With about eight months to go for the Bihar assembly election, the political circles in the state are jostling to figure out the name of the challenger to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Bihar’s opposition parties are similarly locked in a quarrel and are yet to decide on their chief ministerial candidate.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the biggest party in Bihar’s grand alliance or Mahagathbandhan, has declared Tejashwi Yadav as its candidate. But there’s a reason why the Congress, the second major party in the alliance, hasn’t come on board yet.
The CM face
Congress wants the co-ordination committee of the Mahagathbandhan to decide on the CM name. So do other parties in the opposition camp, like Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) and Vikaassheel Insan Party (VIP).
For the Left parties, there is no confusion: Kanhaiya Kumar is their leader.
On the face of it, Lalu Yadav’s youngest son Tejaswi Yadav is the face of opposition in Bihar. He is their leader in Bihar assembly, although that is mainly because he heads the largest party in the alliance.
But if a meeting of the co-ordination committee is all it will take to end the quarrel, why hasn’t Tejashwi Yadav convened one?
The Kanhaiya factor
People aware of the developments say Tejashwi Yadav is fearful of the Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Kanhaiya Kumar. Tejashwi’s fear is more pronounced these days because the former president of JNU students’ union is travelling all over Bihar and his rallies are drawing massive crowds.
It’s the same story from the 2019 Lok Sabha election playing out months before the Bihar assembly election, scheduled for October-November this year. Despite the Left’s insistence, the RJD nominated its candidate Tanveer Hasan from Begusarai parliamentary seat. It was said at the time that the party’s decision was prompted by a similar fear in Tejashwi camp over the Kanhaiya factor.
The only difference this time is that the Congress is also tilting towards Kanhaiya Kumar. Bihar Congress leader and MLA from Katihar district’s Kadwa constituency, Shakeel Ahmad Khan, who is considered a think tank in his own right, has stood solidly behind Kanhaiya Kumar.
A rally of the CPI leader makes it clear that while he is the sole face being projected, the one in charge of making that happen is Shakeel Ahmad Khan. And if it’s a rally of Kanhaiya Kumar, surely it will have the supporters and members of the Left parties.
So, is there a Left-Congress bonhomie developing in Bihar?
An incident from Kanhaiya Kumar’s statewide yatra (tour) answers this best. Just as the touring party was about to depart for the meeting scheduled in Banka, Shakeel Ahmad Khan was heard replying to someone’s objection. “If people can come to these (Kanhaiya’s) rallies with the Left’s red flags, then what is the objection with some carrying the Congress’s flag? Of course they can. If Shakeel Ahmad Khan is with Kanhaiya Kumar, then it means the Congress is also with him.”
This is the reason why that co-ordination committee meeting hasn’t happened yet.
If Shakeel Ahmad Khan is drawing Muslim crowds to Kanhaiya’s rallies, then so is the nationwide protest movement against the Narendra Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the twin population registration exercise, the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR).
The CAA-NRC-NPR is the main reason behind the Congress’ developing support to Kanhaiya Kumar. The grand old party is itself drawing a lot of support from the Muslim community over the CAA-NRC-NPR issue. The Congress has seen the impact of standing with the RJD on this matter.
The RJD called a ‘Bihar Bandh’ on 21 December, two days after the Left had called for a strike against the CAA-NRC-NPR. While no senior Congress leader participated in the RJD’s bandh, the one held on 19 December saw massive Congress participation, besides several other parties.
Congress and Kanhaiya
Political experts say that the Congress, which sees senior leaders like Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi sharing stage with Kanhaiya, is benefitting more from the CPI leader, who himself wouldn’t mind joining hands with the Congress.
The question that remains then is why would the Congress, in the upcoming election, leave a bigger party like the RJD to join ranks with the Left, which barely has any base in Bihar?
The Congress itself is answering that.
“What’s wrong in Kanhaiya? The Left has supported the Congress in the past too. Our first fight is against Sanghvaad, to save the Indian Constitution,” Bihar Congress president Madanmohan Jha says in a conversation.
Several political experts say that Kanhaiya has infused a new life in the Left, which seemed to be on its deathbed only until a few months ago. The Congress, which is disappointed with the RJD’s attitude since the Lot Sabha results, has sensed that Kanhaiya brings not just the Left with him but smaller parties like HAM, RLSP and VIP as well.
A persistent bone of contention between the RJD and the Congress has been sharing of seats. The Congress knows it will be the main party of the alliance that will be formed without the RJD, and this will fulfil the party’s wish to contest on maximum number of seats.
And the RJD camp is helping the Congress decide by taking a clear stand: it will rather go it alone than support Kanhaiya Kumar as the leader.
Not Lalu’s RJD
The Congress is also aware that the RJD is no longer the same potent force as it was under Lalu Prasad Yadav’s leadership. Lalu was the axis around which other alliance partners revolved. Now, even the Yadav vote bank is not entirely with the RJD. There are several Yadav leaders who are effectively countering the RJD leadership, building their own support base.
It doesn’t matter much to the Congress anyway who the Yadavs see as their new leader. Its sole aim is to pick a face that can successfully challenge the BJP-JD(U) government. In Tejashwi Yadav, the Congress doesn’t see the end of its search — and so it’s turning Left, towards Kanhaiya Kumar.
But has Kanhaiya decided? The CPI leader is yet to make up his mind whether he wants to contest the assembly election. He was non-committal during the last conversation.
Obviously, Kanhaiya Kumar won’t reveal his cards as of now. He knows that the creation of public mood in his favour is still in its early stage. It takes time to build an atmosphere. There are still months to go — perhaps the show of strength will begin when he takes the mic on 27 February in Patna.
The author is an independent journalist. View are personal.
This article has been translated from Hindi. Read the original here.