It's just politics, right?
Inclusive alliances are the way forward in Indian politics, and if Bihar is anything to go by, the opposition parties around the country have a lot of work to do.
Amidst a strict nation-wide lockdown brought on by a pandemic, the BJP organised its first massive virtual meeting with its cadres and supporters in Bihar. The opposition criticised it and ridiculed it. Today, the BJP is celebrating in Bihar and across the country, while the opposition is at a loss for words. The BJP emerged victorious only because it was active politically and organisationally. Rather, in election after election, the opposition is failing to defeat the BJP decisively because they are not active on the ground prior to the election. None of the parties, including the BJP’s partner JD (U), were prepared organisationally or with the required resources to face the assembly elections in Bihar.
In this context, it is not only Tejashwi Yadav’s performance in these elections, but also Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s resilience that is noteworthy. It makes the BJP’s celebrations appear superficial and their success only momentary. Nitish Kumar faced the double challenge of sabotage by his alliance partners and anti-incumbency sentiment brought about by 15 years in the office. Even with a reduced number of seats, he is an inevitable election partner for the BJP, unless it is prepared for the dissolution of the assembly for fresh elections.
The BJP also knows that it received votes from Nitish loyalists, but it failed to show reciprocity for JD (U) candidates. This means that without Nitish and other smaller parties, the BJP is handicapped in Bihar’s politics. Looking at the national scenario, Nitish is the last of the troika of BJP’s oldest allies who is still in the NDA. The other two parties, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, have already broken their alliance with the BJP. Although Prime Minister Modi cannot afford to lose Nitish, he failed to prevent his supporters from scandalizing the Bihar CM. This is because of the fact that the supposedly committed voters of the BJP are really not as loyal to the party as is being perceived by the general public. They are more loyal to their caste interests than the interest and ideology of the BJP. The latter knows this and allows their fluidity to ensure that they won’t revolt against the party. Post-2017, Nitish and his party had hardly challenged the BJP on ideological turf. Yet, the core supporters of the BJP were unhappy with Nitish Kumar. They didn’t stand with Nitish but did not dare to desert the BJP. What does this show?
First of all, the upper caste voters in Bihar still fear the return of OBC-raj. They do not want the return of the RJD to the seats of power. Upper caste voters are unwilling to move beyond the Mandal politics, even when the BJP has accepted the Mandal and the reservation as a political necessity. The accompanying truth is that the overwhelming majority of Yadavas seem to stand solidly with the RJD. They do not have any other options in order to be relevant in politics and to hopefully gain power. Tejashwi’s A to Z formula did not work because the upper caste voters are averse to accommodate the Yadavas in the power structure. Bihar is still in the grip of Mandal politics.
Secondly, upper-caste voters continue to be fearful of the Muslim population in the state. The upper caste voters’ consolidation behind the BJP is as much anti-Mandal as it is anti-minority. While many respectful analysts talk about the emergence of post-Mandal politics in Bihar, none have given due weightage to the question of the minority population in the state’s politics. While the BJP is not allowing the emergence of saffron alternatives, the secular parties’ occasional flirtation with majoritarianism is forcing minority voters to look for the alternatives. The emergence of AIMIM as a factor in Bihar is a sign of the success of Hindutva’s politics of polarization. It is the shortcoming of the secular parties to firmly defend pluralism, minority rights and secularism. In Tejashwi Yadav’s charming campaign, the missing quotient was an ideological tirade against Hindutva politics. In sharp contrast, in the 2015 elections, Tejashwi’s father Lalu Prasad Yadav confronted the Prime Minister’s charisma by attacking the RSS upfront. Bihar 2020 was a repeat of Akhilesh Yadav’s 2017 assembly election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, which was endearing but sadly void of one’s core ideology. Both the Yadavas perhaps wanted to replicate the Kejriwal model in their respective states. Being Kejriwal can be useful in Delhi, but he would never be successful in U.P. and Bihar with his current politics. This was the only major downfall in Tejashwi’s otherwise catchy campaign.
Thirdly, the cracks are visible in the NDA’s grand social coalition of upper castes, Mahadalits and extremely backward communities. In Bihar, the Mahadalits and extremely backward communities are brought into the NDA’s fold by Nitish Kumar. The disenchantment of upper caste voters - particularly the Bhumihars - with Nitish Kumar is mostly due to the compulsion of sharing power with the Mahadalits and EBCs. In other important states, the BJP ensured a grand social coalition with the help of much smaller parties and more with its own efforts. The cases in point are Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. If its social coalition is facing disturbances in Bihar, the other two big states cannot remain immune. The contradictions may not be fully matured, but they are potent enough and are only awaiting bold leadership to experiment anew in Indian politics.
Fourthly, the OBCs are more willing to accommodate upper castes in its fold, although the latter are unwilling to do it for the former. However, the OBCs resist cooperating with the Dalits, Mahadalits and EBCs communities. It has been amply proven in the last two decades that the RJD or the Samajwadi Party can’t win elections with their core support base of Yadavs and Muslims. In a bid to expand their base, these parties try to forge an understanding with upper-caste voters in their respective states. However, they are never equally enthusiastic about including the Mahadalits and EBCs. It is not only about forming alliances with smaller parties representing Mahadalits or EBCs, nor is it about merely distributing tickets to people from these communities. It is more about forging societal bonds, marital knots and political platforms with Mahadalits and EBCs at the community level. It is about being a movement for social justice, livelihood and equality instead of just being a political party. The much talked about impressive strike rate of the left in the Bihar elections was a result of the combination of Mahadalits, Dalits, EBCs, Yadavas and Muslims. Can this be the way ahead for opposition politics in Bihar? Even in defeat, the election results have opened up a plethora of opportunities for the Mahagathabandhan. Now all they need to do is to do the work that is necessary to build upon it.