There are myriad political questions that would be answered on Sunday immediately after the results of the Bihar Assembly elections are announced. The outcome of the polls would have wide ranging ramifications for Indian politics in general and for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in particular. A favourable result would make him a natural alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 and anything else would perhaps end his political innings, at least for some time. The stakes involved here for Nitish are extremely high and he simply cannot afford to lose his home state if he wishes to remain as a contender for the top job of the country. The victory of the Grand Alliance would also effectively mean that Rahul Gandhi would have to play second fiddle to his alliance partner, as the “secular” forces would preferably back Nitish to take on Modi instead of siding with the Congress under his leadership when the Parliamentary elections take place four years from now.
Exit polls have brought no comfort to either side except for adding to the anxiety of the major players. With each side claiming a clean sweep, allegations of tampering of the electronic voting machines by the losers would follow once the declaration takes place, thus making things even more difficult for the Election Commission, which has conducted the polls through an extraordinary lengthy process to ensure fair play. This is one election that would go down in the annals of our democracy as the game changer and whose outcome would determine the blueprint of our political future.
Nitish has been hailed by his supporters as a messiah, who had the courage to challenge the might of Narendra Modi and that too when the Prime Minister’s popularity was higher than all his opponents (including those in his own party) put together. But in the showdown, the Bihar Chief Minister has led his own guard down several times. His willingness to do business with his one time rival Lalu Prasad Yadav has hurt him the most.
A shrewd politician, Lalu not only asked Nitish to give up a number of seats to accommodate his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) nominees, but concurrently alienated the Chief Minister from some of his closest allies, who had stood by him through thick and thin during his most tumultuous times. The consequence was that Nitish entered the poll arena minus some of his best lieutenants, thus allowing Lalu to set the political agenda in the midst of the hectic poll campaign. Here, he failed to comprehend that Lalu, in the last five weeks, did everything in his power to weaken him so that in the post poll scenario he has a larger say in how the Grand Alliance should behave.
As a matter of fact, Lalu became the reason for the BJP’s new found confidence to march forward in what appeared at one time to be a closely contested election. While Nitish tried to keep focus on his governance and development record, Lalu ensured that the caste element remained a dominant factor. His aim was to forge an absolute unity amongst the Yadavs, whose fear drove many of the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) constituents towards the BJP, a factor that could determine the final outcome of the Bihar polls on Sunday.
In addition, the manner in which Jitan Ram Manjhi was treated by Nitish helped in the consolidation of the Maha Dalit vote bank where the Mushars (Manjhi’s supporters) and the Dushars led by Ram Vilas Paswan contributed to the National Democratic Alliance becoming formidable. The Lalu factor, as opposed to the Manjhi factor, could very well be the turning point of the just concluded Bihar elections. Nitish, though heading the Grand Alliance, somewhere lost control of its agenda and surrendered his pre-poll advantage, so to speak, rather passively.
New Delhi’s media circles have by and large predicted a spectacular victory for the Grand Alliance, while citing total consolidation of the Yadav, Kurmi and the Muslim vote. However, what has been overlooked is that there has been unprecedented consolidation of the Forward castes in the history of Bihar. In addition, the OBCs have been divided and the EBCs and the Maha Dalits have seemingly moved away from the Janata Dal (United), leaving Nitish totally dependent on the Yadavs to swing an improbable victory backed by the Muslim and Kurmi vote.
What most people forget is that governance and development were not issues in the Bihar elections, though the winner would like to interpret the results citing these reasons as the pivotal cause for victory. Modi and the RSS were not factors either, which many would want the common people to believe. In Bihar, it is only caste that matters and other than that, the two factors were Nitish and Lalu. People were either with them or against them. Going strictly by caste arithmetic, the dice appears to be loaded in favour of the NDA. However, it Nitish overcomes that, it would truly be a great victory against all odds. Either way, it shall be his tryst with destiny that would propel him to greater heights or to political oblivion. Between us.