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Swearing-in politics

During the live telecast of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s swearing-in ceremony on Friday, political commentators suggested that we could be witnessing the making of a national anti-BJP front. Politicians largely seen as opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party were in attendance, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah present. Whether the Bihar election results will translate into a national anti-BJP alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is something that is best left to guess work. Before one gets carried away with this narrative, the formation of a broad based anti-BJP front has a very long way to go. For starters, the Samajwadi Party may not be a willing partner, considering how it fell out with the Grand Alliance over the distribution of seats days before polling began in Bihar. Moreover, other state-level rivalries could make it virtually impossible for regional parties come together. Yes, the Grand Alliance was a contradiction of the claim that state-level rivalries cannot be left aside. As the Bihar elections have shown us, politics is the art of the possible. However, it is difficult to imagine that Uttar Pradesh’s political rivals – the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party – could come together on a common platform to take on the BJP for the Assembly elections in 2017, let alone the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. Similarly, it is hard to fathom the coming together of the Trinamool Congress and Left parties in West Bengal. It’s the same story in Tamil Nadu where the rivalry between the DMK and the AIADMK defines the state politics.

Regional parties are burdened with the baggage of the past, and the BJP can take solace from this fact. Worryingly for the BJP, however, its allies, the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal had attended the swearing-in ceremony. The Shiv Sena sent two of its ministers from Maharashtra, and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Badal was present. Speculation is rife that all is not well in the NDA camp. But it would be unfair to analyse the formation of a larger anti-BJP national alliance without assessing the role of the Congress. Decimated in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and successive Assembly polls thereafter, it is fair to suggest that the grand old party is down and out at present. Moreover, the talk of Nitish Kumar leading a larger anti-BJP front may not have gone down well in the grand old party. Despite making significant strides in Bihar, the Congress requires the support of crutches in the guise of regional allies. Therefore, before it harbours any hopes for a revival, the party leadership should focus on strengthening and reviving the Congress before it can call the shots in an anti-BJP alliance.     

More than alliance partners, however, the BJP will worry about the implications the Bihar result could have on the upcoming Winter Session of the Parliament. The party desperately needs greater representation in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament). Important legislation cannot be passed without being cleared by both houses. In the Rajya Sabha, or the Council of States, members get elected from the states, and the representation of a party in a state Assembly affects the strength of a party in the Rajya Sabha from that state. Of 233 elected Rajya Sabha members, BJP now has only 48. Meanwhile, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 64 seats, which is way short of the numbers required. For the uninitiated, Bihar sends 16 members to the Rajya Sabha. The BJP, therefore, has limited options to pass legislation. Besides keeping its allies in good humour, the BJP must shed its majoritarian attitude to the Parliament and reach out to opposition members and seek consensus, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Suffice to say, most opposition parties are not really against the NDA government’s reform measures, except for certain Left-leaning parties.  

Coming to Bihar, the task ahead for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is clear cut. According to IndiaSpend, a non a data-driven, non-profit, public interest platform for journalism, “As Nitish Kumar returns as the Chief Minister of the state with India’s poorest people, his game plan should be clear: Press on with policies that offer educational opportunities and further economic progress, especially jobs, wealth creation and infrastructure.” According to the data, the unemployment rate among Bihar’s youth in the 18-29 age-group stands at 17.5 percent, which third among the eight socio-economically backward states. Bihar’s per capita income continues to stand the lowest among all states at Rs 31,199. And, as many as 32 million people in rural Bihar live below the poverty line. However, it will be interesting to see how Nitish plans to make a dent into these figures. The administrative task ahead is humongous. Apprehensions, though, have already been raised against the appointment of 26-year-old Tejaswi Prasad Yadav, the son of Lalu Prasad, as Deputy Chief Minister. Questions have been raised on whether coalition compulsions and dynastic politics have come ahead of urgent administrative requirements, as a political rookie will now hold a senior cabinet position.  
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