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How Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav won Bihar

November 08, 2015 18:31 IST

Nitish Kumar with Lalu Yadav

 

'The clearest interpretation of the November 8 mandate is that the backwards, Dalits and minorities, and a huge proportion of women cutting across caste and class, displayed massive consolidation to the extent that despite chipping of votes by the Left Front, by the Third Front and by the BSP, Mahagathbandhan candidates won, and in many cases by huge margins,' says Mohammad Sajjad.

The Grand Alliance -- the Mahagathbandhan -- of Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav-Congress is on course to win a landslide victory, winning almost 180 out of Bihar's 243 assembly seats.

Observers and reporters had mentioned that incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar retained his popularity though a significant section of Bihar's electorate disapproved of his alliance with Lalu Yadav. The reported disapproval was more to do with the apprehension that Lalu Yadav would not let Nitish Kumar continue with his development agenda.

This apprehension was more evident among the educated middle classes, most of who happen to be the upper castes and the trading communities, the core base of the Bharatiya Janata Party. This was something the Mahagathbandhan could read well in advance and the contents of the speeches delivered by its leaders at their Patna rally of August 30 made it too evident.

They sort of almost abandoned the upper castes, pegging the proportion of their nominees down to 15 per cent. This realisation on the part of the Mahagathbandhan dawned more decisively after Narendra Modi's July 25 rally in Muzaffarpur, which is supposed to be a strong base of the upper castes, particularly the Bhumihars, who were supposed to have benefitted much from Nitish Kumar's tenure.

The clearest interpretation of the November 8 mandate is that the backwards, Dalits and minorities, and a huge proportion of women cutting across caste and class, displayed massive consolidation to the extent that despite chipping of votes by the Left Front, by the Third Front and by the Bahujan Samaj Party, Mahagathbandhan candidates have won, and in many cases by huge margins.

Why? Because they tasted good governance and socially inclusive development under Nitish Kumar. Girls cycling to school on beautiful roads were the strongest testimony of good governance as well as their educational upliftment whereas 50 per cent reservations in local bodies testified to women empowerment. This was further burnished by the Grand Alliance's manifesto promising 35 per cent reservations for women in public employment.

Nitish Kumar enjoys such trust that he tries his best to fulfil his electoral promises. The enhanced supply of electricity has added to his charisma. Not inappropriately, he carries the nickname 'Sushasan Babu' (the man of good governance).

Despite his alliance with the BJP he let communal harmony prevail. Similarly, people trust him that despite his alliance with Lalu Yadav he will succeed in letting development progress in Bihar.

Nitish Kumar's image of a performing chief minister was all set to attract substantial votes of the upper castes as well. Seeing this, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh found it electorally prudent to consolidate this social base towards its side. Hence, the statement from RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat to have a re-look at the nation's reservation policy.

Contrary to the assertions of many analysts, it must be underlined that Bhagwat's statement saved the BJP from a bigger drubbing. This statement also provided Lalu Yadav with a much needed issue to canvass votes among the backward castes.

The Mahagathbandhan allayed the misgivings of incompatibility by ensuring almost frictionless distribution of electoral tickets. A young techno-manager, Prashant Kishor, who fell out with Narendra Modi soon after the 2014 election, was won over by Nitish Kumar. He was joined by another sharp, articulate, strategist, and a professionally trained academic of Delhi University's Department of Social Work Professor Manoj Jha, the RJD's national spokesperson, besides many others.

Applying their professional expertise, they collected precise and meticulous information about the socio-economic profiles and recent electoral histories and profiles of each constituency and of the prospective candidates. They then worked out their winnability factor. Based on this, symbols were allotted to the selected candidates.

This strategy defied the conventional practice of allotting seats to the allies and leaving it to them to chose their nominees. Distribution of electoral tickets was made a collective decision of the allies. That is why there has been a seamless transfer of votes among constituents of the Mahagathbandhan.

Compared to the BJP, the Mahagathbandhan had the least number of rebels. Mahagathbandhan candidates from the Paswans (Dusadh), Kushwahas (Koeris) and the upper castes in many cases found their victories easier and with comfortable margins.

The Paswans and Kushwahas were dissatisfied with the BJP because of the least number of seats the BJP conceded to the Lok Janshakti Party and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, seen by their respective social bases as a humiliation of their leaders.

Another good strategy the Mahagathbandhan followed was that immediately after a Modi rally, there followed a press conference addressed by Nitish Kumar, with a point-by-point rebuttal of whatever the prime minister said. A couple of days after Modi's rally Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav would hold rallies, where Lalu would mock Modi with trademark humour.

The Bihar election campaign should be seen to be a more unique exercise in educating the electorate. The more the prime minister attacked the two leaders, the more the subaltern communities consolidated around them with visible vengeance. Unlike Modi's rallies, Nitish Kumar's sabhas were more organic, with less of plastic chairs, attended by a large number of women.

Modi's failure in controlling inflation and his non fulfilment of promises (even on those issues which were to be fulfilled immediately after taking charge in May 2014) posed the greatest disadvantage to the BJP. The rising prices of pulses, of vegetables, and of edible oils, lack of movement on black money and the unimplemented Jan Dhan Yojana was greatly resented by the people.

Voters complained that they opened bank accounts for the Jan Dhan Yojana by selling off their goats and bicycles (which their daughters had secured from the state government). They thought Modi had cheated them, a sentiment Lalu was quick to cash on. Mahagathbandhan hoardings articulated these complaints by displaying the slogans -- 'Gharibon badla le lena jis ne dukh pahunchaya hai (Oh the poor, do take revenge against those who cheated you and made your life miserable)', and 'Jhansay mein na aayengay, Nitish ko jitaayengay (Won't be misled any more, will vote for Nitish).'

Modi's speeches in the later phases of the election campaign -- at Buxar and Darbhanga -- resorted to the socially divisive as did BJP President Amit Shah's speech at Raxaul. There was a feeling that such speeches lowered the prestige of the prime minister's office. On the other Nitish Kumar's rebuttal raised him to the status of a decent statesman.

Nitish Kumar also played the regional pride -- sub-national nationalism -- card, the historic lack of which is supposed to have been a bottleneck in the economic development of Bihar, as suggested by Shaibal Gupta, an economist and advisor to the chief minister.

Nitish Kumar convinced the peasantry that if the BJP won a higher number of seats the party would get the required numbers in the Rajya Sabha to push through the land acquisition bill.

This was as alarming as the fear of reservations to be taken away. The Forbesganj killings during the National Democratic Alliance rule in Bihar had convinced the peasantry that their lands would be taken away. The Left's improved performance is also due to this; its campaigns persuaded voters against an NDA victory in the state.

The social consolidation of the subaltern classes defeated all attempts of communal division. There were as many as 667 instances of communal skirmishes across Bihar in the last two years. The Nitish Kumar-led administration could prevent such violence spreading more successfully than Akhilesh Yadav's administration in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Instances of lynching, mob killing and Dalit persecution in other parts of India (where BJP leaders were seen to defend the aggressors) contributed towards subaltern consolidation in favour of the Mahagathbandhan.

Not only did the majority resist communal polarisation, the Muslim minority too reciprocated accordingly by frustrating Asaduddin Owaisi whose All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen could not win even Kochadaman in Kishanganj where 74 per cent of the electorate are Muslims.

Neither coalition during the high decibel electioneering discussed ways and means to control the recurrent floods or about how to make useful investments in reclaiming the chaur (low lying, waterlogged) lands of north Bihar.

With India's recent deteriorating relations with Nepal, the building of small dams in Nepal to control floods in north and east Bihar and also to tap hydro-electricity would again be jeopardised.

The viral diseases killing the timber of sheeshum in Bihar is depriving the peasantry of a good source of income. Despite good production potential of sugarcane there is a lack of industrial production of sugar and ethanol. Somehow, there is an impression among the people of Bihar that the 'Maharashtra lobby' does not want Bihar to have adequate sugar and ethanol production.

Rather than the politics of vendetta, all these issues need immediate attention as they are a pre-requisite for Bihar's much needed economic development. Nitish Kumar's gigantic challenge lies ahead to carry out development towards creating enough of a middle class which will stay on in Bihar.

IMAGE: Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar after the election results indicated a huge win for their alliance. Photograph: PTI

Mohammad Sajjad teaches History at Aligarh Muslim University and has published Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours (Routledge, 2014) and Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur (Primus, 2014).

Mohammad Sajjad