Riled and despised as the “casteist and anarchic conglomerate” by the BJP leaders, the ‘secular’ alliance of the RJD, JD(U) and the Congress not only checkmated the BJP juggernaut in Bihar but also wrested at least two seats from the party in the Assembly bypolls held on 21 August. The ‘secular’ alliance won six of the 10 seats, while the BJP won the rest. In Banka, the BJP candidate prevailed over his RJD rival by a slender margin of 711 votes.
With the BJP losing the plot, daggers are out in the party, which had, so far, presented the façade of being the most disciplined and monolithic organisation. The man in the eye of the storm is chief ministerial aspirant Sushil Kumar Modi. A section of the state BJP leadership has openly held him responsible for the party’s poor performance.
It is significant to note that the BJP lost two Assembly seats — Chapra and Mohiuddinnagar — that were vacated by its members who fought and won the recent General Election. In Chapra, Rajiv Pratap Rudy may have defeated Rabri Devi in the Lok Sabha polls but his image and appeal did not work in the BJP’s favour this time. The upper-caste Rajputs and Brahmins rallied behind the RJD candidate. The perceived antagonism between the obcs and upper castes seems to have not helped the BJP’s cause.
Another significant verdict was the Congress’ victory in the urban constituency of Bhagalpur after a long gap of 23 years. BJP’s Ashwini Kumar Choubey represented Bhagalpur, but he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Buxar in the recent General Election. Alarm bells had already started ringing during the Lok Sabha polls when BJP leader Shanawaz Hussain failed to win from the constituency. There is a general impression that urban middle class has embraced the BJP, but this perception does not hold true in Bhagalpur. The party lost despite the rss having a strong ground base here.
Though the BJP leadership is reluctant to accept it, it is generally perceived that the result is the manifestation of the people’s frustration with the Narendra Modi government and his inability to keep his promise to usher a new era in the country. While campaigning for the General Election, Modi and other BJP leaders had assured that they would confer special status to Bihar once they came to power at the Centre. But the promise did not become a reality. Rumour has it that the BJP leaders are planning to use it as a trump card just before the 2015 Assembly election.
Though Sushil Modi tried to dilute the impact by saying that “we accept the verdict” and that “the party would review and make amends in its efforts to win the 2015 Assembly election”, the fact remains that the verdict has had a shattering impact on the RSS’ plan to expand the party’s footprint in Bihar. Before the General Election, the RSS had prepared a highly ambitious project to create a strong base in Bihar and use the crucial state as a launchpad to spread its net wide across eastern India.
Despite having a strong presence in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and many good leaders, the party had failed to make a significant impact in Bihar. It was Amit Shah who changed that perspective. In Uttar Pradesh, he had managed to forge an alliance between OBCs and Rajputs-Brahmins. But this did not find serious takers in Bihar as the people were apprehensive of the move.
Union minister and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party leader Upendra Kushwaha, an ally of the BJP, blamed the poor performance on the BJP central leadership’s reluctance to give ticket to Bhumihars, a dominant upper caste.
It is worth mentioning that out of the six seats that the ‘secular’ alliance won, upper-caste members came up trumps in four of them. It implies that Nitish Kumar has succeeded, to some extent, in making an amendment to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s earlier Muslim-Yadav equation. Nitish’s message is clear that the new ‘secular’ front is not only confined to the parameters of backward caste politics but is also a forum for inclusive growth for the poor and the common man.
With the ‘secular’ alliance checkmating the BJP’s victory march in Bihar, an elated Nitish expressed satisfaction over his “experiment” and said that the results would have been even better if the parties had discussed seat sharing in a better way. The ‘secular’ alliance had projected Brand Bihar and promised an economic package for the all-round development of the state.
“The experiment that we conducted through this tie-up has proved successful,” said Nitish. “The people have expressed their mind and mood in favour of it. In a short span of time, the alliance has managed a good show in the bypolls that took place a little after the General Election in which the BJP had registered a stupendous victory in Bihar. Though the results are satisfactory, we still need to do a lot in the future for a better outcome.”
Now, Nitish and Lalu are planning to repeat the experiment on the national level. The Congress is quite cosy with the ‘secular’ alliance. So far, the party used to define and dictate the nature of any alliance. This is the first time that the concept, principles and parameters of the ‘secular’ alliance would be put forward by Nitish and Lalu. Many in the Congress feel that the party should use this result as an opportunity to start from scratch.
In fact, the Congress leadership is quite elated at the party’s performance in the bypolls across the country. After the General Election, the party won three Assembly seats in Uttarakhand, two in Karnataka and one each in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar without the help of any alliance. The results could act as a life-saving drug for the Congress and energise the rank and file.
Forgetting 20 years of political rivalry, Lalu and Nitish had come together and accused the BJP government of “dividing” the society along communal lines and failing to fulfil its promises of checking price rise and generating employment. “We have joined hands not for the sake of power but to save the society and the country, which is under threat from forces out to create divisions on communal lines,” Kumar had said while addressing an election rally.
Lalu has also appealed to the SP and the BSP to bury the hatchet and join hands to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
One thing that appears to be certain is that Lalu and Nitish would prefer to carry the Congress along with them. The bypoll results indicate that they have managed to evolve their own caste equation — Yadavs and Rajputs have come together in favour of the RJD, while EBCs and Mahadalits have joined hands to vote for the JD(U).
A senior JD(U) leader quipped that the bypoll results herald “burey din (bad days)” for the BJP for ignoring the plight of the common man. “After coming to power at the Centre, Modi did not keep his promise of providing relief to the common man within 100 days,” he said. “On the contrary, the policies followed by the Central government have aggravated the plight instead of mitigating it. The government is regularly diverting the attention of the people by harping on frivolous issues that are creating fissures in the Indian society.”