Bihar Politics: A Problem That Solved Itself For The BJP
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s inability to establish any resonance with the youth allowed Tejaswi Yadav to fill in the void in the last elections, albeit the allegations of corruption, Jungle Raj, and dynastic political culture easily stick to the RJD.
The CM had not only become a liability for the BJP but even for Bihar.
There is never a dull day in democratic politics. After a news-high of the recently concluded Commonwealth games and the ongoing China-Taiwan conflict, this Tuesday (9 August) promised to usher in a temporary lull.
Perhaps, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had different plans altogether. The most recent departure of Nitish Kumar from the NDA alliance in Bihar has presented itself as fresh ground for news cycles to emerge from.
In all probability, this is a return of the Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar, and, given the electoral arithmetic, the BJP is expected to play the opposition from here onwards.
The Political Predicament
The nature of caste-activated electoral politics in post-Lalu Bihar made political coalitions that essentially thrived on identity politics a hard reality that cannot be wished away.
After the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs in the BJP in 2013-14, Nitish Kumar’s political and ideological relationship with the BJP constantly deteriorated, with the latter always seeking an alternative positioning on major issues such as Triple Talak, Ram Mandir, Caste Census and Uniform Civil Code.
The BJP did well to accommodate his concerns and even upheld the chief ministeriality of Nitish Kumar in the 2020 elections. Recently escalated by the growing proximity of RCP Singh with the BJP and the threat-perception of a party split post-Maharashtra, it is the preemptive end of the alliance by the Bihar Chief Minister and perhaps the making of yet another story of political opportunism and survival.
The accusations of BJP’s predatorial political behaviour and poaching that are being made now only reveal the reality of an electorally insecure and politically weakened Nitish Kumar. In this most recent term, Kumar has been reduced to a political caricature of the Sushaan Babu of the lore. However, the loss of image and credibility has been an ongoing process for quite some time.
The pandemic response of his government was found to be wanting on several fronts. While the Uttar Pradesh government responded with the calls for a ‘Migration Commission’ and creating a database of the migratory labour force, Bihar’s efforts were designed with a significant degree of indifference and apathy towards the labourers.
The curious case of prohibition has made the state marshal its limited human and economic resources that could have been gainfully deployed elsewhere. For a landlocked, porous, and importantly, revenue-deprived state in the absence of robust industrialisation, such ego-driven measures have contributed to worsening financial stress.
The state government’s rising debt also reduces its appetite for fiscal manoeuvring, as a recent study by the RBI stated. BJP MLA Shahnawaj Husain, only in the recent past, notably took the mantle to create an investor and entrepreneur-friendly environment in Bihar.
The Bihar floods in 2020 and the recent anti-Agneepath protest have also highlighted, apart from the wanting disaster management response and the exacerbating unemployment situation, a major leadership crisis in Bihar.
The principles of stoic socialism that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar inherited and tinkered with in different domains, have already become stale and offer no dynamism to the challenges of contemporary society. For example, the UP Chief Minister has been able to gain the Defense Corridor and large infrastructural projects in a relatively brief tenure. Bihar, on the other hand, has not been able to even dent the outflow of talent and labour.
The Chief Minister today has neither the language nor the persona to address the aspirations of the youth. Nitish Kumar’s inability to establish any kind of resonance with the youth allowed Tejaswi Yadav to fill in the void in the last elections, albeit the allegations of corruption, Jungle Raj, and dynastic political culture easily stick to the RJD. In short, the Chief Minister had not only become a liability for the BJP but even for Bihar.
The False Parallel
Reading Maharashtra and Bihar as a political parallel of horse-trading seems counterintuitive for certain obvious reasons. Apart from the nostalgic relationship that Nitish Kumar cherishes with the Vajpayee-Advani BJP, the core outlook of his politics always derived its ideological underpinnings from the JP movement and Samajwadi ideals.
Having distanced himself from the comrades of the socialist movement, most notably Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar provided an alternative politics of being incorruptible, development-oriented and socially sensitive to differing identities.
BJP has been respectful of this larger acceptability, barring a few regions of Buxar and Bhojpur, that he enjoyed in Bihar and saw it as a continuation of the political legacy of the Vajpayee-Advani era into the Modi-Shah era.
However, in the last two decades, his party has remained personality centric as ‘unanimous’ decisions have become the order of the day, and thus has failed to reassess and reinvent itself even after electoral setbacks. Blaming BJP for splitting the party is a convenient attempt to externalise the troubles within.
Shiv Sena, on the other hand, is a natural political ally of the BJP with their nationalistic and socio-religious ideological alignment often trumping the electoral skirmishes. The BJP and Shiv Sena have always shown faith in the market forces as the enablers and equalisers in society and almost share the same electorate.
Shiv Sena’s present fate owes more to the eccentricities of the Thackeray family than to the BJP. The Election mandate was, to begin with, undeniably for the BJP and Shiv Sena which stands honoured today. It should be read as a restoration of the norm in political calculations.
The Way Forward
With departure of CM Nitish Kumar from NDA alliance, the most emergent question that the BJP has to respond to is the question of leadership.
Organisationally, Bihar BJP has seen the arrival of several political heavyweights from the union government. Grassroots structural stability will remain intact and may even get strengthened with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
Experienced politicians have to configure a balancing act as soon as possible. Young voices that cut across identities and articulate a contemporary language of development politics and social justice deserve their presence in the organisation.
The departure of Nitish may have been the only way to expedite this inevitable process. The BJP today may think that it was a problem that solved itself.
Also Read: Why The BJP Is Unfazed By Nitish Kumar’s Betrayal And Is Confident Of Having The Last Laugh
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