Riding on a very strong caste backing, the Bharatiya Janata Party is poised to win the Bihar Assembly elections later this year, contrary to the view held by many in the country’s capital. In fact, there are two ways of looking at the state’s politics, which would certainly have wide ranging ramifications on the national political scene and thus determine the future course of several key players. One is to see things through the prism of the caste scenario in Bihar, which is the realistic manner of making a forecast. The second is through the eyes of political pundits sitting in New Delhi, hoping that the outcome would be determined by their logic, forgetting that politics has its own logic and illogic as well.
It is very apparent to those who are looking at the unfolding developments objectively that only two political entities are a factor in the state — Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav. There is nobody else. People are either with them individually or are opposed to them. As things stand today, there are more people who do not endorse their politics than those who do. This bitter truth will come out in black and white when the elections take place.
The second reality of Bihar is that development can never be an issue there. It is plain wishful thinking. It is only caste and caste alone which determines which way the state would go. The obvious corollary of this thesis is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not such a big factor there despite being the supreme leader in the country today. The BJP is all set to do well largely because of the caste support it has. The forward castes stand unitedly in backing the BJP. The backwards, however, remain divided, and Lalu Prasad Yadav despite and in spite of his alleged involvement in scams is assuredly more popular than Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose own Kurmi community is not with him in totality. From all available indications, Lalu’s party could quite easily get more seats than those being contested by Nitish. The Koeris, who have a sizable presence in the state, are supporting the NDA, with its two leaders, Upendra Kushwaha and Shakuni Chaudhary blatantly opposing the Janata Dal-RJD-Congress combination.
Nitish’s problems are further compounded by the fact that during his previous stint as Chief Minister, he had succeeded in dividing the most backward sections of the state. The Musahars, who are part of the Maha Dalits and are represented by former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, have already declared their opposition to both Nitish and Lalu. There are other such groups which feel that they should demonstrate their strength and not be cowed down by the Nitish-Lalu combination. The Dusadhs led by Ram Vilas Paswan are already with the NDA and for simple reading of the situation based on pure arithmetical calculation, there appears to be dismal hope for the ruling alliance in the state.
Nitish and Lalu have been heavily banking on the Muslim vote. Those who comprehend the semantics of Bihar politics intrinsically are of the opinion that even the Muslims are not above the caste malaise in the state. They too are divided on caste lines, though this argument may not convince many in New Delhi, for whom this kind of division may appear to be illusory. It has been seen in past polls in the state that Muslims have voted on caste lines and this time it may be no different. Asaduddin Owaisi’s possible declaration of contesting the polls in some areas could as well tilt the scales in favour of the BJP as a sizable section could go with him instead of falling in line behind Nitish and Lalu.
The principal charge against Nitish is that he has alienated large sections of his followers and has run his government through bureaucrats, many of whom do not belong to Bihar and thus are oblivious of the ground realities. In order to market himself, he has miffed those who had stood by him during his hour of crisis when the BJP had pulled out its support. There are a number of people in his own party who feel that he had parted company with BJP not because he had problems working with it, but primarily at the instance of some supporters of L.K. Advani, who, at that point of time, were keen on preventing Narendra Modi from emerging as the Prime Ministerial face of the BJP. It was a gamble that failed. Nitish, who was the Railways Minister when the Sabarmati Express-Godhra incident took place in February 2002, appallingly, did not order the mandatory inquiry. If he did not have any problem, then why did it arise later?
It is also absolutely clear that those who are trying to read Bihar by bringing Narendra Modi into the picture are not accurately assessing the situation and are therefore not depicting the reality. So far as Bihar is concerned, the BJP will win there on its caste strength. Modi’s sole role would be to choose the next Chief Minister. Between us.