In terms of power politics, retaining the government in Bihar is an achievement the BJP has been talking up since the results came in. But the shuffling in its ranks with the swearing-in of the new government Monday underlined how the party is bracing for what it sees as the challenges of its 2020 mandate.
The choice of two — not one — Deputy Chief Ministers, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, reflects how the BJP is addressing the churn from the word go. Indeed, former Deputy CM Sushil Modi’s ejection from state politics underlined this signal.
The party may be putting up a brave face citing its win in 74 seats but sources note that this isn’t its best performance in alliance with the JD(U). It had won 91 Assembly seats (of 102 it contested) in 2010 in alliance with JD(U). That it has become the senior partner in the alliance has little more than symbolic value.
Party leaders, however, add that comparing 2010 with 2020 is unfair. For, 2020 was overwhelmed by Covid-19 and its impact on the state’s migrant workers. That the Opposition fell short despite a three-term anti-incumbency clubbed with Covid adversity only shows the breadth of support for the NDA, said BJP leaders.
Deep down, however, the party is aware of the challenges thrown up by the close verdict.
Indeed, the fact that RJD-led alliance secured an almost similar vote share is a red flag. Senior BJP leaders admit that this signals how the RJD alliance has managed a “wider support group” than envisaged by the NDA. This also shows that non-Yadav Hindu voters have indicated that the BJP-JD(U) can’t take them for granted.
“This is something the party needs to be attentive to,” said a senior BJP leader who is part of state core group meetings. “After such a performance by the RJD, it would be erroneous to assume that non-Yadav and the poor Hindu voters will not ally with the RJD in future,” said the leader.
That the RJD polled a higher vote share (over 23%) this time as compared to 2010 (19%) when RJD had contested more seats also shows its widening popular support.
Given how Nitish Kumar was shrunk in this election, the BJP decided to step in early to appeal to what is widely considered Nitish’s contribution to the alliance: women and EBC electoral support. It’s with this in mind that the party signalled to OBCs and extremely backward caste (EBC) when it named Prasad (OBC Kalwar community) and Devi (EBC Nonia community) as its leaders.
Shunting Sushil Modi out is also meant to ensure that he doesn’t overshadow these two leaders as he has done in the past with, for example, the party’s leader in the Assembly, Prem Kumar, a several-term MLA from Gaya and from the Chandravanshi EBC community.
“In the state BJP, Sushil Modi has been a towering banyan tree which puts everybody else in the shade,” said a senior leader. Implying that his downsizing opens up opportunities for the future state leadership to grow and prepare the Bihar unit for post-Nitish electoral politics.
The other significant challenge the BJP sees is the revival of Communist parties and how they helped the RJD-led alliance corner the NDA in Bhojpur and Magadh regions bordering Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. “Lalu and his politics had marginalised the Communists in Bihar but his son has given them a fresh lease of life. This is a challenge that the state will have to negotiate,” said a senior BJP.
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