Caste Dominates, Attrition Afflicts both Alliances
Bihar Electoral Scene
With Nitish’s credibility heavily dented and RJD showing open bias against uppercastes, people are looking for alternatives which are simply not there.
By Anish Ankur
By April 23, the State of Bihar had witnessed three phases of the seven-phase polls. But common masses seem to be a little indifferent, except looking enthusiastically towards outcome of elections in a couple of seats such as Begusarai where Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU is pitted against BJP’s firebrand leader Giriraj Kishore.
There is a cliche repeatedly coined that caste plays a central role in the electoral behaviour of a voter, but no caste exceeds 12% of population, hence only a combination of caste can rule in a state like Bihar. Keeping this reality in mind every leading party is trying to accommodate maximum number of castes. Both the electoral alliances, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Nitish Kumar and the Mahagathbandhan led by TejaswiYadav, Lalu Prasad’s younger son, have tried their best to stitch a suitable combination. Janata Dal-United (JDU) led by Nitish Kumar, LokJantantrik Party (LJP) led by RamvilasPaswan and BJP comprise NDA while Mahagathbandhan consists of RJD, Congress, RLSP led by former union ministerUpendraKushwaha inthe NarendraModi government. HAM by former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and VIP led by film set designer cum politician MukeshSahni.
BJP had been very flexible in ticket distribution after sensing the general anti- incumbency mood against them. It is fighting only on 17 out of 40 LokSabha seats from the State. It had won 22 seats alone in 2014 parliamentary elections. JDU also got 17 seats and LJP bagged six seats.
In Mahagathbandhan, a lot of internal contradictions emerged during ticket distribution. Biggest alliance partner RJD is contesting on 20 seats, RLSP five, HAM and VIP 3 each. The Congress Party had to remain content with just nine seats. One seat has been given to CPI (ML-liberation) from RJD quota. Smaller parties were able to garner to get a bigger slice in proportion to their strength in theAssembly. According to political analyst Amit Kumar, “Parties with hardly one or two seats in the Bihar assembly got three to five seats while Congress with 30 seats in Assembly got around nine seats. The CPI(ML) has three seats in the Assembly but got just one seat in exchange of supporting Lalu Prasad ‘s daughter Misa Bharti in Patliputra parliamentary seat.” Left parties CPI, CPI(M) could not find space in the secular alliance .
As for issues in this election,Nitish Kumar is talking about his development initiatives, butSrijan scam, MuzaffarpurShelter Home rape case, increasing crime graph, corruption scandals have badly dented Nitish Government’s image. Most thriving construction sector came to standstill due to unavailability of sand. Despite repeatedly claiming ‘rule of law’ in Bihar during the ongoing campaign, the ground reality tells a different tale.
Banking on Modi
Ever since Nitish Kumar switched sides by hopping over to the NDA, his political credibility has nosedived. Sensing this changed scenario Nitish Kumar is now banking more on Modi’s developmental programmes than his own achievements.Janata Dal-United (JD(U) leader has been repeatedly taking the name of Modi, praising him and lauding his works, including different schemes.
The NDA alliance is also facing anti-incumbency, both at the Centre and in the State. Being an agriculture dominated state, Bihar farmers underwent a severe agrarian crisis like lack of minimum support price, increasing cost of production etc.
According to senior journalist Imran Khan, “The truth is that even the Modi card does not seem to be clicking with the voters this time. Take, for example, the missing Modi euphoria in election campaign that has concluded for three phases out of the seven-phase poll.Now the NDA leaders have thrown out the development mask and openly evoking nationalism with communal connotation.”
It is the first time in three decades that Lalu is missing from electioneering in Bihar. Absence of Lalu Prasad have created a rift in his family and party. Lalu Prasad’s elder son Tejpratap has raised a banner of revolt against his own party and fielded candidates from three constituenciesJehanabad, Sheohar and Saran from his newly floated forum ‘Lalu-RabriMorcha’. Adding insult to injury is desertion of some senior RJD leaders like M.A.Fatmi andRambadanRai after being denied ticket. In the ensuing confusion, the RJD is finding it very difficult to keep it’s flock together.
The RJD is highlighting ‘misrule of Nitish Kumar as well as that of NarendraModiGovernment. TejaswiYadav was very vocal against MuzaffarpurShelter Home rape case but by fielding the rape accused RajballabhYadav ‘s wife from Nawada, he has lost the moral ground.
There is a lot of dissatisfaction among every section of society with the NarendraModi’s rule but alternative to it also does not create any enthusiasm among voters. Same old and worn-out faces are in the fray in both the alliances. There is not much difference in their style of politics, slogans and behavior. Although NDA is facing problems on various fronts but whether Mahagathbandhan will be able to tap the anger and resentment is the moot question.
In some areas, likeSeemanchal with a sizeable Muslim population, Mahagathbandhan is in comfortable position. Unlike the rest of Bihar, Seemanchal and regions (Kishanganj, Purnea, Katihar, Bhagalpur and Banka.) had voted against the BJP-led NDA in the 2014 polls despite the ‘NarendraModiwave’ .
If we look at the caste combination of both alliances it seems both have formidable caste alliance behind them. The NDA is relying on support of uppercastes, extremely backward castes (EBC) and and Dalit-Mahadalit except Musasahar’s who owe their allegiance to Jitan Ram Manjhi. In the case of Mahagathbandhan, in addition to old and reliable social base MY (Muslim-Yadav), the RJD is also eyeing on caste base of its alliance partners like Kushwahas , Mallahs and Musars represented by RLSP, HAM and VIP.
RJD’s Caste Bias
Mahagathbandhan will also get benefit by anti-Modi atmosphere created by various struggles launched by the Left-influenced organisations like farmer’s unrest, worker’s strike, intellectuals protest, students and youth’s agitation etc. But the person who symbolised this protest and almost became a symbol of anti-Modi, is out of this Mahagthbandhan. Secular and democratic minded people were disappointed with the way RJD dealt with Kahaiya Kumar.The explanation given by RJD for the denial of ticket to Kanhaiya Kumar is that he belongs to the upper caste category, i.e.,Bhumihar, but the same yardstick were not applied for notorious Anant Singh’s wife from Munger and Akhilesh Singh’s non-political son from Motihari.
All Eyes on Begusarai
Begusarai has become the most talked-about seat in Bihar. Kanhaiya Kumar is locked in a triangular fight with highly vocal Giriraj Singh of BJP and TanveerHasan of RJD. Prominent film personalities, political leaders and civil Society figures like ShabanaAzmi, Javed Akhtar, Prakash Raj, SwaraBhaskar, TeestaSetalvad, SitaramYechury, AtulAnjan, YogendraYadav, Katil Khan, KunalKamra have campaigned for Kanhaiya in Begusrai. Lot of activists from across the country are camping in Begusrai to extend support to him.
One reason why people are taking keen interest in Begusrai, apart from charismatic personality of Kanhaiya, is because they see in him a Left alternative emerging to NDA and Mahagathbamdhan in terms of policies. It has been noted that wherever left parties fielded candidates, they are getting enthusiastic response from people. Social activist Jaiprakashsays, “The way Kanhaiyabecame a rallying point for secular politics of the country, it seems the old caste and religious boundaries will be breached in Begusarai. It may herald a new political churning in Bihar.”