Just a couple of months ago before the lockdown started, the dominant political buzz in Bihar was about second-guessing the viable alternative to Nitish Kumar. Three plausible scenarios were offered – a BJP led coalition with local parties; Prashant Kishore-managed third front roping in the leaders like Owaisi, Kanhaiya and others; and RJD-led existing alliance.
With Amit Shah effectively shooting down the idea of BJP deserting the JD(U) and Prashant Kishore initiative proving to be a non-starter, only RJD led alliance remains a relevant option. However, it is pertinent to ask whether RJD is a viable opposition to take on Nitish Kumar led NDA in Bihar.
The test of viability of any political party or alliance in Bihar since 1990 is contingent to their meeting two criterions: the necessary condition and the sufficient condition. While, the necessary condition requires a party/alliance to fully command the loyalty of its core support base, the sufficient condition requires it to win over a section of the opposition’s core support base. It is an open case that no party or alliance in Bihar has won state election without meeting both the criterion. In other words, an electoral victory necessitates the winning of a section of caste/community who are perceived to be politically hostile to the party seeking their accommodation.
For instance, Lalu Yadav was able to sustain his 15-year hegemony from 1990-2005, not only by holding onto the larger segments of OBCs, Dalits and Muslims, but by effectively winning over a section of upper caste Rajputs who otherwise were dead opposed to the Mandal movement.
Similarly, Nitish Kumar led NDA managed to trounce RJD in 2005 and 2010 not only by commanding the loyalty of the new core-support base of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and Mahadalits, but also by garnering the support of a section of Muslims despite their opposition to the BJP. The same was true for 2015 state assembly election wherein Nitish succeeded in fetching the support of upper castes despite being in alliance with Lalu Yadav.
Thus, in every case, the electoral victory fulfilled the twin criterion of commanding one's core support base and splitting the same of the rival party/alliance.
Let us measure the state of the RJD in terms of its ability to meet these yardsticks.
In post-Lalu RJD, the line of succession is unambiguously clear in favour of Tejasvi Yadav. Despite his lackluster leadership and lack of political maturity, he is the supreme leader of not only the party but also of his caste-men. Though he lacks the charisma of his father, no other Yadav leaders in any party in Bihar could match his appeal among their caste-electorates. Further, the flip-flop by Nitish Kumar on his alliance with the BJP and support to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, augurs well for Tejaswi Yadav as an overwhelming majority of Muslims are left with no other option but to support him for being a party with some electoral relevance.
In this sense, the RJD meets the first condition of commanding its core support base of ‘MY’ (Muslims and Yadavs) accounting for nearly 30% of the electorates. However, it is on the second condition of winning over a segment of the politically hostile support base which is crucial for the electoral victory, the RJD fails the test miserably. Three reasons accounts for the same.
First, the current leadership has lost the battle of perception. It has successively failed in striking a chord with its erstwhile support base of non-Yadav OBCs in general and EBCs and Mahadalits in particular. The image of the party still remains of a caste party whose reign signified a partnership between the criminal organisations and the government. Even the party’s recent agitation over the killing of RJD leader J P Yadav was perceived as a case of selective outrage due to caste association rather than a concern for the law and order.
His own allies, Hindustan Awam Morcha Secular (HAM (S)) president, Jitan Ram Manjhi and RLSP leaders took exception over the inconsistencies in exhibiting his outrage. Thus, in the popular parlance, the party is still caught in its old image of being a Yadav-centric party.
Second, the party tried to square up this lacunae by aligning with other subaltern caste leaders like Mukesh Sahni, Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi. However, the communities that these leaders claim to command have successively demonstrated a distinct pattern since 2014. Overwhelmingly, they voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections (2014 and 2019) and Nitish Kumar (2015) in the state election. In fact, these leaders themselves lost the election from their chosen constituencies. Hence, these alliances will not help RJD in reaching out to majority of the non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits.
Thirdly, in striking contrast to Lalu Yadav who garnered the support of upper caste Rajputs, despite intensifying the rhetoric of Mandal discourse, for Tejaswi’s a long shot even to retain a fraction of them. Not only the ageing Rajput leadership of the party has already lost its appeal, there seems to be an intense infighting among them. The resignation of senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh from party post is a case in point.
Thus, unlike Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar in the past, the current RJD doesn’t pass on the second criterion of moving beyond its core support base and winning over the segments who appear to be otherwise opposed to it. The core support base of 'MY' would place it as the prime opposition, but the perception of its parochial association with the same deprives the party of putting a spirited fight. Hence, the ensuing election in Bihar is going to be a one way affair.
Dr. Sajjan Kumar is a political analyst associated with Peoples Pulse and Rajan Pandey is a freelance journalist.