Grand Alliance, grandiose plans
The politically crucial state of Bihar has delivered a tectonic verdict by decimating Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and making the Grand Alliance a winner. No doubt the fight was between the proven face of development in Bihar – Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and yet to be proved face of growth at national level Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The contest which turned out to be Bihari vs Bahari, was finally won by Biharis for the Biharis.
As Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president and alliance leader Lalu Prasad Yadav said soon after declaration of results that it will change the political discourse of the country as the victory of Grand Alliance would have a variety of implications for national politics and governance. The emphatic victory of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), RJD and Congress combine has put aside the electoral logic that has been prevailing since May 2014, when the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, earned a majority in the Lok Sabha and followed it up with a series of wins in state assembly elections starting from Maharashtra to Haryana and then Jharkhand.
According to a celebrated political scientist MP Singh, Nitish is seen as trusted icon of development as he has already demonstrated with schemes like girl education, road building, shiksha mitra scheme, etc. “The Shiksha Mitra plan of Nitish government has given employment to families living in villages as every village has got one or two Shikha Mitras. While Modi’s promises still remain in the air, as not a single promise is delivered at the ground level which could have directly benefitted a common man,” Singh said.
“The other aspect which helped Nitish to gain over Modi was latter’s behaviour as Modi was seen as an arrogant leader in comparison to Nitish. The announcement of package for Bihar in dramatic way proved costlier to Modi as people started saying that Modi was auctioning the state and the issue was raked by opposition to translate it into vote,” Singh added.
The victory of Mahagadbandhan in the keenly contested election has proved that they have strong hold on social arithmetic. The result is a clear message to the rival camp that people of the state still want to romp around the charismatic leadership of Nitish Kumar as well as Lalu Prasad. For Biharis, Baharis are not welcome, opined noted social scientist Vivek Kumar.
“People gave Nitish a clear majority, which shows that there was no anti-incumbency against his governance. In the election, which was made by Modi as personality driven, Nitish stood ahead of him as trusted lieutenant among the people of Bihar,” said Kumar, professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
On behalf of NDA, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was leading the charge as the NDA had not declared a Chief Ministerial candidate, who launched a blistering attack on the top leaders of the grand alliance. In response, Nitish Kumar and Lalu-led the counter-attack with equal venom on Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
This was a unique poll in itself, as the main poll plank – development – was brushed under the carpet after Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s controversial statement on reviewing OBC reservation made headlines.
The statement of Bhagwat to review the quota policy put the BJP on defensive mode and every leader of the ruling party at the Centre came out in open to counter the quota review remark. For the first time, Bihar Assembly election trail witnessed BJP at variance with its parent organisation, which strengthened the winning aspirations of their arch-rival Mahagadbandhan.
Not one to miss an opportunity, the grand alliance, too, put the development agenda on the backseat and started raking up the quota issue to get a bigger share of other backward class vote (which comprises around 31 per cent). It also happened for the first time that the BJP started to import issues to polarise “their” vote-bank by raking up the beef controversy during the campaigning.
Though, top brass of BJP has rejected any impact of RSS chief’s quota review statement on Bihar elections. Soon after party’s debacle, BJP parliamentary board met and discussed the social arithmetic that helped Grand Alliance in their comeback. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the party’s strategy went wrong in vetting out the consolidation of votes in favour of Mahagadbandhan.
“In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the three parties of the Grand Alliance fought separately. The NDA got 38.8 per cent (of the vote share), and the three members of the Grand Alliance together accounted for 45.3 per cent. In the Bihar assembly elections, we got 34.1 per cent and the Grand Alliance got 41.9 per cent. The difference is the same if they had fought independently. The size of their coalition arithmetically became more than us, which was the biggest reason for the loss. We miscalculated the seat share,” Jaitley told mediapersons after his party’s parliamentary board meeting to review Bihar poll debacle.
Not only Jaitley, even noted social scientist MP Singh also supported Jaitley’s logic. Singh said, “Bhagwat’s statement didn’t go wrong for the NDA as the division of votes were crystallised in favour of Mahagadbandhan much before the controversial statement of RSS chief. The statement has given too much critical analysis which put NDA and Modi at the back foot.”
The BJP’s strategy, somehow, was a workable one as they were targeting consolidation of “their” voters such as Rajputs, Brahmins, Bhumihars, Kayasthas, Vaishyas. The polarisation happened, but in bits and pieces as the result of Purvi Champaran parliamentary constituency was very different from others. Of the six assembly segments in this parliamentary seat, which is represented by BJP’s Radha Mohan Singh, the BJP won four, while JD(U) has won only two seats. Three seats – Motihari, Kalyanpur and Pipra – were won by BJP and forth one – Govindgunj – was won by its ally LJP. The district turned out to be best performing district for the party as BJP won 8 assembly seats out of total 12. In all the BJP won 53 seats, while its allies secured 5 seats for the NDA taking the figure to 58.
Apart from vote bank share, there were other factors too that had helped Modi to win Lok Sabha polls. According to JNU professor Kumar, during the campaigning of 2014 Lok Sabha election, the opposition was Congress and players were Gandhis – Rahul, Sonia and Priyanka – and Manmohan Singh.
“Given that all of them were sophisticated speakers, they were not able to counter Modi in the same language that Modi used to. So, whatever Modi said, it made an impact among voters. Also, Congress was discredited with several charges of scams in the 10 years of governance. Therefore, they were not able to counter the allegations levelled against them by Modi and lost the battle,” the JNU professor said.
“But in the case of Bihar elections, the payers were totally different —Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad. Nitish remained cool and calmed while Lalu took guard of the attacking front. Also there were no allegations against Nitish, so it was very hard for Modi to drag Nitish name in any fraud case,” Kumar said.
Interestingly, when the campaign for the bitterly-fought Bihar assembly elections kick-started, BJP started targeting Lalu, the latter answered each and every allegation in his own style. When Modi called him a shaitan (demon), the latter came out with a still more acerbic name for Modi, calling him a Brahma Pishach (super demon). Also, Prasad raked up the Gujarat riots and blamed BJP national president Amit Shah and Modi for the Godhra episode and dubbed Shah as a Narbhakshi (cannibal).
Another academician from Bihar, Pradeep Mishra opined that BJP lost the battle after it started raking up “unwanted” issues. “The BJP just failed to understand pulse of Bihari voters. When Modiji had followed each and every suggestion of Prashant Kishor, when the latter was handling his image building assignment, how he could underestimate him, when Kishore joined Nitish Kumar. Every step of Nitish as well as Lalu was managed by Kishor and Modiji got into his trap,” Mishra said.
“The DNA remark by Modi against Nitish Kumar was best used by Kishor to give a political shape. The DNA campaign launched by Kumar and Lalu also put BJP on back foot and from there the game changed in favour of Grand Alliance. The issues like beef ban, quota review remark by RSS chief added readymade armour to opposition’s arsenal,” the academician from Bihar said.
Now, the battle has been won, but the real battle test Nitish Kumar will face is to run a coalition government with Lalu as a major player. Lalu has his own past that raises doubts over the fate of Nitish government with Lalu virtually at the helm of affairs. It’s very true that Nitish was the face of Mahagadbandhan, while Lalu was the base of the alliance and together they became as unbeatable force that derailed Modi’s winning rath. Will Lalu take his pound of flesh?
JP Yadav, an expert on Bihar affairs and assistant editor in Telegraph, said, “Given the nature of Lalu, he will dominate for his own discourse. Those who are saying that Lalu will not intervene in the government, is foolish talk. There will be his interventions, but it will be in a positive way as Lalu himself knows it very well that if his government fails to perform as per the expectations of people’s mandate, he will not get the same mandate in next or any other election.”
“Lalu has also maintained that Nitish will run the government while he will take care of national affairs. Nitishji sarkar chalayenge and hum bahar gumenge, was his first reaction soon after getting the unprecedented mandate. So, I assume that the present Lalu will prove to be a very different,” said Yadav, who travelled to every corner of the state during electioneering.
On Lalu’s intervention, Singh said, “Some friends of secular thoughts are contesting the argument that Lalu will change himself and not behave in the same manner for which he is known for. But, in my opinion, Lalu would definitely interfere in the government and try to dictate his terms to Kumar,” adding that if it happens, I would like to suggest Kumar to not act like Manmohan Singh and defy the orders of Lalu in the best interest of himself and people of the state.
While JNU professor maintained that Lalu would not take any undue advantage, but he will definitely have politically advantage. “In the legislation, he will have it, but not unethical. He is a sharp and shrewd politician. He has no political career because of indictment in fodder scam, so he will take political advantage in the interest of his sons and daughters.”
Prashant Kishor : The Modern Chanakya
Prashant Kishor, a native of Buxar district in Bihar, is unseen force behind Nitish Kumar’s victory in the state. He is the man who had once crafted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s national high-tech and highly successful election campaign. The 37-year-old master poll strategist has emerged as the man with the Midas touch. Surprisingly, Lalu Prasad, who is known for his political master strokes, too followed the suggestions of Kishor.
Prashant worked as a public health Professional for 10 years including one and half year in Bihar. Kishor quit a UN health expert’s job in Africa in 2011 to return to India and explore his skills as an election strategist and planner. He formed a team of young MBA, Legal and IT professionals known as the Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG). He was the lead choreographer and conceiver of the CAG and now he runs Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC).
In 2012, his team contributed to Modi’s Gujrat assembly campaign. This team also went on to craft BJP’s election campaign during the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 that scored Narendra Modi the Prime Minister’s seat. Prashant Kishor is better known for the hi-tech projection of Modi in 3-D and “Chai-pe- Charcha”.
Since early in the March of this year, a team of about 300 graduates from the premier institutes (IIT, IIM, NLUs etc) of India worked together for the victory of Nitish Kumar led Mahagatbhandan. Prashant Kishor came out to support Nitish earlier in May this year, calling him one of the most credible politicians who had improved Bihar on many fronts.
Kishor replaced the ‘Chai pe Charcha’ he coined for Modi with ‘Parcha (pamphlet) pe charcha’ for Nitish, which asked people for feedback on the state government’s performance in the last 10 years and the comic series ‘Bal-Narendra’ was replaced with ‘Munna se Nitish’.