JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar was sworn-in as the Bihar Chief Minister on November 19. Needless to say Lalu will call the shots and Nitish will have to take a backseat on development agenda. Will it mean progress for Bihar or will it be back to the jungle raj discourse?
Even though it may seem that the Narendra Modi wave has been diluted in Bihar's assembly elections with Modi baiters going gung ho about the prospect of Nitish Kumar emerging as a PM challenger to Narendra Modi in 2019 elections, it is worth reflecting on the challenges that will come to the fore when the actual governance of the Grand Alliance starts in Bihar in few days from now. There are many areas where the Nitish – Lalu Grand Alliance will start coming under strain and is likely to end in a squabble over daily governance matters. There is as we look at present a haze over priorities in this Grand Alliance experiment. Nitish has won on development promise while Lalu on caste polarisation . Lalu’s agenda will be to settle down his two sons in Bihar politics firmly in next five years whereas Nitish would want to show development to remain relevant and take his model as a success to enter national politics.
What then will be the priority of the Alliance -caste appeasement or development, what really will be the top agenda and what will play the second fiddle? Who will agree to what terms and who will concede to whom is something that will be worth watching as the governance unfolds in days to come –
Lalu’s son Tejaswi, who has just joined politics, has been made Deputy Chief Minister. Needless to say this is mooted with the idea of creating a parallel power center right under the nose of CM with access to all important decisions and information. This is likely to be difficult for Nitish in managing the state and the portfolios allocated to Deputy CM will require accountability. Here there will again be a conflict of interest with Lalu not really wanting to be answerable for each and every penny that he spends and for each and every transfer and postings he carries out. The conflict will also be in the way the bureaucracy functions over various matters and how it executes various schemes at the lowest level. Will bureaucrats loyal to Nitish or to Lalu want to share information? Will Nitish have another deputy CM to counter the Lalu agenda is something that needs to be seen and what powers will Nitish's Deputy CM have and how much will they really work together given that their priorities are different.
Going further there will be greater political implication of the Grand Alliance on the electoral prospect of coming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. By 2017 when the UP elections come Lalu will have a tie up with Mulayam. This would be done with an eye on Yadav votebank. Muslims of Bihar have voted for Lalu and so would the Muslims of UP go with Mulayam as has been the case. So there is a large block of Yadav- Muslim combine that will back Mulayam – Lalu alliance. In the caste politics Nitish is weak as a kurmi which does not have a strong votebank not strong enough to challenge the MY voters. Lalu – Mulayam already have genned next that they are nursing to give them a strong political future. Giving any benefit to Nitish at this stage or even in future will mean jeopardising the future of their sons and daughters. Lalu Prasad Yadav will remain the main constituent of the Grand Alliance politics despite overtures made by Nitish Kumar he will always be the remote control. Supporting the Mulayam- Lalu combine where does that leave Nitish? This will also mean that Nitish will remain limited to Bihar and its development; to get to the national level he will need a strong support from elsewhere.
Another issue that JD (U) will have to concentrate on is to build very strong and well entrenched party cadre. Till such time the party was with BJP. He would use its cadres to nip the problem in the bud. Nitish may have relied on RJD cadres for this election but he will have to create a well entrenched cadre of district presidents for 38 districts, presidents for 509 blocks , 8200 party heads at panchayat levels, besides 2600 ward presidents for the party in addition to this having a wing for youth, women minorities, farmers, scheduled class etc. This is an extensive task and the one that needs constant nurturing and motivating of people at all levels. Will Nitish really have the wherewithal and the time to create such a good structure in a span of five years, remains to be seen.
Nitish -Lalu combine have won on the mandate given by caste and communal polarisation. The muslims have voted for Lalu as a block and that is one of the reasons for his big comeback. Both Nitish and Lalu know the reemergence of communal clashes ever since Nitish has split from the NDA. Both Lalu and Nitish know very well what is brewing in their backyard but were hesitant to talk about the same because of the fear of antagonising the muslim votebank ahead of elections. Now having won both the Yadav and Muslim votebank in majority, will it be possible to keep both the communities away from asserting its power and brandishing its guns and goons? Both the communities will demand their share in the new power equations and will wield their new found power in the hinterland and strongholds. This is likely to disturb the social and caste equations greatly in times to come. How will Lalu 'the self- anoited champion of secularism' face this challenging situation? It will be worth watching in coming days.
What really will be the new equation between the inimical and dominant Yadavs and huge but scattered extreme backward class also needs to be watched .The Kurmis to which Nitish belongs have not been comfortable with Nitish going with Lalu as they know Yadavs are inimical to them. How far will the demand from Kurmi community be accommodated by Yadavs, needs to be seen. There is an interesting theory of caste polarisation in Bihar. Earlier Lalu would target upper castes to polarise OBC and Dalit voters in his favor whereas Nitish would target OBCs and Yadavs to polarise upper castes. Now that Nitish and Lalu have polarised the voters what will be the new equation between extreme backward class and Yadavs, EBC and upper caste needs to be seen.
Given the way the mandate has been given it is very obvious that caste factor will be the top agenda and development will play a second fiddle. Needless to say Lalu will call the shots and Nitish will have to take a backseat on development agenda. Will it mean progress for Bihar or will it be back to the jungle raj discourse? This surely will be the litmus test of Grand Alliance waiting to take on the BJP in 2019. Success or failure of it will open a new narrative of opposition for the BJP and for the future of Narendra Modi.
Bhagyashree Pande (The writer is a senior journalist)