BJP seeks viable strategy in Bihar
Only five days ago, the Janata Parivar appeared to be a divided confederation of losers. This ragtag coalition of political parties has, however, emerged as a potentially powerful political force that may upset the Bharatiya Janata Party’s bid to wrest the power from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
The euphoria within the BJP, which was perceptible a week back, is now suddenly missing. Moreover, the party’s state leadership, which was confident of dumping Nitish, has suddenly switched over to an introspective stance.
Three days after Nitish Kumar was projected as the Janata Parivar’s chief ministerial candidate, the BJP announced, “We will go to the people with ideas of Modi ji”, making it amply clear that the party is not willing to project any of its state leaders for the top job. BJP general secretary, Bhupendra Yadav, who was hand-picked by party president Amit Shah to monitor the assembly elections this year made it abundantly clear they would repeat the idea of Modi in Bihar. Yadav was clear that the party would not prefer to project its chief ministerial candidate.
Who should be the face of the party has indeed become the contentious issue. There are at least seven claimants for the top job. However, the central leadership is yet to identify a face which can take on Nitish. One of the party’s key strategies is to reach out to the youth of Bihar. The BJP has perceived that the youth should be motivated to address their growing aspirations. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, young voters in the state across party lines had rallied behind Modi and had voted for BJP candidates. But now the situation has changed. There is no denying the fact that young voters in Bihar are disillusioned with the failure of the Modi government to create job opportunities for them.
Stopping Nitish from coming to power is the prime motto as well as the major task before the BJP and its brigade. To fulfill its aims, Shah has agreed to enroll former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani <g data-gr-id="92">Awam</g> Morcha party. During the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had formulated a new <g data-gr-id="93">caste</g> combination for the assembly elections and weaved a winning combination of upper caste supporters and Dalits with Ram Vilas Paswan and Udit Raj on its side. In recent months, however, this combination has developed cracks. The BJP cannot rely on a section of the upper caste voters, precisely Bhumihars and Rajputs. It is obvious to most observers that the BJP is desperate to win over the Dalit youths.
Describing the alliance between Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar has been an onerous task. Whether it should be described as a coalition of social justice or political survival depends on Lalu Yadav’s future course of action. But his opposition to Nitish as the chief ministerial candidate has simply drawn these two groups of upper castes somewhat closer to Nitish. Lalu had opposed Nitish since he had inducted Lalan Singh and P K Shahi in his cabinet. Besides being responsible for Lalu’s present plight, these two have been the political face of Bhumihars. These two represent the Bhumihar’s aspiration in the present political scenario.
By projecting Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate, the RJD-JDU-Congress combine has certainly taken a lead over the BJP, which is still gripped with confusion over its chief ministerial nominee. The main worry for the BJP is that it has no mass leader, who can at least match the charisma of Nitish Kumar. Apparently there are many claimants for the top job. However, the fact remains that none of them have the political ability to sway voters. Even former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi is no match to Nitish. This is why the BJP intends to go to the polls on the back of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal. The leadership is scared of repeating the Delhi experiment.
By inducting Manjhi, Amit Shah has taken a major gamble. Dalits nurse antagonistic relations with some backward castes. With Manjhi in the NDA, these backward castes may reconsider their electoral strategy. According to Manjhi’s calculations, sections of the Scheduled Castes and Maha Dalits would take revenge for the apparent humiliation that was inflicted upon him by a backward caste leader in Nitish Kumar. The BP leadership is not willing to subscribe to his version. The Maha Dalits have still not shown any inclination to rally behind him. The rallies and public meetings <g data-gr-id="96">organised</g> by his HAM have not succeeded either. However, it cannot be denied that a section of the Maha Dalits, around 3 percent, want to project him as the modern voice of the Dalits.
Nevertheless the BJP leadership is hopeful of rebel RJD Lok Sabha member Pappu Yadav, once a close confidant of Lalu Yadav, of joining the NDA. He has already floated his own party. But the major obstacle has been his wife Ranjana. She is a Congress Lok Sabha member from Bihar and the grand old party is striving to poach Pappu. With the Congress as an alliance partner, it can be expected that Pappu would prefer to join hands the party.
It is beyond comprehension how an astute politician like Lalu could commit the silly mistake of not accepting Nitish in the first place, as the leader of the alliance. However, the meeting on June 8 between Nitish Kumar with the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to work out an alliance with the grand old party, created a significant shift in Lalu’s approach. He accepted Nitish as the leader of the unified Janata Parivar and was quick to announce him as its chief ministerial face with a rider, “I was ready to gulp poison for defeating the communal forces”.
Lalu did not perhaps intend to be pretentious. He was speaking the plain truth. For him to accept Nitish as the chief minister is no less than committing hara-kiri by gulping poison. It is not that Nitish is unaware of the threat. While he is aware of the fragility of this coalition, he is also conscious of the lingering instability factor. But instead of giving credence to the maneuverings of Lalu Yadav, he has been more focused on the BJP onslaught. He knows to be in power it is imperative to shatter the Modi led juggernaut. This is the only formula to keep Lalu and his men under check. The fact is Nitish has been a step ahead of the BJP. Even while uncertainty prevailed on the issue of Lalu accepting him as the chief ministerial candidate, Nitish had already put in place a group of professionals to present new ideas. He has also tasked them with figuring out mechanisms through which the alliance can reach out to young voters, especially those from the urban middle class. This is a major departure from the traditional style of politicking and electioneering in Bihar.
Usually, leaders tend to arouse caste passions and push young voters to gain the support of their caste men. Instead, Nitish intends to make them a stakeholder in the development process. Nitish, in fact, has preferred to reach out to the people with the idea of good governance. Instead of following models based on social engineering, He has preferred to use his governance record as the alliance’s electoral USP. IPA