Even as old rivals, JD(U) and RJD, join hands in a desperate attempt to win the Bihar elections, the two struggle to co-exist
Dr M. Manisha | October 12, 2015
With the Bihar elections round the corner, there is animated debate about its probable outcome. These elections will be an acid test for the leadership of the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Nitish Kumar, the leader of JD(U), faces multiple problems of anti-incumbency, credibility, organisational acumen and leadership after ruling for 10 years. While Lalu Prasad Yadav, the leader of RJD, seems to fighting a battle for political survival.
Political prudency has forced these erstwhile political rivals to come together. The JD(U)-RJD alliance is based on the presumption that the merger of JD(U)’s core support base of Kurmis and RJD’s vote base of Yadavs and Muslims, will enable the alliance to easily sail through the elections. In the Lok Sabha elections held in April-May 2014, JD(U), RJD and Congress, had together polled 40.3 percent votes. In the by-elections held later in August, the JD(U)-RJD alliance polled 44.9 percent votes, winning six of the 10 seats. This trend, if it continues, would mean a comfortable victory for the grand alliance. However, much water has flown down the Ganges since 2014, and the mahagathbandhan may not find it easy to weather the turbulent tides of Bihar politics.
The nature of political discourse in Bihar has witnessed a subtle change over the years. The terms of discourse transcend the boundaries of caste and communalism. Issues of development have become as important, if not more. Nitish Kumar was contributory to this process of change. Kumar, in the last 10 years, has portrayed himself as a ‘vikas purush’ (developmental leader). He continues to do so with aplomb. His single most important achievement, as he has proclaimed several times, is de-criminalisation of Bihar, ensuring law and order, and bringing about development in the state. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has carried forward this trend in Bihar and has chosen to weave its electoral strategy around the issue of development.
The development discourse, however, does not fit too well in the new alliance that JD(U) finds itself in. The success of RJD is based almost exclusively on the issue of identity. Nitish Kumar’s supporters who voted him on the development plank are apprehensive of the alliance. In addition to this, there have been allegations from several quarters that ever since JD(U) joined hands with RJD, there has been an increase in the crime rate in Bihar. The BJP has made full use of such perception, upping the ante and raising slogans of ‘Jungle Raj’. Nitish Kumar’s many flip flops of alliance from NDA to UPA and now RJD, has also created a negative perception amongst his supporters. Countering this is perhaps the greatest challenge that JD(U) faces.
All this is not to suggest that caste has no role to play in Bihar politics. The ultimate outcome of the elections is likely to depend, in all probability, on caste equations. There is a history of animosity between the Kurmis and the Yadavs, the core support communities for JD(U) and RJD respectively. The general grouse of the Kurmis has been the disproportionate benefits that accrued to the Yadavs during RJD’s rule. They, thus, had supported Nitish Kumar in large numbers in forming the party that he now leads. How the two leaders now manage to bring together their disparate support base would be interesting to see.
The formation of a third front, including Samajwadi Party (SP) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has further queered the electoral pitch. The third front has declared Tariq Anwar as its chief ministerial candidate with an eye on the Muslim vote. Muslims, who support RJD, now also have an option of supporting the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM). The left parties, rebels and other parties may spoil the fun for the grand alliance.
Since the 2014 elections, the importance of electoral campaign has assumed greater significance. Modi’s victory in the general elections has been attributed in a large measure to the sustained campaign that he carried, using all traditional and non-traditional methods of electioneering. In the run up to the Bihar elections too, the strategy of BJP seems to be clear: focus on development, build favourable alliances and carry out a high decibel political campaign. Frequent visits of top BJP leadership, including Narendra Modi, to Bihar and those from allies like Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party seem to be a part of this strategy.
The mahagathbandhan will have to match up with the organisational skills of the BJP to win the elections. The media already seems to be rooting for NDA rather than JD(U)-RJD combination. There is an atmosphere of trust deficit which emanates from the historical baggage they carry. Field reports by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) also suggest that ‘the JD(U) and the RJD at present are running mutually exclusive campaigns’. Both parties have not yet been able to come up with a list of candidates. RJD workers appear to be demoralised in view of the fact that their leaders have already given up the claim for the chief ministership. There is a fear that they will be treated as a ‘junior partner’ in the alliance, despite having a broader social base in the state. The JD(U)’s style of functioning is also different from that of RJD. There is perhaps a lack of realisation among the cadres that they are part of the same alliance, and hence partners. This may take time to sink in. But time is what is short.
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