BIHAR POLLS: THE WATCHABLE ELEMENTS

1. Everyone is saying Bihar polls are again going to be caste-based and the outcome will be caste-driven. But is the growing middle class going to play a different tune – away from the caste asthmatics – to assert a new identity that may be amorphous in nature sociologically but craves for everything that revolves around development that could better their lives?

2. Nitish Kumar promoted the concept of ‘Bihari Ashmita’ or Bihari Identity/Bihari Pride like Narendra Modi did with Gujarati Pride and Identity. But after aligning with Lalu Prasad Yadav, is Lalu’s corruption taint going to make the class, conscious about Bihari Ashmita, apathetic to Nitish Kumar?

3. Who will emerge out the real claimant of ‘Bihar Ashmita’ if it happens to be a major factor in the polls – Nitish Kumar for representing the Bihar government during last 10 years (barring Jitan Ram Manjhi), the time during which Bihar has certainly been able to come out of the administrative apathy synonymous with the Lalu-Rabri rule of 15 years – or the BJP which was an equal party with the Janata Dal (United) in governing Bihar for eight years?

4. Based on poll outcome – if the counting day falls any time around Chhath, that is on November 17, would it affect the decision of Biharis to stretch their visit a bit longer? Also, Diwali is on November 11, and if the last phase, if the Bihar polls are to be a multi-phased one, falls near Diwali, will the Bihari voters make it a point to include the last phase in their extended Diwali and Chhath holidays?

5. Regular diaspora case studies – people living outside Bihar – in different states – even outside India – how they see these polls, especially after Nitish has parted ways with the BJP and is going along with his sworn enemy Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is a convicted person now?

6. Flavour of the poll season – the familiar musclemen in the poll fray – directly or through their wives (or kin) – the possible names doing rounds – the names that could be announced to represent different political outfits – and it will be across the party lines.

7. Important to see how the Yadav votes behave after Lalu Prasad (Yadav) led RJD vehemently pushed for Anant Singh’s arrest, a muscleman and an influential Bhuimhar MLA.

8. Extending that ‘Yadav voting trend’ – it is important to be seen how the Bhumihar voters vote? Bhumihars may be less in number but they are the biggest land owners there. It is important to see if they see Anant Singh and similar episodes as humiliating enough and work to defeat Nitish Kumar, an OBC leader.

9. Emergence of Jitan Ram Manjhi and its impact on Dalit and Mahadalit votes and the pre-poll and thus post-poll political equations accordingly – Jitan Ram Manjhi’s chief-ministerial ambitions and the subsequent seat sharing talks with the National Democratic Alliance.

10. And the usual, most talked about factors – caste and religion – how would they behave – anti-BJP and NDA block would try to corner Muslim votes and a secular alliance of Congress-JD(U)-RJD expects to perform well here. The real fight would for Dalit and Mahadalit votes after Jitan Ram Manjhi has emerged as an important claimant. Also, Nitish Kumar cannot solely claim the OBC votebank constituency as Narendra Modi is also an OBC leader who exploited well this factor in the Lok Sabha election campaign.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

NITISH KUMAR ‘MAKES’ A COMEBACK

The stage was set for the final showdown on February 20, but then one of the principal protagonists suddenly left the arena, giving walk over to his opponent.

And the opponent, the three-term chief minister of Bihar, was inaugurated for the fourth term today.

Nitish Kumar is the chief minister of Bihar again. And as he says – that his predecessor, Jitan Ram Manjhi, who was handpicked by him last May, had derailed the state from the path of progress – he has some eight months, as the current Bihar assembly is completing its term on November 29, 2015,
to bring the state back to the growth trajectory that he claims he had achieved for the state.

Nitish has been apologising for leaving the office of Bihar’s chief minister last year and letting Bihar on a negative growth spiral and his ‘Kejriwal act’ is being much talked about and discussed.

Probably, after seeing the brilliant success of Kejriwal’s apology act, Nitish thought he could do the same to deflect questions on his last year rhetoric that he would not come back to the office unless he gets a fresh mandate from Bihar’s voters.

Another pretext that he is speaking about is Manjhi’s misrule. Nitish says he was forced to come back as people were disappointed and angry with governance of the day in Bihar.

Now that he is back, he has to come out with 100% on his performance amid intense media and opposition scrutiny that would run along with a union government headed by his bitter political rival Narendra Modi.

While the good will go in mitigating the ‘bad’ of his ’emotional decision’ last year, any bad will have amplified repercussions on his chances to score positively.

Can Nitish deliver when he has just eight months, given the fact that he was ‘forced’ to come back as Manjhi had brought bad days back?

The ‘bad days’ that he is also responsible for as bringing in Manjhi was his unilateral decision.

Now, the BJP may not ask this question to milk the better prospect of wooing the Mahadalit voters in the name of ‘Nitish insulting a Mahadalit leader and chief minister’, the young and educated voter would certainly think about it.

Also, the realpolitik of the day is different. The good governance days of Bihar under Nitish Kumar were from a coalition government with the BJP as an equal partner. It was in fact widely analysed that the BJP ministers were better performers.

Now Nitish is dependent on Lalu Yadav and his Rashtriya Janata Dal. Lalu is convicted in the fodder scam and is barred from contesting polls. The Bihar of his days, either under him or his wife’s rule, was seen as a failed state, a state where development politics had become a ‘forbidden political paradigm’.

Nitish changed that. He rode to the power promising development and delivered. But all this while, he was with the BJP.

Now as he is with Lalu Yadav and Bihar is heading for polls in few months, his political rivals will ask this question day and night. Now, only time will tell (and polls will tell) how effectively Nitish will be able to counter this question.

Nitish-Modi rivalry to surge: Though Narendra Modi tweeted to congratulate Nitish Kumar after his swearing-in ceremony and Nitish Kumar said the differences he had with Modi were ideological in nature and there was nothing personal, the history of Nitish-Modi rivalry says another episode is in making with the upcoming assembly polls in Bihar.

And we saw its first signs today when, after taking oath, Nitish told everyone that the mandate of 2010 was in his name only.

Now, Bihar is a make or break electoral proposition for both, the BJP and the JD(U).

After the humiliating loss in Delhi, the BJP must win Bihar to bounce back in the race of becoming a major political force and that cannot happen without having a winning or a major presence in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two state that count for 120 Lok Sabha seats and 37 Rajya Sabha members.

For Nitish, who had tied his political future with Modi’s political prospects, he is already on the back foot, retracting on his ‘quit rhetoric’ of last year.

With Modi having the advantage of the general elections win, a loss to Modi in Bihar polls would throw Nitish on the political periphery of Bihar and he would find in the similar situation Lalu Yadav is in.

Both, Modi and Nitish have their ‘make or break’ reasons to take on each other in the Bihar polls and each of them will try all to outdo the other.

And for Jitan Ram Manjhi, the chief minister till February 21, he was always a non-entity in Bihar’s politics before his sudden elevation. But his acts soon made it clear that Nitish had miscalculated in reading him. The ‘perceived yes man’ soon started spreading out, undoing moves by Nitish Kumar, transferring officials, installing his family members and making overtures to reach out to others including the BJP. It was soon going to be ‘enough is enough’ for Nitish Kumar to digest any further. His ‘yes man’ was working to dig his master’s grounds and the master was feeling increasingly unsettled. And it was just a matter of days.

Now, how much relevant Manjhi is going to remain will be gauged by the outcome of the polls only.

Though the BJP was seen in a tight spot on its decision to support Manjhi in the trust vote, that it could take only a day before, on February 19, after Manjhi’s equally sudden demotion on February 20, the day of the floor test when Manjhi resigned to flunk the test, the party breathed easy.

Supporting Manjhi had the inherent risk of alienating many caste blocks in the caste-ridden politics of Bihar. Also, going with someone like Manjhi, who is perceived as an inefficient leader with a trail of corruption and nepotism to talk about, could have alienated the young and the educated voters from the middle class.

Now, with the relief from Manjhi’s volte-face, the BJP, in fact, can expect to gain some good political mileage. With the Lok Janshakti Party and Ram Vilas Paswan, the BJP is already in comfortable position on Dalit votes with Paswans forming some 31% of Bihar’s Dalits.

Now, through Manjhi, the BJP would try to alienate another chunk of the Dalit voters away from Nitish Kumar. And Manjhi as a humiliated Dalit leader leading a front against Nitish Kumar would be a perfect beginning.

Bihar is heading for interesting, colourful political events in the run-up to the assembly polls.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

BIHAR: THE STAGE IS SET FOR TOMORROW

The stage is set for Friday.

The BJP has finally opened up on its stand and is going to support Jitan Ram Manjhi in the floor test tomorrow, though dilly-dallying on the issue has put BJP in a tight spot, irrespective of what the party strategists feel.

The effective strength in the 243 member Bihar assembly is 233 with 10 vacant seats that include eight MLAs barred from voting by the Patna High Court. Manjhi needs support of 117 MLAs to sail through. But, going by the reports (and not by his claims that he has the number), Manjhi’s count is not going beyond 104, 87 of the BJP, 12 of the JD(U) and 5 others. Nitish, on the other hand is claiming support of 130 MLAs, including the RJD, Congress and others.

Politics of ‘no friends or foes’ has no room for ethical practices. The one in position to squeeze in the maximum ground, even if by adopting unethical practices, goes about doing so openly.

And it is on open display again and Bihar is theatre this time.

So, Manjhi, the chief minister of Bihar, who was installed by Nitish Kumar post the Lok Sabha polls, is taking on Nitish Kumar to keep him from coming back. He is making tall promises, unabashedly populist and burdening to the state exchequer, to lure voters. He is making open offers to MLAs to make them ministers. He is openly attacking Nitish Kumar.

And so, Nitish Kumar, the Janata Dal (United) leader and the former chief minister, who resigned after taking moral responsibility of party’s humiliating loss in the Lok Sabha polls, got comfortably the post of the ‘Leader of Opposition’ for his party today with the Bihar assembly Speaker being from his party, on his side.

Before it, Nitish had another political realization that Jitanram Manjhi, a leader with a controversial past, corruption and misappropriation taints and allegations and having no mass base out of his constituency, was doing irreversible damage to the state of Bihar. The realization dawned upon Nitish within only nine months of meticulously choosing Manjhi to run the state. Also, within nine months only, Nitish had a rethink of his ethical call to vacate the office as he tried to barge in the chief-ministerial office after Manjhi refused to accept his ‘marching orders’. But Nitish’s inner call was aborted mid-way by the High Court paving the way for the floor test.

And so, the Bhartiya Janata Party, the long-term partner of the JD(U) which took separate ways before the Lok Sabha polls after Nitish didn’t accept Narendra Modi’s projection as the prime-ministerial nominee of the National Democratic Alliance, courted Manjhi and propped up avenues and support for him to take on Nitish and the JD(U).

It can be said what could have been a smooth comeback for Nitish after the ‘rethink realization’ to lead his party in the assembly polls due in the last months of this year, has been made a political spectacle that has had the whole country glued.

So, we have Manjhi claiming and luring Mahadalits asking them to practice Gandhigiri come what may. He is making desperate pleas, statements and propositions to remain politically relevant. He has been camping in Delhi and Patna to request BJP to come to his aid.

We have Nitish Kumar serving ultimatum to the Bihar Governor and taking his MLAs to New Delhi to parade them before President Pranab Mukherjee. His spokespersons are on duty round the clock to take on Manjhi and BJP. He first claimed chief minster’s chair but after the High Court intervention, settled with the LoP one, hoping to corner tomorrow what he has been eyeing.

We have BJP that has muddled the Nitish’s comeback plan. The party that crafted and enjoyed the internal ramblings in the JD(U) was consistently in verbal war with the later. And is now crying hoarse and taking the legal route to reclaim its LoP position.

Another colour in all this is an MP from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, an ally of Nitish Kumar, who has taken a hostile line against the JD(U). He is supporting Manjhi not only vocally, but is also active in trying bringing in MLAs to his camp.

Interestingly, we have not heard much of Lalu Yadav all through this.

The clarity on what colour of this political kaleidoscope will prevail will emerge tomorrow.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/