On the day of the JD(U)-BJP split on June 16,two images stood out. One of Pasmanda (OBC) Muslims rallying behind Chief Minister Nitish Kumar; and another of BJP workers openly hailing Narendra Modi at the party office.
After 17 long and not-too-acrimonious years,both sides,it now appeared,had been straining at the leash. If Muslim supporters called Nitish Kumars decision to split as as historic as then Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav stopping L K Advanis Ram rath yatra in 1992,it was time for BJP workers to let their pro-Modi feelings gush forth. Nitish Kumar sharm karo slogans rent the air as senior BJP leaders attributed the split to Nitishs ego clash with another CM born in the same era with similar achievements.
However,is there more to this enthusiasm than mere euphoria,which will fizzle out as reality hits? Will voters buy Nitishs secular turn,after spending years under the leadership of the once-biggest Hindutva mascot L K Advani? Or will they see it as a move to carve out his own political space at a time when any regional party of significance can be kingmaker? Or will Nitishs game plan of EBC plus Mahadalit plus a large chunk of Muslim votes after the split work out? The BJP has its own set of questions. Does it tom-tom the Modi factor that Nitish disdainfully dismisses? Or does it underline that it played an equal role in Bihars development? Or should it focus on Nitishs new-found love for the Congress?
The RJD,which finds itself dethroned as the principal opposition,has mixed feelings. Lalu realises Nitishs game plan rests on usurping Muslim votes from him. However,the party is calculating that a three-cornered contest will benefit it. After all,on paper,the JD(U) and BJP had a perfect partnership in the statethe right caste mix base as well as Nitishs acceptability among Muslims. Meanwhile,the Congress,which had reconciled to being a fence-sitter,is now a player.
After seven-and-a-half years of unipolarity,Bihar,in one stroke,has become a multi-polar contest. And the games have just begun.
Nitish as the sum of all caste maths
The partys strength is Nitish Kumar. Having won 20 Lok Sabha seats out of 25 contested in the 2009 polls,garnering a little over 24 per cent of the votes against the RJDs 19 per cent,the JD(U) has long wanted to come out of the BJP shadow. Nitishs carefully nurtured constituency of 30 per cent Extremely Backward Castes and 12 per cent Mahadalits (a conglomeration of 21 castes,mostly SCs) gave it the confidence to do so. As a JD(U) insider says,Nitish had made his vote base. Modi was just the trigger for the JD(U) to quit the NDA.
The JD(U)s confidence also stems from the way the state government has nursed the Muslim constituency with schemes like fencing of cemeteries; provision of grants to private madrasas; literacy programmes for Muslim children; and vocational programmes for them. The JD(U) believes now is the right time to put this combination of EBC,Mahadalit and Muslim votes to the electoral test. Muslim leaders and clergy also appear willing to see Nitish in continued…