Thursday, January 22, 2015

Battle lines – Bihar 2015

2015 Vidhan sabha elections in Bihar are a big test for all political parties. Nitish Kumar's JD(U) is looking to stay relevant after a complete rout in the last Lok Sabha. Laloo's RJD is also facing a credibility crisis, with him unable to contest elections. BJP has to build on the gains made in the Lok Sabha and figure out its strategy to counter the possible coalitions or mergers aimed solely at stopping them from gaining power. Congress which is already reduced to only 4 seats in the Bihar assembly will want to showcase some improvements to give hope to its nationwide supporters.
In this keenly contested political battle caste considerations reign supreme in strategies of all parties, with a smoke screen of development thrown in by the BJP and JD(U), led by Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar.  RJD is still trying to hold on to their traditional combination of Muslims and Yadavs. The JD(U) had in the past cobbled together a coalition of the backward castes, and maha dalits, with a strong support of Kurmis and Koeris. BJP has a strong support base in the upper caste Bhumihars, Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasths and also some sections of the OBC. Congress has been marginalised and can only count on the support of Muslims and Brahmins, in certain pockets.
The Battle for Bihar 2015 will see strategies and counter strategies to out manoeuvre the opposition social combination. The proposed merger of the Janta Parivar is one such attempt to add Maha Dalits, Kurmi-Koeri, and some OBC votes to the Muslim-Yadav combination of RJD. This merger or coalition will also provide a strong anti-BJP pole which will help consolidate the minority vote. Problems in the proposed merger are already cropping up, with Nitish in a hurry but Laloo being cautious. This change is based mainly on the problems being faced by Nitish Kumar in controlling CM Jitan Ram Manjhi. In case of a change of CM, the maha dalits might feel cheated and move away from JD(U).  This would leave Nitish Kumar with only the Kurmis as his committed supporters and Laloo might not see great value in the merger. Laloo would then want to reach out to the Maha dalits himself and this was evident in his careful approach towards Manjhi in recent statements. A coalition with Congress would make more sense for Laloo in such a scenario.
The BJP, which received votes from across the social spectrum in the Lok Sabha, is aware that it will be difficult to repeat the same in the absence of a Modi centric campaign. BJP is therefore trying to break opposition votes by focussing on the Maha Dalits and the Yadavs. Current CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s actions and words are helping the BJP, and there are even hints that he might join the BJP and be their face to attract the Maha Dalits. In case Manjhi does not switch sides, then BJP will rely on Ram Vilas Paswan to be their Maha Dalit face. On the Yadav front, BJP has fielded Nand Kishore Yadav prominently, in addition to appointing Bhupendra Yadav as in-charge for the state and giving priority to Ram Kripal Yadav.

The rapidly changing political landscape of Bihar will see many more twists and turns and the final outcome will only be clear when the votes are counted. However, for any keen political observer or analyst, Bihar will provide key insights into the future direction of India’s politics, both in terms of social & political coalitions.

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