One unnoticed achievement of the first year of the BJP/NDA government has been to galvanise the Opposition into coalition building. The only common platform of these coalitions is that they are against, what they consider, the overtly religious tone of the BJP/RSS/VHP forces. They fly the banner of secularism, which in their view is the opposite of Hindu nationalism of the Parivar.
This is the logic of the Yadav alliance in UP/Bihar which has brought together the RJD, JD(U) and Samajwadi Party. It was touch and go for a long time. There were many conflicting egos to reconcile. The seniority of Mulayam Singh Yadav has been conceded. For the duration of the rest of the year until the Bihar elections, it looks like Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar have buried the hatchet. The Congress has clambered on board despite rumours that while Sonia Gandhi favoured Lalu Prasad, Rahul was against him. But then it was Rahul who in that historic tantrum tore the ordinance up which would have saved Lalu from being disqualified. That made it easier for Lalu to concede that Nitish Kumar could be the chief ministerial candidate.
The most interesting thing about Bihar (and UP as well) is that unlike much of the rest of India, Hindu jati system continues to play a vital role in voting behaviour. Or so at least the secular parties believe. Thus, the equation of upper caste and OBCs and Dalits will be carefully calibrated while choosing which party can deliver the right jati mix for the candidates who will get the tickets. Of course, there will also be the play for Muslim votes. So Brahmin/ Yadav/Muslim/Dalit calculations will dominate the campaign. It is not roti, kapada, makaan or even bijli, sadak, paani which matter. It is your jati, and for Muslims, their religious identity.
The question which needs to be asked is — Why are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar still mired in jati politics? Why 67-plus years after Independence, these two states lag behind the rest of India? The large share of their population and their backwardness bring India’s score in any league table, be it human development, per capita income or gender empowerment, down by several notches. These are the last two of the BIMARU states. Why?
Consider who has been ruling in these two states. For the first 43 years after Independence, it was the Congress which dominated these states, and these states helped the Congress dominate India. The Congress ran a Brahmin-Thakur raj, keeping the lower jatis down, refusing to impart literacy to boys, let alone girls, and made no investment in infrastructure.
These two states were by-words for religious superstitions, caste oppression and elite rule. When the reaction came after the loss of Congress hegemony thanks to Rajiv Gandhi, the Yadav parties grabbed their chance to put their own people in charge of looting the states. Lalu boldly declared Vikas Nahi Samman Chahiye (Respect is the goal, not development). Mulayam did not even have to pronounce it. Outside his village, the rest of Uttar Pradesh stagnated.
Bihar was lucky to have the JD(U) come to power in 2005. In alliance with the BJP, Nitish Kumar delivered significant development on all fronts, especially for girls’ education. For the first time, Bihar had higher than Indian average growth rate. Its budget was in balance thanks to Sushil Kumar Modi, the BJP leader. Until 2013, the alliance functioned well. The BJP was an ideal coalition partner and the Parivar did not misbehave in Bihar while the alliance lasted. Then Nitish broke the alliance in mid-2013 for well-known reasons. He gave up chief ministership to campaign in the national elections. We had Manjhi in and then out. So the record of developmental policies since mid-2013 has been checkered under sole JD(U) rule.
Thus, the alliance which will now contest Bihar elections is two-thirds responsible for Bihar’s sorry plight. If Nitish returns as chief minister, he will have partners who have harmed Bihar for 58 years. The slogan will be Vikas Nahi, Secularism Chahiye. If they win, but the JD(U) lags behind the other two, will they let Nitish Kumar be the CM ?