A senior journalist recalled that Nitish Kumar, during his early days as a politician, had thumped his table during an animated discussion and said he would “one day upset rigid caste calculations to wrest power”. Nitish did so successfully in the 2005 assembly polls, with the BJP’s support that brought him the votes of the upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs, a large part of Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) and some Dalits, making it a winning combination against Lalu Prasad’s Muslim-Yadav (MY) combination.
In 2010, Nitish played up “Lalu’s misrule” against his own agenda of development and the NDA got 205 seats in a House of 243. A year earlier, in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the JD(U)-BJP alliance won 32 seats out of 40.
Five years on, it’s all uphill for Nitish Kumar and his party after it split with the BJP.
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On Tuesday, when Nitish was asked at a press conference why development, his keyword in 2009 and 2010, has been out of discussion in 2014, the CM struggled for an answer before saying, “It is the BJP and the RJD that have been trying to divert attention from development.” In his speeches, Nitish has been cautioning voters about communal tension if the BJP comes to power. Here are five reasons why Nitish may well have lost the plot after the split with the BJP.
A top JD(U) leader close to Nitish tells The Indian Express,”Had the JD(U) and BJP been together, we would have won 38 seats, forcing Lalu into political oblivion. But our split seems to have made Lalu the BJP’s prime rival, rather than the JD(U) that won 20 last time.”
Ask any voter in Pataliputra, Ara, Buxar, Gaya and Sasaram about the JD(U)’s chances and the answer is the same. “Maybe third position,” says Dharmendra Kumar of Gaya. “Nitish could have easily dominated Bihar politics for another 10 years. Just as Delhi voters are not convinced about the reason for Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation, we are not convinced about the JD(U)’s delayed secular turn. Now he will get neither Ram nor Imam.”
In 2009, the JD(U) and BJP respectively won 24.04 and 13.97 per cent of the votes. The RJD won 19.31 per cent and the LJP 6.55, sharing four seats, while the Congress fought separately and won 10.26 per cent and two seats. Now with the BJP, the LJP and Upendra Kushawaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party on one side and the RJD-Congress on the other, the JD(U) is left with only the CPI to challenge the larger caste blocks. While Lalu’s M-Y combine looks more or less intact, though the BJP and the JD(U) threaten to cut away some Yadav and Muslim votes respectively, the BJP also has the backing of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and some part of Nitish’s Kushwaha voters, thanks to Upendra Kushwaha.
Social engineering untested
Nitish had created Mahadalits (12 per cent) and started welfare measures for EBCs and Muslims. This will now be put to the test. “For the first time, Nitish will fight without the BJP. This election will tell him if he has those silent voters he has been relying so heavily on,” said a senior journalist.
In Aurangabad, where the JD(U) has fielded Bagi Kumar Verma, an OBC, Manish Kumar Mandal says, “Nitishji is a good CM but he has not done himself any good by breaking up with the BJP.”
Besides, the 130-odd caste groups that make up EBCs have no uniform voting pattern and are geographically scattered and often under the influence of dominant caste groups. Also, there is no EBC leader who can make a pan-Bihar impact in favour of any party.
Muslim voters say they will support whoever is best suited to stop Modi – and that could be the RJD or the JD(U). “The RJD has the solid backing of the Yadavs and a large Muslim support, so we think the RJD is better placed,” says Javed Khan, an Ara voter. Unlike the RJD that has fielded prominent Muslims MAA Fatmi (Darbhanga), Abdul Bari Siddiqui (Madhubani), Mohammed Taslimuddin (Araria) and Hina Sahab (wife of Mohammed Sahabuddin, Siwan), the JD(U) has no strong Muslim candidates.
Though JD(U) leaders have been talking about “Hitler and fascist Modi”, voters do not look impressed. Mukesh Kumar of Ara says, “He seems to have fallen into his own trap. It is now Modi who talks about development and Nitish about riots.”
Intelligence agencies suggest a sharp polarisation of votes in at least 15 seats. With Nitish’s development plank taking a back seat and the RJD only talking about communalism and secularism, the JD(U) has joined in, hoping to steal a victory at some places.
While the support of youth and women had propelled Nitish to power, the youth now seem to prefer Modi. “What I like best about Modi is that he establishes eye contact with us, something Nitish too used to do until the 2010 election. Modi looks reassuring. If he ditches us, we will go back to Nitish in the assembly elections,” says Sanjay Kumar Pandey, an unemployed postgraduate in Sithi village of Buxar.
Young voters also want to know why Nitish parted ways with the BJP. “After all, the JD(U) contested in 2009 when the NDA’s PM candidate was L K Advani, the biggest Hindutva mascot. Had Modi been 10 years elder to Nitish, he may have accepted him too,” says Shankar Pradhan, a graduate voter of Ara.
In 2009, Nitish was able to compare his development agenda with Lalu’s rule. But after two terms, he can’t do that anymore. “Nitish’s best strength was competition with Lalu. Even Nitish knows he cannot have an edge over Modi on development and, hence, has to raise Modi’s communal past to corner him. For Modi, Lalu was a more suitable opponent. Now that development plank has gone, we face an uphill task,” says a senior JD(U) leader.