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'In Bihar, caste is more important than religion'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: October 07, 2020 07:59 IST
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'In this election, the only thing that is going to matter is which caste aligns with which coalition.'

IMAGE: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi at an election rally in Bihar during the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Photograph: PTI Photo

"Narendra Modi's image will give a marginal advantage to Nitish Kumar," says Professor Prabhat Ghosh, director of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute.

In a two-part interview with Rediff.com's Archana Masih, Professor Ghosh explains what might emerge in the Bihar election.

 

How different is this election going to be from the past? Nitish Kumar has been chief minister since 2005, what will voters be thinking when they vote this time around?

Since 2005 there have been issues of governance, social justice, readjustment of identity politics etc, etc -- but this time I feel there is no election issue whatsoever.

The entire election will be based on identity politics -- which caste will align with which coalition.

Looking at the last five years, law and order and governance should have been very important issues this time because these have deteriorated in comparison with the first 10 years of Nitish Kumar (2005-2015).

Nitish won his second election in 2010 predominantly because of improved law and order under his government.

He also has not dealt effectively with the migrant labourers who returned to Bihar after the lockdown. The quarantine centres in the state also fared very poorly in terms of provisions and management.

But all this is not going to matter in this election, the only thing that is going to matter is which caste aligns with which coalition.

I think the NDA will win the election.

Why do you say that the NDA will win?

The reason the NDA will win is not because of its performance which undoubtedly has been poor in the last five years, but because the Mahatgathbandhan is weak.

The Congress is weak; and RJD is not what it was without Laloo Yadav.

Tejashwi (Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader) is a greenhorn and too young. He does not have the leadership capacity; he is a leader because he is the son of Laloo Prasad. He is a decent man, but not a strong leader.

The parties of the Mahagatbandhan will not make it a homogenous coalition. The internal bickering will weaken the coalition.

When smaller parties start making big demands, it indicates that the head of the coalition is not very strong.

The Vikasheel Insan Party is demanding the deputy CM's post as a condition for joining the Mahagathbandhan.

Keeping all this is mind, I think the NDA will win, though the difference will be less.

Why?

Some fence-sitters who voted for the JD-U won't do so this time. Finally, the crucial decider will be caste, which caste aligns with which party.

IMAGE: Janta Dal-United national President and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar interacts with ticket seekers at the JD-U office in Patna, September 27, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo

You say caste will be the big issue, what is the likelihood of the Narendra Modi factor over-riding the caste factor?

Looking at Bihar in the past decades, the Hindu consolidation is not as what one sees in Madhya Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh.

In Bihar, caste identity over-rides religious identity.

The BJP did not have much of a political presence till almost 30 years back. Most of the Hindi heartland states have been BJP states, unlike Bihar.

The BJP has increased its political presence in Bihar, but not like it has in MP, UP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Nitish will benefit from Narendra Modi's image, but it will be a marginal advantage, not a substantial one.

What if the BJP gets more seats than the JD-U?

In that case, the moral strength of Nitish Kumar to be chief minister will be much depleted. But the BJP knows that many within the JD-U will not accept a BJP chief minister.

The BJP and JD-U will get equal number of seats to contest. Some of the seats from the JD-U's share will be allocated to HAM (former chief minister Jiten Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha).

If the LJP (Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party) joins the alliance which in all probability, it will, the LJP will get some seats from the BJP's share and similarly with RLSP (the Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party).

The Vikasheel Insan Party led by Mukesh Sahni has an appeal among the extremely backward castes. He is negotiating with the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan

In the event the BJP gets more seats, doesn't Sushil Kumar Modi have a fair chance of becoming CM?

I don't think so. Nitish Kumar is a single man party, without him the JD-U is nothing. Even though Sushil Kumar Modi is deputy chief minister, he is not as strong as he was ten years back.

Both Sushil Modi and the BJP's state president Sanjay Jaiswal are baniyas and the very fact that Jaiswal has been made Bihar's BJP president indicates that Sushil Modi is not as strong as he was before.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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