A senior BJP leader, who holds a constitutional post, had predicted the humiliating defeat of his party in the Bihar election while speaking to Tehelka on 30 September. His take was, “We did not have a state level neta who could match, even by 50 percent, the charismatic personality of Nitish Kumar.”
The soft-spoken leader was proven correct after the people’s verdict came out on 8 November. Certainly, the result was shocking for the NDA and unbelievable for a number of experts who, with the backing of poll surveys predicting the blooming of the lotus, were seen on a number of channels elucidating the reasons for a probable BJP victory.
But the mandate was in no way against the expectations of those who toured the hinterland and tried to feel the pulse of the electorate. It was difficult to find even a single person who disagreed on the fact that Nitish as chief minister has done a lot for the betterment of Bihar.
“Nitish turned jungle raj into mangal raj but he should not have shook hands with Lalu Prasad Yadav,” reacted Ashok Sharma, by caste a Bhumihar, of Gaya. Sharma, however, did not stop himself from saying he would vote for the Grand Alliance (GA) because there was peace in his village during the tenure of Nitish.
The genesis of the GA was in the by-election to the 10 Assembly seats vacated by the legislators who won in the 2014 General Election. After the crushing defeat at the hands of the NDA comprising the BJP, the LJP and the RSLP, the top leaders decided to join hands for the by-elections. When results came, the alliance won six seats.
Emboldened by the positive trend, Nitish set out to form a grand alliance at the national level, stitching together half-a-dozen political parties across the country, to fight a winnable battle of the ballot in Bihar. Though he failed in achieving broad political consensus due to the exit of Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, he succeeded in roping in Lalu and the Congress. To check fragmentation in the Muslim votes, the three political outfits resolved to fight jointly.
“Now my armoury has sufficient arms and ammunitions to ensure defeat to enemy number one — the BJP,” said Nitish at the time. It was a hard decision for him to ally with Lalu because the latter was a symbol of ‘anarchy’, perhaps unfairly. “Lalu gave voice to the downtrodden against the atrocities perpetuated on them by the upper castes,” says noted social scientist Shaibal Gupta.
The joint venture of Face (Nitish) and Base (Lalu) was all set to be profitable. The two stalwarts are said to have distributed responsibilities throughout the campaigning.
Nitish addressed 230 meetings but never used objectionable language against rivals, giving the impression that he is as suave as ever, even after encountering derogatory comments hurled at him by the saffron leaders.
On the contrary, Lalu adopted a posture of ‘tit for tat’, electrifying his supporters who outnumber the support base of any other politician in Bihar. “We felt proud when our god-like leader Lalu gave befitting answers to false allegations levelled against him by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah at public meetings,” says Pradeep Yadav of Phulparas in Madhubani district.