Even after winning the Bihar assembly election, if Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar feels insecure and perhaps forlorn, he has only himself to blame. The Bharatiya Janata Party, in spite of winning more seats than the JD(U), will in all likelihood keep its promise and declare Nitish Kumar the chief minister again. It is a Pyrrhic victory for the JD(U) leader, whose love-hate relationship with the BJP is no secret. By accepting the CM’s chair, he will be heavily under the BJP’s debt.
If Nitish Kumar opts out of the race or quits the National Democratic Alliance, he and his party will go into oblivion sooner or later. If he chooses to shift to New Delhi, he will have to work under Prime Minister Narendra Modi — the same man with whom he didn’t want to share even a photograph once. During the 2010 Bihar election campaign, he was enraged over advertisements featuring him and Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, and had even threatened newspapers with legal action. He had also returned the Rs 5 crore aid that Modi had offered for the 2008 Kosi flood victims. But politics is the art of forgetting embarrassing moments.
The best loser award in Bihar should ideally go to Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). As a regional party, the RJD probably put its best foot forward in this election. After the 2019 Lok Sabha debacle and with his father languishing in jail after sentencing in the Bihar fodder scam, Tejashwi Yadav had to think of a different strategy to win rather than follow the same-old technique of depending on caste equation. The resounding victory of the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election probably signalled that it would be counterproductive to target Modi in assembly elections.
In new RJD, an old Congress
Tejashwi Yadav, 31, who happens to be the youngest of the nine siblings of Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi (both former chief ministers of Bihar) must have done a clinical analysis of the past election results. To begin with, the picture of his father and RJD president Lalu Prasad went missing from election campaign posters. Then he sought an apology for “any mistake in those 15 years’ rule”, ostensibly referring to the Lalu-Rabri governments that became the epitome of corruption. Incidentally, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener Arvind Kejriwal opted for a similar strategy in Delhi with pleasing results in the assembly election earlier this year.
Tejashwi Yadav’s election campaign was focussed on targeting the 15-year ‘misrule’ of the self-proclaimed sushasan babu, and project himself as the alternative to Nitish Kumar. Though his promise of providing 10 lakh jobs drew jeers from the NDA camp, Tejashwi went about raising local issues and speaking the language of development, a local version of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’ slogan. The result was 75 seats with about 58 per cent strike rate and ‘single-largest party’ tag.
Those who had begun to write him off as the son of a discredited Lalu Prasad Yadav, a school dropout and new entrant to the dynasty club, may have to revise their opinions. Tejashwi Yadav has a lifetime opportunity to play a positive role as the leader of opposition to extricate Bihar out of the ‘BIMARU’ stigma. But in politics, those who are endowed with meteoric rise are known to have fallen much faster.
Ironically, his election technique seems to be a copy of what the Congress did elsewhere. The Congress party more or less adopted the same technique in Chhattisgarh during the 2018 assembly election, where a relatively lesser-known Bhupesh Baghel focused only on local issues and kept the national leaders out of the campaign, although Rahul Gandhi addressed about 19 rallies. Similarly, it was the local flavour to Punjab assembly election, added by Capt. Amarinder Singh, that worked in the Congress’ favour.
But then, in both Chhattisgarh and Punjab, the Congress fought against the local leaders of the BJP. In Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2017 and now in Bihar, the Congress rode piggyback on the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the RJD. Both parties paid a heavy price and lost considerable seats after handing over a bulk of constituencies to the Congress.
A new politics awaits us
It would be interesting to see what happens in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, two important non-BJP, non-Congress states where the stakes are very high for the BJP and the local parties. It is unlikely that the Congress would find any place in Mamata Banerjee’s reckoning in West Bengal. But the Congress going it alone in West Bengal will surely cut into the Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s vote bank. In any case, it is likely to draw a blank. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) may now think many times over whether to tie up with the serial loser Congress or not. The Congress has neither any strong local leader nor organisational strength in Tamil Nadu where it has not been in power since 1967.
The Bihar election has brought national politics to the next round of an interesting phase. There is no chance of the Congress’ revival in the foreseeable future. The ‘Congress–mukt Bharat’ moment seems to have arrived. The BJP will increasingly be pitted against local parties and form alliances with regional parties. Both, the BJP and the regional parties, will have to practise the art of cooperative federalism in the best interest of India. Currently, there are about 23 parties in the NDA and none of them is in power in any state except Tamil Nadu.
The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.