It is an established fact that Bihar is a state where caste equations take precedence over the Hindutva and nationalism weapons of Bharatiya Janata party. Hence Nitish Kumar’s dumping of Saffron party should not be seen in isolation as it will have threefold impact, embedded in hordes of challenges.
First, the revival of ‘Mahagathbandhan’ comprising of JD (U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and Congress, besides smaller parties on the analogy of 2015 assembly elections may prove deadly as it had ensured its victory by winning 178 seats whereas BJP was struck at 53 seats only.
Second, new government will face a lot of challenges because the BJP led government at the centre may try to squeeze the cash strapped state which may have adverse impact on the ongoing welfare projects and launching of new schemes.
Third, Nitish has positioned himself as a possible face of joint opposition which will be an uphill task as there are over ambitious contenders like Mamta Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, KCR, Sharad Pawar etc., though there are chances of arriving at the consensus. Because there is a strong feeling of projecting some strong leader of a stature as prime ministerial candidate to stop Modi in 2024.
Caste factor in Bihar
Analysts opine that BJP is well aware of its strength in Bihar where it was successful while riding on the crutches of allies mainly JD (U) though it was successful in cutting Nitish Kumar to size with the help of proxy war in 2020 assembly polls with the help LJP’s Chirag Paswan who acted as vote cutter in several constituencies.
The revival of ‘Mahagahbandhan’ of JD (U), RJD and Congress may sound the warning bells in BJP camp as it had trounced BJP in 2015 assembly polls when it won 178 seats and BJP was reduced to 53 seats only. The vote share was also alarming: RJD 80 seats (18.35 %), JD(U) 71 (16.8%), and Congress 27 (6.7%) which adds up to 41.85, whereas BJP won 53 seats with 24.4% .
In Bihar politics, caste can be dubbed as cast in stone, and the upper castes account for 15 percent, Yadavs 14 percent, Muslims 17 percent, SCs 16 percent, Non-Yadav OBCs (NYOBC) 36 percent, STs 1 percent, and Others 2 percent of the population.
Kurmis 4 percent (Nitish comes from this community) and Koeris / Kushwahas 8 percent are covered under NYOBCs. The election data shows that there are 7 districts (around 40 seats) where the Mahadalits population is higher than 10 percent of the average population in the state hence they have got potential to play an important role.
These districts are Gaya (19 percent), Nawada (17.5 percent), Jehanabad (17.3 percent), Kaimur (14.8 percent), Aurangabad (12.3 percent), Madhepura (10.6 percent) and Jamui (11.2 percent). Nitish had systematically targeted 12-13 percent of Dalit communities like Ravidas and Musahars besides recognising extremely backward classes (EBSCs), also known as Most Backward Classes (MBCs), comprising of 130 castes and constituting 28-30 % of Bihar’s population.
Nitish tried and succeeded in emulating the socialist leader Karpoori Thakur who was the biggest EBC leader in the state. Nitish and Tejashvi have got acceptance amongst the Muslims who can change the entire political scenario after standing by Mahagathbandhan. In this backdrop of caste domination in Mahagathbandhan, it will be an uphill task for BJP strategists to come up with any winning formula in 2024 as well as 2025 elections?
New government poised to face problems
Nitish has outsmarted BJP which could have executed Shinde type surgery with the help of former union minister, CPN Singh in Bihar. Analysts opine that Nitish Kumar who was sworn in as chief minister for record 8th time may face hordes of problems though coalition partners including RJD, and Congress; may adopt flexible approach to defeat BJP in Lok Sabha as well as 2025 assembly elections. Nitish is faced with baggage of RJD which is discredited for creating Jungle Raj hence he will have to be strong and check its revival which will be exploited by BJP to the hilt.
At present, chances of defections should not be ruled out as the BJP has mastered this technique with the help of ED and money power, as some believe, hence nothing is impossible for saffron party? As the things stand today Mahagathbandhan is sitting pretty and in the state assembly, which has an effective strength of 242, requiring 121 MLAs for a majority, the RJD has the highest number of 79 MLAs followed by the BJP (77) and the JD (U) with 44.
The JD (U) also enjoys the support of four MLAs of former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha and an Independent. The Congress has 19 MLAs while the CPIML (L) has 12 and CPI and CPI (M) have two each. Besides, one MLA belongs to Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM.
Nitish’s Koeri-Kurmi castes
Nitish’s departure from NDA may cost it 70 percent (2019) and 66 percent (2020) votes of Koeri-Kurmi, extremely backward castes and Mahadalits which had helped it to win both central and state elections. Nitish had pushed these sections’ representation by ensuring quotas within quotas. Many in these sections visualise Nitish as a better option as compared to Yadav dominated RJD, whereas the upper castes are having supremacy in this party.
But new caste equations may worry BJP which is sure to retain hold over upper castes i.e., 65 percent in 2019 while OBCs (76 percent). Muslims are also soft towards Nitish though UPA had garnered maximum support during previous elections in the state. But BJP may gain in getting support of SC voters who had shifted to Paswan’s party LJP which is likely to join hands with saffron party.
Nitish had broke from Samta Party along with late George Fernandes in 1994 and focused on Mahadalits. Experts say that BJP’s strategy to cut Nitish to size had worked as it encouraged LJP which fielded its candidates in those seats only which were contested by JD (U). Chirag Paswan used to describe himself as Hanuman of Modi and refrained from fielding nominees in those seats which were allotted to BJP in 2020. Experts say that the MGB’s social coalition and caste realignment looks very tough for the BJP to beat but Saffron party backed by strong machinery of RSS fights to the last.
BJP losing its allies
Narender Modi was NDA face in 2014 parliamentary poll and BJP won 282 seats and total figure was 336, though there were 29 allies including 13 marginal players with zero strike rate. BJP had formed alliances in 11 states besides smaller groups in 2019 elections and independently won 303 Lok Sabha seats.
Analysts say that the departure of Akali Dal in Punjab, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Peoples Democratic Party in Kashmir, Asom Gana Parishad and now JD (U) in Bihar has put a question mark over BJP’s strategy of eating up partners to create an independent space for itself.
BJP does not have its own standing in several states specially in South which makes it obligatory to search for alliance partners, but now it is getting poorer on this front as regional parties are feeling wary of their survival if they align with the saffron party.
After successful ‘Operation Lotus’ in Maharashtra, it was turn of Bihar but Nitish Kumar is not Udhav Thakre who was caught napping and lost the power, hence Bihar’s strongman dumped his partner and embraced the rival, Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) of Tejashevi Yadav, to form new government .
K S TOMAR is national columnist and political analyst
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.