[There are more reasons for Nitish Kumar to remain hopeful. Indian politics, including the caste cauldrons of UP and
Bihar, is essentially a leader-led game. It isn't so much a policy- or programme-led enterprise. Modi's leadership fired the imagination like nobody else's did, in a long time. By electing him with a stable majority for five years, people feel they have given him what he needs. Which is why, in , within six months of a hand’s down verdict for Modi, they turned to a charismatic Kejriwal with an even bigger mandate. In Delhi Bihar, the BJP does not have a leader to offer to take on Nitish. And, every Bihari knows that Modi is not going to be their CM.]
By Sushil Pandit
|Picture credit; The Forthright|
So, who is going to lose in the
Bihar polls this time? The simple answer to this question is, Bihar itself. Primarily, because Bihar is still hell-bent on voting for its castes, just as it has been for as long as one can care to remember. But then, what happened in the Lok Sabha elections last year, you may well ask? In 2014 too, Bihar, true to its, should I say, DNA, by and large voted for its castes. It was just that the caste leaders, like Nitish Kumar, squandered a win, in a vain attempt trying to pretend what they, sadly, are not.
It is entirely possible that a long cohabitation with the BJP may have misled Nitish Kumar about himself. He may have begun to fancy himself as a leader electorally viable all by himself, above and beyond a coalition of backward castes. In May 2014, he paid a big price for being delusional. He chose the wrong time to live this fantasy. In 2014, Narendra Modi was mounting the most audacious attempt at thawing the frozen caste-blocks. Modi's personal charisma, rooted in the message of rapid development was, politically, the "correctest" stance to take. And, it may have struck a chord with a few sections of the impressionable youth. But that is not what got him 32 wins out of 40. Not primarily at least. It was thanks to Nitish's squeamish approach to Lalu Yadav's persona and his politics, disregarding the numbers still at Lalu's command. Eventually, it turned out that together, along with the Congress, they polled a lot more than Modi. Over six per cent more.
And, within two months of Modi's spectacular show, Nitish himself proved how flawed his own Lok Sabha strategy was. His Grand Alliance won six Assembly by-elections out of ten. All those ten seats were earlier held by the BJP. These by-elections were necessitated because the sitting MLAs of the BJP were elected as MPs. The three out of ten seats that the BJP managed to retain, were again due to Nitish's failure to gauge the mood. He carried on the pretence of secular politics a bit too far, by fielding Muslim candidates and offered three seats to the BJP, virtually, on a platter.
In these polls, Nitish Kumar is a much chastened man. He has cut his losses in the mistake he made, by relinquishing CM's office and propping up Jitan Ram Manjhi. He has doggedly pursued coalition building keeping in mind the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system. He has swallowed pride and given Lalu his due to get, in return, his block of over 20 per cent votes. Nitish also played brinkmanship to the hilt in getting himself accepted by his coalition as the presumptive chief minister. Nitish seems to have managed the blood and gore of the ticket distribution too, though, there is still a lot of haemorrhaging happening on the ground. How much it costs him eventually, remains to be seen.
There are more reasons for Nitish Kumar to remain hopeful. Indian politics, including the caste cauldrons of UP and
Bihar, is essentially a leader-led game. It isn't so much a policy- or programme-led enterprise. Modi's leadership fired the imagination like nobody else's did, in a long time. By electing him with a stable majority for five years, people feel they have given him what he needs. Which is why, in , within six months of a hand’s down verdict for Modi, they turned to a charismatic Kejriwal with an even bigger mandate. In Delhi Bihar, the BJP does not have a leader to offer to take on Nitish. And, every Bihari knows that Modi is not going to be their CM.
In a multi-cornered contest, as it was in Jharkhand,
Maharashtra and Haryana, Modi alone would have pulled it off. But Bihar is bipolar this time, as was earlier this year. Nitish's image among upper castes may have been dented due to the political mistakes he has made at the behest of his anti-Modi friends in the BJP. But his bitterest of opponents too concede that he does not evoke hostility like the corrupt, inept, venal and virulently castiest Lalu does. On the contrary, his presence somewhat mitigates the horror of Lalu's presence by his side. The NDA knows this. That is why they are not targeting Nitish as much as they rail against his soft underbelly, Lalu. The BJP would be lucky if it manages to pull Nitish down enough, by targeting Lalu. Delhi
The Grand Alliance has its cast-iron caste-coalition of the backwards and the squeaky clean, image and leadership of Nitish Kumar that, ironically, the BJP helped build over two decades. The BJP is banking primarily on its trump card: Modi. Besides Modi, the NDA is fervently hoping for attrition, on the ground level, between the supporters of Lalu and Nitish. The NDA is also hoping that a substantial number of disgruntled ticket-discards would fight as rebels from the RJD/JDU ranks and act as spoilers. It could also be praying for Owaisi's Majlis to chip away some of the Muslim votes. But, none of these factors seems to have attained a critical mass.
Finally, a Lok Sabha poll, is seldom driven by the individual candidates. The size of the constituency and its electorate, often in excess of 20 lakh, render the individual candidates distant and strangers. It is the party, and, often more than the party, the leader, who hold the sway. Constituencies of the state Assemblies are a fraction in comparison. Hence, the local candidate is far more relevant. In the absence of a palpable wave, the election dissipates into individual electoral battles. That is what seems to be happening in
Bihar today. It does not suit the NDA because it does not allow the Modi factor an overriding precedence.
The "big picture" emerging in
Bihar, where Nitish Kumar's caste arithmetic is pitted against Narendra Modi's political alchemy, hard numbers are likely to prevail. The NDA may not get a vote-share of even 40 per cent or win even 75 seats out of a total of 243. With Lalu holding an inviolable "veto", the expression "back-seat driving" is all set to dredge newer depths. Anti-Modi politics is also going to discover, gleefully, a new potent talisman. But, how is all this going to impact our Prime Minister, Narendra Damodardas Modi? Huh, so much water off a duck's back!
@ Daily O