Nitish Kumar, the Bihar Chief Minister, has finally delivered on his long standing threat to break up with the BJP. The split and final exit from NDA came in the backdrop of BJP’s national executive decision in Goa to elevate Narendra Modi, the strongman of Gujarat, as campaign committee chief of the party amid much intrigue and melodrama, consisting of so many twists and turns that can only be matched by a Hindi television soap opera.
With a massive and unprecedented upsurge among the rank and file of BJP demanding Narendra Modi’s elevation as the face of the party’s 2014 battle, RSS and BJP could no longer delay what was proving to be inevitable. The JDU which was hoping that somehow Modi’s juggernaut could be stalled by the powerful Delhi group was dismayed by the turn of events, which while diminishing the stature of Modi’s opponents, sent his stock soaring high. Advani’s initial rebellion, which almost threatened to upset BJP’s applecart and sent quite a few shivers among its followers, ended in a whimper with RSS delivering a stern but subtle note to the patriarch that Modi’s elevation was a done deal and that it cannot be revoked. But was Modi’s appointment as campaign committee chairman the sole reason for JDU’s decision to call it quits with its partner of the last 17 years ?
JDU, thought stunned by the turn of events, initially called Modi’s elevation as an internal matter of the BJP. If it was an internal matter of BJP then what changed suddenly in two days that Nitish decided to snap ties with his old and most reliable partner?
For those who have been watching Bihar politics for past few years, it has been evident that Nitsh Kumar has been deeply uneasy with the BJP’s growing role in state politics. Indeed there have been more compelling reasons behind Nitish Kumar’s final Talaq or Bidai with BJP and the Modi card is just a ruse to cover it up.
The reasons for such insecurity lie in the complex and intricate web of Bihar political landscape, which in the post Mandal-masjid phase has defied normal political understanding to traverse a slightly different path from that of its BIMARU brother UP. If the Mandal-Masjid phase decisively ended the hold of Congress on state politics, it also led to two key realignments which had far reaching implications. The social churning ensured the emergence of a formidable Muslim –Yadav-Dalit alliance in favor of Lalu Yadav, while the upper castes which have dominated the bureaucracy, judiciary and politics polarized towards BJP.
With his clarion call for ouster of higher castes from political space and justice for the oppressed masses, Lalu emerged as the most potent force. The social coalition that he stitched was too formidable a one for opponents to dream about his ouster. Realizing the electoral dice was cast in favor of Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar came out of Janata Dal in 1994 and formed Samata party along with George Fernandez. Realization dawned that Nitish Kumar’s largely Kurmi party ‘s efforts to displace Lalu wont fructify unless they aligned with the numerically stronger and financially powerful upper castes and hence the alliance with BJP came into being. In essence this alliance of convenience was never based on shared principle but was largely a grouping of diverse social groups crafted and sculpted to depose Lalu from power
Kurmis account for 4% of Bihar population and are mostly concentrated in Central Bihar districts while Koeris, who are closely aligned socially with Kurmis, account for 3.7%. Yadav’s account for 11%. Muslims at 14.3% of population are a significant grouping although caste cleavage among them is more pronounced in Bihar than in other states of Northern India. Dalits constitute 15.1% of Bihar population and they are categorized into 22 sub castes. Chamar and Dhusadhs(Paswans) constitute 60.3% of the total Dalit population and are the two powerful Dalit sub castes .The other Dalit sub castes are Pasis, Valmikis, Mushar, Dhobi and Bhuia who contribute the rest. The upper castes which include Brahmins, Bumihars, Rajputs, Kayasths constitute 14% of the population. One significant feature of Bihar is that, due to the sociological nature of other parties, upper castes had no option but to rally behind BJP in big numbers as the forces unleashed by Mandal were so strong that they threatened to sweep away the upper caste representation in several spheres.
It was here that they found BJP as a secure home. Lalu Prasad’s slogan of swar and swarg for Dalits, ensured a comfortable social cushion for RJD, which translated into a rainbow coalition of Muslims, Yadavs, Dalits (excluding Paswans). On other hand Muslims in Bihar are divided into 27 sub divisions. Ashraf’s and Ajalfs’s are better off than the backward Pasmandas (Arzal’s) who are Dalit Muslims. Post Babri Masjid demolition, Lalu was able to rally the entire Muslim community. In the process he was able to chip away the core Ashraf vote (upper caste Muslim) which largely used to go the Congress way.
Due to deep oppression of Pasmanda Muslims by Ashrafi community and overt preference given by RJD to upper caste Muslims in tickets distribution and MLC nominations and other appointments to minority finance commission, waqf board etc Pasmanda’s distanced themselves away from RJD. Sensing this drift Nitish assiduously wooed Pasmanda Muslims and Pasmanda Mahaz which bore fruit in 2005.
Thus while Lalu’s social arithmetic was Ashraf, Ajlaf Muslims,Yadavs and backward Dalits, Nitish’s social engineering carried with it Kurmis Koeris,Pasmandas who were supplemented by the higher castes of BJP. In a sense Muslims in Bihar haven’t been voting en-block since last 8-9 years. RJD, despite its chips down, attracted 45% of the total Muslim vote even in 2010 elections.
The MBC’s or EBC’s constituting 38% of the population are the biggest grouping although they are not united and consist of disparate castes. The reason for such a massive sweep of NDA in 2010 Assembly elections was that there was near consolidation of upper castes: Kurmi-Koeris, Pasamanda Muslims along with a big dent in the EBC vote.
Current JDU is just an inorganic grouping of the erstwhile Samatha party and Sharad Yadav factions, unlike BJP which grew through the grassroots. A significant factor of this reality is that BJP in Bihar always had sufficient ground level workers, who were supplemented by RSS in booth management at time of elections. JDU on other hand post-merger hasn’t been largely successful in building up a solid worker base on which it can rely upon. Sushil Kumar Modi, the former deputy Chief Minister and face of Bihar BJP, has been successful in building up the party organization. Nitish Kumar has been jittery of the growing base of BJP in Bihar where it has not only consolidated its upper caste core vote but through its developmental politics has been trying to make a dent in the EBC vote by projecting Sushil Modi as its chief mascot.
BJP ministers in Bihar are well regarded for their contribution in the developmental initiatives. Apprehensive of the BJP’s future potential, which was demonstrated in the exceedingly success strike rate in 2010 elections, Nitish Kumar has been planning to pull the plug and the Modi issue came in handy to expedite that.
Moreover a section of national media has been trying hard since last 3 years to project Nitish Kumar as an effective counter to Modi by projecting his so called growth model as better alternative than that of Modi’s. Nitish Kumar who sees himself as future Prime Minister of India leading a third front government would hope to win enough seats so that he could be in a commanding position post 2014
So in the extremely competitive world of Bihar politics Nitish Kumar has taken a risk gamble of breaking up with BJP.
But he is likely to face a huge road block in form of Narendra Modi. Bihar BJP reeling under the Nitish rebuff would project Modi as EBC icon .This could completely alter the poll dynamics by consolidating a upper caste and EBC vote in favor of BJP which could give it a head start in at-least 15 Lok Sabha constituencies. The eternal fear of all the backward messiahs like Nitish, Lalu, Mulayam and Mayawati is the emergence of a strong Prime Ministerial contender in form of a backward class Modi who could pull the rug from under their feet.
After-all in name of social mobilization the creamy sections of backwards have skimmed away the political benefits leaving the extreme backwards on margins and Modi could well be the man with whom Extreme Backward classes deprived of their dignity could relate with under the overall aegis of developmental politics. Devoid of a strong social anchor on which it could rely on JDU could well be pushed to a poor third in Bihar electoral calculus. The risky big gamble of Nitish could easily back fire on the man who was just 5 years back nicknamed the Chankaya of Eastern politics
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