The Chief Ministerial Dilemma of the BJP Bihar Unit

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Posturing, lobbying or eventually infighting for the Chief Ministerial position within the BJP preceding the Fall Assembly election (2015) in Bihar does not bode well for the party.

Usually, the elected representatives of the majority party sit down and formally endorse or elect their leader. That leader is then invited by the governor/president to form his/her government.

In parliamentary democracies around the world, the leader of the legislature party is the known face (because of his/her role on the floor of the House) and therefore people expect him or her to be the head of the government if the party wins the majority.

David Cameron of the UK or Steve Harper of Canada were the elected and known faces of their parties. In fact, elections were fought under their leadership. So there was no jockeying for the position after the election. No one revolted or stood up against their claim to leadership.

If tomorrow, election is held for the Canadian parliament and the Liberal party wins, Justin Trudeau will be the unquestioned candidate because he is the elected leader of the party that sits in the opposition now. In theory, he can be challenged and some other can knock him out, but that's not possible, because again he will be the torchbearer of the party during the election.

In Bihar, the BJP is caught between the two horns of dilemma. In April-May 2014 Lok Sabha election, it floated Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate, turned the parliamentary election almost into a US presidential election, benefited from the Gujarat CM's reputation and had no difficulty in putting its seal on his leadership after the landslide victory.

However, the same tactic didn't work in the Delhi election. Pre-announcement of a Chief Ministerial candidate from outside the state legislature party backfired. The projection of Kiran Bedi, labeled then as the "master stroke of the master strategist" injected disappointment and demoralization in the party ranks, its legislators. The result was for everyone to see.

It's, however, difficult to say if the performance of the party would have been any different under the leader who was BJP's point man on the floor of the Delhi legislature. In fact, it was heard that his name figured in corruption cases and therefore the AAP would have reduced him into a liability.

In Bihar, procedure wise or even honestly, Sushil Modi deserved to be mentioned by the party as the Chief Ministerial candidate. Being a former Deputy Chief Minister, the leader of the legislature party and so on, he has been the face of the BJP. But the party fears dissidence or inside revolt if his name is formalized at this point. Sushil Modi doesn’t excite average Biharis or his own party-men as he lacks charisma. He has been fortifying his leadership position for a long time.

Furthermore, the party is undecided whether it should take the high road of putting up its own faithful, time-tested candidates or make alliances with a bunch of discredited politicians who have crossed sides.

There's a quarrelsome scene within the NDA: Kushwaha's faction declared him as the Chief Ministerial candidate; Manjhi wanted to take a lion share in the ticket distribution; the entry of Narendra Singh, a Manjhi man, in the NDA is sought to be prevented by Ram Vilas Paswan because Narendra Singh along with others had once left RVP and crossed over to Nitish to grab at a ministerial bait.

In the absence of a firm party position on the candidacy, therefore, there's a genuine confusion that seems to have resulted in other party leaders (or constituents of the NDA) trying to throw their hats in the ring.

Although, the party has indicated that it would make the state election a battle between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar, it's quite apparent the party is a divided house. The fault line appears to be between the so called Forwards and the Backwards, but there are subdivisions as well between the Dalits (Paswans and non-Paswans), Extremely Backward Castes, OBCs (Yadavs and Non-Yadavs) and Muslims etc.

The Backwards advance the argument that in order to combat the Lalu-Nitish coalition, an OBC candidate is a must. The Forwards, on the other hand, will like to say that they have been eclipsed from the leadership position for a long, long time. They may also be banking on the prospect of an even distribution with the OBCs: Jharkhand has gone to an OBC Chief Minister. Then there's is the Muslim factor too. Projection of a Muslim candidate like Shahnawaz Hussain, many consider, will be a "master stroke." But, then the BJP will have to be wary of its hard core Hindu nationalists’ votes.

The BJP central leadership will be well-advised to crack its whip and forbid all party men and alliance partners from self-nomination at this stage. It must go into the battle leading candidates with impeccable image, must not approve of candidates with sullied past sponsored by its alliance partners. It will have to convince the voters about the Lalu-Nitish contradiction and the fact that like Lalu many in the OBC leadership have swallowed “poison” at the nomination of Nitish as the Congress-JD(U) candidate.

Rather than projecting one person, the party will have to show a collective leadership. And if the party gets a majority after the election, it must have a general meeting of the elected members and they must be the ones whose choice by majority of a candidate must be acceptable to everyone including the party high command. Neither the central leadership nor this or that faction be allowed to influence the outcome of the leadership selection process. In the case of the BJP, it’s often heard that this or that was a candidate supported by the rank and file or by the RSS. The election of the leader must not only be fair but also appear to be fair.

The political parties in Bihar are notoriously infamous for electing their leaders today and starting vigorously their dissidence activities the next day.

Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad has taught politics at the universities of India, the US and Canada. A resident of Dundas, Ontario and a native of Darbhanga, Bihar, Binoy has taken steps to organize Bihari NRIs under the auspices of Overseas Bihari Association for Meaningful Action (OBAMA)


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