Back in the 70’s and 80’s, fragmentation of the opposition votes benefitted the ruling Congress party. By the same logic, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition NDA, in the 2020’s, must take advantage of the splitting up of the votes against them.
In the 90’s, against the backdrop of the Mandal fervor and bitter division among the upper castes under the Congress or the Janata Dal dispensation, Lalu Yadav was able to forge a coalition of the Yadav-led backward castes and the Muslims and win a series of elections.
This time around, regardless of the enthusiasm seen in the election rallies of Lalu Yadav’s son, Tejaswi Yadav, and the flared up Nitish-fatigue, the backward votes didn’t appear to be consolidated against the NDA or its government in Bihar.
First of all, there were strong components of the backward and extremely backward castes represented in the NDA. They consisted of a few BJP cadre-Yadavs, the Musahars led by Jitan Ram Manjhi (HAM) and the Mallahs by Mukesh Sahni (VIP). Nitish Kumar himself was the face of the Kurmis and the benefactor of the Extremely Backward Castes, a sub-group created by him to dilute the influence of such powerful castes as the Paswans.
Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) had a respectable support among the Muslims in certain pockets, but they wouldn’t vote for him this time because of his association with the BJP. Although Nitish had already expressed his party’s differences with the BJP over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the principal rallying cry for the anti-BJP Muslims, the NDA wouldn’t hold any special attraction for the Muslims to vote for them.
As a counterweight, however, Nitish was believed to have cultivated another constituency during his three-term administration: the women. The majority of women, who constituted around 47 per cent of the votes in Bihar and whose participation ratio happened to be higher than men were expected to favor Nitish.
As against the fortification of the JDU-BJP combine, the UPA was the only formidable alliance spearheaded by the RJD where the subservient roles were played by the Congress and the Left parties. However, a loud complaint coming out from this camp was that all the convenient or assured seats were usurped by the RJD and the tough ones were left for the alliance partners. In more than half of the 37 seats allocated to it, for example, the Congress was contesting against the BJP and not the JD(U).
Then, there was a guild of Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), the Janatantrik Party, the Samajwadi Janata Dal (Democratic) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP). Combined together, they would splinter the anti-NDA votes in an unpredictable way. A case in point, Sadhu Yadav, a brother-in-law of Lalu and a former strong man of the RJD was sponsored by the BSP. Owaisi would likely take away a chunk of the UPA’s Muslim votes. If the Koeris voted for the RLSP candidates or the bloc they were a part of, that wouldn’t help the UPA either. In fact, their enmity against Nitish, who belonged to the co-caste, Kurmi, might not draw them towards a greater rival Yadav caste leader.
Along with Sadhu Yadav, the dent in the Yadav clan supporting Tejaswi was evident by a rebellion within the family of Lalu Yadav (his daughter-in-law was allegedly driven out of her husband’s home and her father, a member of another important Yadav clan, contested on a JD(U) ticket).
The ubiquitous, imposing and dissenting Pappu Yadav could also peel away sizable Yadav votes from the RJD in many Yadav-dominated constituencies of Saharsa or Madhepura.
A front named Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA) under the leadership of Pappu Yadav had Chandrasekhar Azad Ravan’s Azad Samaj Party, the Bahujan Mukti Party (BMP) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) as partners. Champions of the Backward castes in their own right, they had declared Pappu Yadav as their Chief Ministerial candidate.
A small political outfit called Jan Sangharsh Dal sponsored by two veterans of Bihar politics, Yashwant Sinha and Purnamasi Ram was also trying luck in 17 constituencies of West Champaran. Among their candidates, the performance of Gulrez Hoda, an ex-IAS officer, fielded from Narkatiaganj, would be interesting to watch.
To conclude, so many political groupings opposed to the BJP, the JD(U) or the NDA in play, they would most likely impair their own common mission of unseating Nitish Kumar. This assumption, however, might turn out to be false in two situations: first, if the NDA base disintegrated and second, the caste satraps extending support to the NDA were unsuccessful in mobilizing their own caste men or women. In a word, if a strong anti-Nitish wave overturned everything.
The restlessness and the media buzz against Nitish notwithstanding and admitting, never say ‘never’ in politics, Tejaswi Yadav and Chirag Paswan were unlikely to create that kind of anti-NDA or anti-Nitish momentum in Bihar.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.