The Battle of Bihar

Election in Bihar

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Bihar goes to polls in October this year as its assembly term ends. All parties are gearing up themselves to win this election as it is likely to cast a shadow on the ensuing assembly elections in Punjab, West Bengal, and more importantly in Uttar Pradesh.

Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have a lot in common. Both are being ruled by erstwhile members of the Janata Parivar and socialist movement. Nitish Kumar faces the resurgent BJP, Manjhi – a friend-turned foe and Lok Janshakti of erstwhile friend Paswan. For him, comfort comes with the brotherly hug of Lalu Prasad – his onetime great friend and later the bitterest opponent; and Congress party along with smaller forces such CPI, CPI-ML etc.

To understand Bihar, it is not an easy task. Here the caste dynamics and political processes are deeply interlinked. History reveals that it was different in 1931 and after till India became liberated. Later, 1967 saw Congress sliding down and Socialists climbing up. 1990 and later, the scene completely changed with the OBC overpowering the upper castes dominance.

However, later in the year 2010, with the alliance of JD (U) of Nitish Kumar and BJP as partners in the NDA, a dramatic social change was noted. It was the nexus of forward castes, partly OBC, partly Dalits and partly minorities sharing their own pound of flesh against the beaten – OBC leader Lalu/Dalit leader Paswan and off-on partner Congress party.

And now the break up between BJP and Nitish Kumar, new-found friendship between Nitish and Lalu, fall out of Manjhi (a Mahadalit) with Nitish and his love-tongue for BJP and new emergence of a broad, secular alliance (Nitish, Lalu, Congress and the leftists) make the task of forecasting the results of Bihar assembly polls very complex but interesting.

Gossip goes that RSS has asked BJP not to appoint a CM nominee beforehand so as to avoid the repeat of its shocking experiment in Delhi assembly polls early this year. BJP, as matter of fact, is once again nervous whether to shake hand with Manjhi, and whether or not to declare a CM face.

Though their leaders wear an artificial smile and declare that the Modi-wave is still on, their confidence is deeply shaken (they see a Kejriwal everywhere). However, they have to lay their road map to win the election at any cost. Much, though, will depend upon the architectures of such a road map. Upper caste leaders will push for Dr. C. P. Thakur, OBCs for Sushil Modi and Nand Kishore Yadav.

There shall certainly be a battle Royal between upper caste leaders, Sushil Modi group and Nand Kishore Yadav sympathizers. Not naming Dr. C. P. Thakur will cause lesser damage but not naming Nand Kishore Yadav will hit the BJP badly as the major chunk of Yadav votes will naturally lap into RJD. Also, for the broad secular alliance of Nitish, Lalu, Congress and the leftists to emerge as a winning block, it has to shed egos at the level of top leadership.

As it looks on the ground that JD (U) and RJD may not merge before the elections , their leaders shall be called upon to make sacrifices in ticketing between themselves and between other parties like Congress and the leftists. Bad blood between warring groups/claimants will have to be sorted out with the offers of Vidhan Sabha (Council) membership to the hopefuls. Also, JD-U/RJD should not shut the doors on Manjhi, leaving enough space for engagement in the post poll arithmetic. Today, broader combination of OBCs viz, Yadavs , Kurmis and Koeries, partly Bhumihars, minorities and progressive sections, workers aligned with leftists, indicates a winning chemistry for JDU/RJD/Congress alliance.

However, there is a warning sign too! Minority (Muslims) votes must not be split at any cost. And to achieve this, Nitish and Lalu ought to treat Congress as an equal partner in terms of spirit of "brotherly accommodation", never mind the number of seats for them but with an honorable handshake.

Congress party can also be a great asset for this combination. Besides the minorities, Congress party can also help bring back its erstwhile vote bank from amongst Rajputs, Bhumihars and Brahamins. At this point of time, it would be highly impossible to bring back Brahamins into the Congress fold. Rajputs are wary as the BJP's top leadership is in the hands of OBC leaders (Narendra Modi and Amit Shah). They are sulking too and can be approached.

Here Congress has a very vital role to play. Although very insane strategies have won elections for Ronald Reagan in 1980 (remember he stole debate notes of Jimmy Carter) and also for Francois Hollande who won over Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 with an insanely offensive Rap song, yet all parties need sound strategies to win any election.

BJP is organizationally stronger in Bihar compared to the JD(U), RJD and Congress .They have a major plus point in having Modi/Shah/Sushil/Nand Kishore Yadav as the men in driving chairs with OBC background strongly backed by forward caste leaders such as Dr. C. P. Thakur and Singh (a prominent Hindu ideologue and upper caste leader). They also have a brilliant strategist in Dr. Bhupendra Yadav as the General Secretary in charge.

RJD has the boss and super top strategist in Lalu Yadav. Nitish, the Electrical Engineer, is busy connecting his wires well with a double check that there are no short circuits and no naked wires in order to avoid a shock. Congress is organizationally very weak but has its takers all over. Their old time connections with the Rajput community can yield some fruitful gains .Therefore, Congress will be wise enough to appoint a Rajput leader who has the appeal amongst the young gen and matching chemistry with the General Secretary in charge (Dr. C. P. Joshi).

Congress, at this given time, has two Rajput leaders of reckoning - an old-time war-horse Shri Digvijay Singh and Young Turk Jitendra Singh. Digvijay Singh has lost touch with the youth and also has old time rivalries with Lalu. Jitendra Singh is fresh, energetic and now experienced in the art of ticket distribution (was involved in Himachal, Karnataka, MP and UP elections). View above, the preferred choice is Jitendra Singh.

At the time of writing, with the elections still six months away and having known over six decades that the politics of Bihar has been influenced by dynamics of social relations chiefly manifested in assertion of caste identity, but it is not as simple as it appears to be for the dynamics of caste and political preferences to operate in multiple layers of socio-political structures and get influenced by processes that are multi-dimensional. Therefore, it is although impossible to forecast the end result, it is certain that there shall be a fierce battle for the throne of Pataliputra .There won't be a cake walk for the saffron camp. The myth of invincibility (of Narendra Modi) demolished by AAP in Delhi polls shall continue to haunt the BJP and its allies, and at times, make them nervous too.

Also, there shall be divided opinions in the BJP whether to hug Manjhi now and/or marry him after the polls. Manjhi is a live wire; only those who have shock-proof gloves will be able to touch him (advantage: Nitish Kumar - the Electrical Engineer).

For JD-U to win or lose will depend upon the grand strategy of Nitish Kumar, the warmth between him and Lalu, attitude of Nitish-Lalu duo with the Congress party and other smaller players. Let us also watch out Pappu Yadav; he has some potential to throw a spanner into the networking of Nitish and Lalu.

PS: Arrogance can kill all! The voters today are alert and freelancer tied to none. Voters are in no mood to be taken for granted after the Delhi polls. Indian democracy is maturing!!!

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