BY: Chinmaya Kumar and Abhishek Choudhary
Nitish has joined hands with Lalu. Together, they might just provide an alternative to an ascendant BJP.
If analysts in the media are to be believed, Nitish Kumar’s political future in Bihar has gone to the gutter. As if last year’s blunder of jettisoning ties with the BJP (for which he paid heavily in the Lok Sabha elections) wasn’t enough, they say, this time he’s done something that might sink him for ever — a tie-up with Lalu Prasad, till very recently his bête noire. While the Congress is also part of this tripartite alliance for the assembly bypolls for 10 seats to be held on August 21, the main focus of discussion has been the JD(U)’s joining of hands with the RJD.
It’s easy to see desperation in this move, on the part of both the JD(U) and the RJD. The BJP’s alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP has made the NDA very strong in Bihar. For the Lok Sabha election, apart from its traditional upper-caste supporters, the coalition was able to win considerable support from the OBCs, EBCs and Dalits, communities that earlier voted mostly for either Nitish or Lalu. This existential crisis of the two strong regional parties — both of which are also presently beset by internal rivalries — has forced them to come together to consolidate the anti-BJP votes for the upcoming assembly bypolls and, especially, the assembly elections due in the latter half of 2015.
So far, the story is simple. It’s here that the myth-making begins. The first argument is that Nitish has eschewed his development agenda and fallen back on the pre-2005 days of caste politics. During his chief ministership with the BJP as partner, while Nitish did achieve a lot in terms of resurrecting basic institutions and stimulating economic growth, he was also always looking for ways to carve out new caste coalitions for his party — for example, reservations for EBCs in panchayati raj institutions, the creation of “Mahadalits” and the introduction of a wide range of welfare schemes specifically for them. There were also occasions when he tried his best to appease upper-caste
supporters, such as putting aside the recommendations of the Bandyopadhyay Committee on land reforms. The summary is this: caste politics and development need not necessarily be mutually exclusive.
While the JD(U)’s alliance with the RJD could be called regressive (given that the party originated from an anti-Lalu plank), its alliance with the BJP was ideologically perhaps much more contradictory. Their support base and interests were diametrically opposite, continued…