish fell victim to extreme pride and self-confidence. His fall this year springs from three grave mistakes; caste politics and miscalculation, communal politics and miscalculation, and a fatal misreading of political situation.

_During Lalu’s rule the most salient divide congealed around the backward-forward castes. Nitish won by breaking off non-Yadav OBCs and many EBC’s, while BJP hived off forward castes from the Congress. After Nitish split from the BJP last June, the latter’s alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan garnered Paswan votes for it. Not to forget, crucially, the attraction castes Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.

_Nitish miscalculated that in splitting from the BJP over choice of Modi as PM candidate, he would attract most of the Muslim votes. Ironically, fear-mongering about Modi’s Hindutva agenda drove Muslims back into the arms of the Lalu-Congress alliance as a more reliable bulwark against Modi Raj. Besides, people noted that Nitish had managed to stay with the BJP for eight years under L K Advani, the most public Hindutva mascot. So Nitish got neither the Hindus nor the Muslims on his side.

_Against Lalu, Nitish was effective in contrasting his development record. Given Gujarat’s decisive edge over Bihar on the development and good governance plank, Nitish was trumped by Modi’s national reputation for transformational rule in Gujarat. Nitish was forced back to fight back BJP on communal plank. He fell in his own trap; in 2014, it was Modi who talked of development. Far from broadening his voting base, Nitish shrank it even further. IPA 
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Harihar Swarup

Harihar Swarup

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