Hyderabad: The 2020 Bihar assembly elections is throwing up some interesting facets of politics, especially from the ruling coalition in the state. The BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) grouping, a dominant force in the country with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its campaign face, is seemingly looking for excuses to escape the scorn of a possible electoral loss.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Modi himself, used religion and national security as the key campaign plaques during elections to various State Assemblies in the past. Surprisingly, even during the Gujarat state polls in 2017, the saffron party used Pakistan and border tensions as a poll issue in a state that has been constantly shown as a “shining example” of work done by Modi & Co., which often called it the “Gujarat Model” of development.
However, that model proved to be a façade during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad earlier this year, when walls had to be built on the route he took from the airport to hide slums!
Had it not been for a well chalked out strategy by the young Tejashwi Yadav and his coalition (with the Congress and left parties like the CPI and CPM), the BJP would have raked up religion and nationalism, like it did in previous elections in Uttar Pradesh or Jharkhand. It is also doing it in West Bengal, a state that will go to polls in 2022.
Tejashwi, the younger son of former Bihar CM (and the RJD’s supremo) Lalu Prasad Yadav, rightly brought ‘employment’ and ‘local development’ to the center of Bihar politics by promising 10 lakh jobs to the youth. He has promised to deliver it in the first cabinet meeting itself if he becomes the Chief Minister. His party, the Rashriya Janata Dal (RJD), together with the Congress, is pitted against the ruling BJP-Janata Dal (United) coalition, headed by incumbent Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar, who now aspires to become CM for a record fourth term, is also passing bizarre comments on his political opponent, who is less than half his age! Nitish went to the extent of (indirectly) making distasteful remarks on Lalu Prasad Yadav “having 8-9 children” and wanting “to have a son after giving birth to daughters”. Tejashwi Yadav however gave it back by bringing in Prime Minister Narendra Modi into this, who has around 5-6 siblings of his own.
However, the most noticeable aspect in this elections is the route that the BJP is taking in its campaign. While there is enough criticism against Nitish Kumar over corruption and inefficient Governance; BJP and its leaders, including PM Modi, are making excuses of not being a coalition partner for the entire term (the RJD-JDU had contested together and won the 2015 elections, until Nitish dumped the alliance and went back with the BJP).
During a poll rally, Modi claimed that BJP has been a partner with the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) government only for three years; this clearly is an excuse to escape a possible poll debacle.
Many ground reports coming from Bihar indicate that BJP leaders and cadre believe there is a fatigue among people over Nitish Kumar’s long regime and might be looking for an alternative this time. These leaders would also like to disassociate themselves from the failures of the incumbent CM, and seek votes in the names of Narendra Modi, and his ‘nationalist’ ideology.
Ironically, the fact of Bihar’s political alignments remains different from the narrative being weaved in the state. Nitish Kumar has been a long-term associate of BJP and NDA. He was a Union Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, before taking over the reigns in Bihar in 2005. Between 2005 and 2013, when Modi became the prime ministerial face for the BJP, Nitish had a political alliance with the saffron brigade.
It was only for a brief period of two-three years that Nitish moved away from BJP, and forged a poll alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD in 2015. Now, when the going gets tough with each passing day, the BJP is also looking for excuses to ensure that the dissatisfaction (towards Nitish) among the people of Bihar does not impact their winning prospects.
The Chirag Paswan factor:
On the other hand, the emergence of Chirag Paswan and his Lok Janshakti Party as a rival to Nitish Kumar looks like a ploy to hurt Nitish Kumar, and in turn help BJP emerge as the single largest party in the State.
While BJP, LJP, Nitish are playing their brand of politics, the young Tejashwi Yadav has rightly tied them all to the issue of employment and development. And now it is up to the people of Bihar to decide which way the electorate will favour and what is in store for the future (the LJP, which is part of the NDA, has however decided to contest elections on its own, with the JDU being its rival).
(The Author is a political communications specialist, and has worked in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and other states.)