After a big hug and burying of the hatchet 20 years of acrimonious contention, Nitish Kumar & Lalu Prasad Yadav accommodated each others political positions

They call themselves, ‘Lohia Ke Log’ (Lohia’s People) and hard core Socialists! But one of them is quagmired in corruption, went to jail several times on Corruption charges, promoted brazen nepotism in politics and always harped on Caste politics.

The other known on the sly as “Sushashan Babu (Mr. Good Governance), a staunch opportunist (long he was associated with BJP, even once joined hand with the Naxalites) and side changer, shrewd manipulator and also a facilitator of Caste equation (he fought his first ever assembly election in 1980, from Harnaut, that had a strong Kurmi presence), in an abjectly backward State.

lalu prasad nitish together CASTE COUCH The Caste Couch And Strange Bed Fellows!   Part 1

Publicly embracing each other, wearing skull caps, at an Iftaar Party in Patna, Nitish Kumar said: . “We were together in the past and we are together now.”

The Two, so Called Socialists Parted Ways in 1994

In the same year, Nitish Kumar floated the Samata Party with late George Fernandes, which eventually became a key ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Lalu Yadav’s name has become almost synonymous with Fodder Scam, in all these years. He is often out of jail, through bail and ultimately disqualified from contesting elections for six years, due to his conviction in the corruption case, on 30 September, 2013.

caste couch lalu nitish The Caste Couch And Strange Bed Fellows!   Part 1

Apart from being arch rivals in Bihar politics, for over two decades now, they also come from conflicting caste backgrounds. Nitish is a Kurmi and backed by his own caste. Whereas, Lalu is staunchly relying upon his own caste, the Yadavs. In Bihar’s overtly caste-dominated political background and land holding pattern,the Kurmis and the Yadavs are never in friendly terms.

An Abrupt Alliance 

Though the next Assembly election in Bihar is a year-and-quarter away, the State will go through by-elections in ten Assembly constituencies, at the end of this month.

In fact, a total of 18 Assembly seats are going to polls, 10 in Bihar and remaining 8 in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab. Out of 10 seats in Bihar, 5 sitting members in Bhagalpur, Chapra, Hajipur, Mohania and Narkatiaganj — Janardan Singh Sigriwal, Ashwani Choubey, Nityanand Rai, Chhedi Paswan and Satish Chandra Dubey- won Parliamentary elections and resigned from the respective Assembly seats . 

In three of the seats, RJD members elected from Parbatta, Rajnagar (SC) and Banka respectively – Samrat Chaudhary, Ram Lakhan Ram Raman and Javed Ansari –rebelled against the party supremo Lalu Yadav and resigned. Incidentally, JD (U) has nominated them to Bihar Legislative Council and elevated them to Ministers in the recent Jitan Ram Manjhi Government.

map north bihar The Caste Couch And Strange Bed Fellows!   Part 1

Two BJP members from Jale and Mohiuddinagar, Vijay Mishra and Rana Gangeswar Singh had resigned, when Nitish Kumar had ended his alliance with BJP.

These by-elections are now seen as the semi-final to the before the actual Assembly polls in Bihar. After the extraordinary performance of NDA in the 2014 Parliament election in Bihar, the future of JD (U), RJD and Congress is at stake in the State. Any adversarial outcome in these elections could damage the hopes of these three parties further and definitely to their vote banks.

Though the aligning has prompted BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi to say that this is the attempt to bring “Jungle Raj – II”, in Bihar. The very foundation of this JD(U), RJD ,Congress alliance,  has been projected as the “Secular Alliance ” , but undoubtedly it is deliberate caste centred  alliance of the most opportunistic kind!

The Big “Secular Agenda” is openly flaunting to the caste arithmetic, idiosyncratic to Bihar.

The strategy of this grand alliance is primarily to consolidate the Muslim votes in Bihar against the ‘common enemy’ BJP.  And above all they are trying hard to consolidate the Muslim, Yadav, other OBC and backward votes into their favour.

The Lok Sabha election of 2014 has seen around, 40%of Dalit votes polled in favour of the NDA. And Muslims mostly vote for Congress.

Bihar ELECTIONS The Caste Couch And Strange Bed Fellows!   Part 1

The stake is high enough, the identities are compromised in this desperate alliance, and politically speaking, it’s a kind of a gamble for the two former Chief Ministers of Bihar. It’s a do or die question for them, now!

While Lalu and Congress are fighting for their survival in the State, for Nitish Kumar, this is his second big gamble within a year. In June last year, he had ended JD(U)’s 17 years old alliance with BJP , obviously eying the Muslim votes. But his party got just two seats in the LS elections, that also with slighter margins.

The Cast Calculation

After a big hug and burying of the hatchet 20 years of acrimonious contention, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav accommodated each other’s political positions at the remote village of Subahi-Jamalpur, surrounded by mango orchards, in Vaishali district of Bihar.

At a makeshift dais at the village school playground – 40km north of Patna, before a crowd of around 1,000 people — comprising mostly the villagers and the media people and OB vans, the “homecoming” ultimately happened on 11 August.

Subahi is within the Hajipur Assembly seat, where Awadhesh Singh Patel of the BJP is contesting against JDU’s Rajendra Rai, the candidate for the new formed alliance. Incidentally the area falls in Ramvilas Paswan’s backyard, an upper caste and Dalit-dominated hamlet.

Surprisingly, Congress, a partner in the by-election combine, was not seen at the crucial campaign launch.

The cast equation is solely based on some speculation.  RJD-JDU-Congress combined poll share was over 44% votes (RJD got 20.6% votes, JD (U) 15.8% votes, and the Congress 8.2%), against the BJP-led NDA’s 38.8% in the Lok Sabha elections. But is the arithmetic so simple? Because. JD (U) was reduced to single digits-just 2 seats and Lalu’s RJD managed just 4 seats. His wife and daughter lost their elections.

But harping on just cast politics can also be misleading. Over 40% Dalits had voted for NDA, in the Lok Sabha elections, despite Nitish Government’s effort for their empowerment and economic development.

CASTE POLITICS BIHAR The Caste Couch And Strange Bed Fellows!   Part 1

Even Yadavs had split during the Lok Sabha election, making for the loss of RJD at Chhapra and Patliputra constituencies. JD (U)’s own people, the Kurmis had also been splintered in Nalanda, where a possible JD(U)  defeat was just avoided.

The ‘secular alliance’ can at best expect that their Muslim vote base will not split. But here again, this time the Muslims will not have any substantial say in the upcoming  by polls and delimitations of the constituencies have added some advantage for the NDA, in places like Vaishali.

Haare Ko Harinaam!

The grand alliance launch at Subahi-Jamalpur saw a scant presence of audience. Even many of the local level leaders and party members were absent at the meeting.

For over two decades, the two parties fought with each other to gain their foothold in Bihar’s highly caste dominated politics,

They have seen, how Nitish’ Kumar’s first gamble failed miserably, so was the secular alliance, leading Modi-led BJP gating most of the seats in Bihar. This phenomenon has ultimately forced him to resign as the Chief Minister of the State.

Nitish Kumar became Chief Minister of Bihar on two consecutive occasions, championing anti-Lalu politics and rhetoric.  He had ever positioned himself as the leader, who could bring the state out of “jungle raj” enacted by Lalu Yadav and his wife!

While Lalu Yadav’s image has been embroiled with all round corruption and misrule, Nitish Kumar has persistently tried to cultivated the image of “Mr Clean” and during his tenure as the post-Lalu Chief Minister, he began to establish himself as the essential Vikash Purush ( The Development Man) with some turn-around in Bihar’s economy, social status and Law and Order situation.

A whole new generation voters has come up in Bihar, in the last two decades, who are the first or second time voters in the State. They have grown up, seeing the two models of Governance. One, the Yadav rule and the other, the  Nitish era. They have always seen the two as sworn enemies, attacking the other on every possible occasion.

For them the new alliance, and its predicted arithmetic will not cut much ice, rather it will appear somehow hypocritical in nature, for the sake of vote banks.

It could be too trying for them to get into the so-called the new politics of secularism. Projected by the alliance. Specially when the philosophy of ‘secular-communal’ challenges has been rejected overwhelmingly by the voters in Bihar, during  the Parliament elections.

Also, the Assembly Election in Bihar is a year-and-quarter away. The ego clash and the question of possible Chief Ministership have already rattled the nascent coalition a bit. This can grow further with the times.

Read Part 2 of The Caste Couch And Strange Bed Fellows!

By: Deep Basu

Image Source: Laloo – Nitish, RJD-JDU, Bihar, MAP, Caste Politics

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