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'Nitish is image plus and Lalu is vote plus'

By Archana Masih
November 10, 2015 12:12 IST
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'Nitish Kumar wouldn't have won Bihar without Lalu. He needed a voter base and Lalu has a much bigger voter base than Nitish.'

Sankarshan Thakur, the biographer of both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, discusses the Mahanayaks of the Bihar election with Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar

As the biographer of both Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, how do you see these men of such contrasting personalities working together in the days ahead?

Both of them are very experienced politicians. Both of them know that they have been very bitter enemies for a good 20 years.

In fact, they are very cognisant of their differences of style, of politics, but they also realise equally that they came together in a very special situation.

It was a desperate SOS and both of them realised that if they don't go together, they will be run into the ground by (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi.

They both realised the meaning of why they came together and now that they have won, they know the meaning of the mandate. They have earned it only because they were together. That is the binding force between them.

Also, the mandate has a message. There is pressure not only in Bihar but all over that what they have achieved in Bihar should not be frittered away.

Both of them are also aware that there is a much bigger battle to be fought in 2019. Both of them are talking about it, so I think this relationship will be governed by these factors. I also think, both of them are in the last stage of their careers and they are mature men and politicians.

What will this version of Lalu be like?

He has handled this entire campaign around Nitish very well. To begin with, it was almost unreal the way Lalu was fore-grounding Nitish as the chief ministerial candidate, but he did it consistently through the campaign.

When he won more seats than Nitish, the first thing he said was that governance would be handled by Nitish. He is behaving in a manner governed by the necessities of Realpolitik.

Also the way, Lalu has spoken about his children. Yes, he has got them tickets and both of them have won, but I think he is clear that he is not going to lobby for them for positions in government. These are examples of the maturity he has shown.

There was this the fear of a return to the Lalu-Rabri Devi years if the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) was back in power again.

But that fear hasn't reflected in the mandate. Look at the mandate! Lalu has got 80 seats and Nitish has 72, the Congress 27! If fear was such a factor would they have got 179 seats together?

This concern was limited to the urban upper castes.

Hearing Lalu speak after their win, it would seem that he sees a national role for himself, while he leaves Bihar to Nitish. Do you think he wants to launch an assault on Delhi now?

Look, people are getting the wrong end of that statement. The statement essentially means that I am leaving Nitish to govern Bihar while I go across the country campaigning against Modiji.

If people want to translate that Lalu has national ambitions they are free to do so, but I feel it means 'rest easy, Bihar is with Nitish and I am going to do political campaigning outside.'

At the moment, Lalu Yadav cannot even contest elections, not even a ward election, but he has every right to campaign, leaving Bihar to Nitish. I think that is a positive sign for this alliance -- that there will be no dual centres of power.

As Nitish Kumar's biographer, how do you see him in his third stint?

He has also learned his lesson. It was not easy for him to join hands with Lalu and there was a lot of debate before this alliance actually happened whether Lalu would be an asset or a liability. Finally he took a call that he would be an asset. In that judgement he has proved right.

Nitish Kumar -- whatever be his image -- it is tough for a chief minister to have pro-incumbency after two terms -- but whatever it was, he wouldn't have won Bihar without Lalu.

He needed a voter base and Lalu has a much bigger voter base than Nitish.

Nitish is image plus and Lalu is vote plus. RJD Spokesperson Manoj Jha at my book release function put it best. He said, 'The Nitish-Lalu combination is the combination of face and base.'

What surprised you about this election?

The fact that they went beyond 160, but that happens when there is a trend in favour of one party, there is usually a cascade. Yes, I was surprised that they got the numbers that they did, but I was never in doubt that they were going to win this election.

The Congress emerged as the party with the best strike rate. What brought this about?

The Congress was dead, but the moment it contests with the support of the Mandal parties, its numbers just multiply. It gets the upper caste votes, Muslim votes and a huge number of the Lalu-Nitish votes and that becomes an unbeatable combination.

24 Muslim MLAs have won which is almost in proportion to the Muslim population in Bihar. What does this signify for Muslims in Bihar and the rest of India?

It is a very healthy reflection because the minorities in the state were really apprehensive like when the BJP announced after the 2014 election that Muslims should understand that a government can be formed in Delhi without their support.

If the BJP had won here, the Bihari Muslim would have found himself doubly excluded.

Their numbers in the assembly, their inclusion in the power structure, reflects Bihar's syncretic society and its plurality.

The Biharis have rejected both religiously extreme parties -- the BJP and AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen). It is a rejection of extreme religious politics and that is very healthy for Bihar.

What message has Bihar sent out to the rest of the country?

That the politics of extremism won't work. That you cannot dictate to people. That over centralisation doesn't work. That tamasaha doesn't work. That just gathering people at huge rallies does not translate always into votes. That if you don't deliver on the ground, people will smell you out quickly and reject you.

It is as much a verdict of 17 months of Modi's rule in Delhi. Everywhere people have been saying 'Har Har Modi Se Arhar Modi'; where is the black money in our account?; why is dal so expensive?; why are you coming here again and again?; why don't you do your job in Delhi as prime minister? This has been the noise on the ground.

You have been reporting from Bihar. As you prepare to leave Patna, what thoughts go away with you?

My tired body (laughs). I cannot answer this question as a journalist, I'll answer it as a Bihari.

The thought at the top of my mind is that I am leaving my state very happy. Its plurality has been reflected, people have refused to get divided on religious lines, there is no threat to social harmony and it is in the hands of a chief minister who has a proven record.

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

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Archana Masih / Rediff.com
 
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