Politics in Bihar recently witnessed several unexpected U-turns. There is an increased thrill in all parties as old ties break and new ones form. Take for instance, the recent JD(U) nominations to Rajya Sabha. Several leaders were eyeing the posts and some had even held celebrations in advance, but Nitish Kumar shattered their hopes by announcing three names which were not even in the reckoning.
Or Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan’s latest moves. He was the first to quit the NDA in 2002 over the Narendra Modi-issue and caused a stir in Bihar by floating a separate party. Now, the Dalit-socialist leader is vouching for Modi as the PM. For the past nine years he was allied to the Congress and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), but a few days ago, he and Nitish were seen lauding each other signalling a possible alliance. But it turned out to be a sham.
The biggest political reversal was witnessed in the RJD on 25 February, when 13 of its 22 MLAs announced break up from the party. It was speculated that they had colluded to join the JD(U), but six of them returned to the RJD fold by evening. Lalu was in Delhi when the initial news broke. And though Nitish maintained his silence, several JD(U) leaders were euphoric at the turn of events. Tables, however, turned again the next day. The MLAs who had deserted Lalu Yadav began returning to him. From six, the figure went up to nine by the next day.
Other political upheavals are expected in the coming days. Sources suggest that a similar rebellion might take place in the BJP. BJP heavyweight and former minister Ashwini Kumar Chaube has registered his strong opposition to the likely LJP-BJP alliance. It is believed that several BJP leaders whose hopes are resting on the Lok Sabha (LS) polls after BJP’s separation with the JD(U) will turn rebellious if the the party enters into a poll pact with LJP.
The divide among the Left parties of Bihar is also out in the open. A few months ago, the two strong leftist parties CPI and CPM joined Nitish’s JD(U). A third party CPI-ML has also allied with the BJP.
Amidst such political turnarounds, the rise of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) has its own repercussions. But are any of the stratagems going to benefit the political parties in the upcoming elections? Will the LJP and former Rajya Sabha member Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP team up with the BJP? What will the BJP gain out of the alliance? Has the RJD-split incident, strengthened the JD(U) or tarnished its image further? Does the breaking up with Paswan and alliance with the Congress signal any hope for Lalu Yadav’s RJD? And finally, will the two main Left parties, CPI and CPM, which stand marginalised in terms of seats, rise up again, leaning on Nitish for support? What ramifications does the formation of a Federal Front, for which Nitish is leaving no stone unturned, have on Bihar’s politics? There are no definite answers to any of the questions but speculations are rife.
What next for Lalu Prasad Yadav and the RJD?
The most sensational story so far has been the split in the RJD. Lalu Yadav immediately took to crisis management and ensured that nine of the rebels were back with him within 24 hours, blockading Nitish’s alleged ploy and also coming down heavily upon the JD(U) after a long time. However, the incident is an alarming indication for a party already in doldrums. Despite damage control, the party lost four members. With the return of nine rebel MLAs, the party’s strength has gone down to 18 from 22.
It is alleged that the conspiracy was hatched by RJD MLA Samrat Chaudhary who has a soft-corner for the JD(U). He is eyeing the Lok Sabha ticket from Khagariya for himself and the post of chairman of the Legislative Council for his father and RJD leader Shakuni Chaudhary. But there are several other JD(U) and RJD leaders involved.
The rebellion within the RJD has left Lalu Yadav furious and he has come up with new and interesting set of slogans. ‘RJD jaaga, Nitish bhaga (RJD awakes, Nitish scampers)’. To win back nine rebels is indeed a remarkable achievement for Lalu, but is the figure enough to secure him a strong position in the Lok Sabha? Political experts think otherwise. His worries have increased manifold now. The internal situation of his camp is before him.
A senior RJD leader, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, has already exposed attempts of the JD(U) to lure him. He alleged that Nitish offered him a Lok Sabha ticket from Madhubani and the position of deputy chief minister. Internal RJD sources reveal that Abdul Bari is waiting for the right time. If the RJD fails to give him the Madhubani ticket, he is likely to walk away. With Lalu busy wooing the Congress, it is unlikely that Abdul Bari will get the desired ticket, since Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed might contest from Madhubani. But Bari is not alone. There are several other RJD leaders who are ready to switch sides in the coming days.
Lalu’s old companion and councillor Naval Kishore Yadav says, “It will be a challenge for Lalu to retain his four seats this time. It’s not right to say anything in advance about Lalu’s political plans but breaking up with Paswan is certainly a setback for him because Paswans constitute 5 percent of vote share.”
What does Nitish Kumar want?
Lalu Yadav’s political career might be at its lowest ebb now, but he has nothing much to lose. For Nitish, however, troubles are begining to mount. The JD(U)’s desperate attempt at luring RJD MLAs met with a disastrous failure bringing shame to the party. Opposition parties allege that because the JD(U) does not have enough candidates to contest the upcoming polls from all 40 seats, since it split from the BJP, it is now resorting to poaching MLAs from other parties. It became obvious when the Speaker of the Assembly, Uday Narayan Chaudhary, recognised the 13 MLAs as a separate group, when 15 MLAs were needed.
RJD MP Raghuvansh Prasad Singh holds Nitish and the speaker of the Assembly equally responsible for the fracas. He fears that it is going to give rise to further conflicts in Bihar. Currently however, Nitish, who had grown habitual to pointing fingers at other political parties, is in a tricky situation and is looking for an escape from questions directed at him. He maintains that accusations are often hurled at him and he will be accused for the current crisis in RJD too. While he has maintained a studied silence over the entire issue, JD(U) leader Shravan Kumar reportedly said, “All parties want strength. If the RJD leaders were willingly coming to us, why wouldn’t we boast of it? Ours is a strong party and we have a bright future. That’s why people want to join us.”
Another challenge before Nitish is of priorities. He is currently running two campaigns. One is the issue of special category status for Bihar, for which he has even called a state-wide Bandh on 2 March. Whether the issue is a relevant agenda for the upcoming Lok Sabha poll is doubtful. “The call for a bandh is an attempt to rejuvenate our party workers,” says a JD(U) leader.
Meanwhile, the campaign for a Federal Front is also on with more effect elsewhere. Paswan’s inclination towards the BJP is as damaging for Nitish as it is for Lalu because Paswan was strongly opposed to Narendra Modi. Upendra Kushwaha has also floated a separate RLSP and joined hands with the BJP.
What if the BJP ties up with the LJP or the RLSP?
While the RJD and the JD(U) are struggling with their own internal issues, the Congress party is spending all its energies to find a footing in the state again. Where does the BJP stand in the state? It cannot be determined by surveys or the increasing number of its allies. BJP leaders in Bihar are busy making castles in the air. While the results of electoral surveys have given them enough reason to rejoice, ties with Paswan and Kushwaha have added to their glee.
The BJP believes that with Paswan it has secured Dalit votes in the state, but Paswan’s votebank is limited to the Paswan community. He has constantly shifted alliances to maintain a position in the government. He is also trying to establish his family in politics. The LJP believes that riding on the Modi-wave, the BJP might be able to win a favourable number of seats in the state. “The party is taking decisions carefully because it will benefit us,” says Surajbhan Singh, an LJP leader.
The BJP sees a great chance of Kushwaha’s RLSP winning. After working closely with Nitish for years, Kushwaha has arisen as one of his biggest rivals now. A Koeri-Kurmi nexus is the strength of the Bihar CM but the BJP believes that Kushwaha will break it, attracting the Koeri voters. It is all speculation, but there are other serious questions before the BJP. There is strong opposition within the party against such alliances.
Several BJP leaders are of the view that the party should contest the elections in Bihar on its own. It will benefit the party, they believe. Some leaders are worried that if the party allows Paswan and Kushwaha to contest in 10 seats, it will restrict the BJP. Another issue is the caste card. Even though the BJP has leaders like Nand Kishore Yadav and Sushil Modi from backward classes, and now, with Paswan, the party will reach out to Dalits, but it is largely identified as an upper-caste party. An image makeover before the approaching elections seems impossible.