The results of the bypolls on August 21 will decide whether the “maha gathbandhan” or grand alliance that Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) has stitched up with Lalu Prasad’s RJD, with the Congress as its third wheel, can live up to its promise on paper to put up a fight against an ascendant BJP in Bihar. All three parties were swept aside by the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. The performance of the grand alliance in these bypolls will give the verdict on what is being touted as a unique experiment in opposition unity against the BJP. If successful in Bihar, it could resonate in other parts of the country.
But essentially, this is a story of Nitish Kumar. Travel in Bihar, from Patna to Hajipur to Chhapra and Bhagalpur — the last three among the 10 constituencies headed for bypolls — and the signs are unmistakable that he is the tragic hero of this election and this experiment. No matter what the results on August 25, and even if the grand alliance wins more seats than the BJP, Nitish stands to lose the most politically.
Less than five years ago, in 2010, he was the incumbent chief minister who swept Bihar. At that time, the BJP was by his side but the vote was won in his name and primarily on his slogan of “sushasan” or good governance. Of course, Nitish had done astute social engineering of his own — giving reservations in panchayats to Extremely Backward Classes, and rolling out programmes and schemes for the Mahadalits, a category he also created. But it was arguably the remarkable work done by his government in its first term from 2005-2010 in restoring law and order and building roads that brought him a broad mandate in a famously caste-riven state. He was credited with recasting the crude and pessimistic “social justice versus development” opposition propagated in Lalu raj into a fine and forward-looking balance.
But now, in the joint campaign run by the grand alliance, the Nitish model seems drowned in an older noise. His “sushasan” is relegated and eclipsed — all but cast away as the slogan that couldn’t hold its own in the Lok Sabha polls against the “false dreams” and “poison” purveyed by Modi’s “prachar tantra” or propaganda machine.
The Nitish-Lalu-Congress campaign’s message and hype are all about uniting the forces of “samajik nyaya (social justice)” and “secularism” to combat Modi.
In constituencies like Chhapra and Hajipur, with small Muslim populations, the chant of social justice is louder than the battlecry against communalism. Here, the alliance is working to ensure that Lalu’s mostly unwavering Yadav base is combined with a scatter of backward groups — non-Yadav OBCs, EBCs and Mahadalits — that Nitish wooed but lost large sections of to continued…