The Bihar marathon has begun

The alliance stitched up by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar against the Bharatiya Janata party seems to be in disarray. The exit of Samajwadi party under the leadership of Mulayam Singh Yadav has placed this under the spotlight, but the fact remains that the first jolt was delivered by the CPI(M) and the CPI that had actually helped put the larger coalition together under the leadership of Mulayam Singh. However, along the way, the Left decided to work for Left unity and got the two communist parties together with the CPI-ML that has been working against the Janata Dal (U) government in Bihar. And all came to an agreement to contest the Bihar Assembly polls together, despite efforts by Kumar to persuade them to join him in a broad alliance.

Then came MIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi, who flushed with the two odd seats he got in the Maharashtra elections, decided to contest Bihar in the Muslim dominated constituencies. Owaisi, who plays his own Hyderabad flavoured brand of fundamentalist politics, is perceived as working with the BJP as his politics fuels the consolidation and the polarisation that the latter has been working on in the state elections. In Bihar too, the JD(U) alleges that the RSS cadres along with the BJP workers are trying to polarise the votes in the villages and the districts, an effort helped by the likes of Owaisi. The third setback has come from Mulayam Singh who has now announced that he will contest the Bihar elections, but not as part of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance. He did not attend a rally recently because Congress president Sonia Gandhi was part of it, and has made it clear that he does not want to share a platform with her and her party.

Nitish Kumar has been having a rough time keeping this flock of unreliable, slippery political leaders together. Lalu Prasad Yadav seems to have settled into the coalition now, but not before he created sufficient trouble for it by staying away, and letting it be known through selective leaks that he was not happy and might not remain part of it. Even now there are doubts about his commitment, and while he has been crossing direct swords with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is still a bit of a haul to the elections for which the dates have still not been announced.

In fact the Congress seems to have emerged as Kumar’s most reliable partner in the state as having come around to being part of the coalition; it is unlikely that the party will back off. It has accepted its junior position with just 40 seats and plans are for more joint rallies against the BJP in the state. The Congress party, however, is still in the doldrums in Bihar and is not seen as a viable force by the electorate as it does not have a support base, or to put in crude political language, a committed vote bank.

The BJP has been working hard with the help of the RSS to fracture the backward and the Dalit vote that the coalition requires for a clear cut victory. It is not clear whether it has succeeded in this as yet, but indications are that it has not lost the youth base in Bihar as yet. However, all parties are working hard on the younger generation and the first time voters and the jury is still out on this one. Bihar seems to be readying for a tense battle, with the few dubious polls that have appeared predicting a close verdict. Development seems to have become the theme although for the minorities and the Dalits this remains laced with their concerns for their security. If the BJP wins, it will be seen as a victory for PM Modi and his policies, giving more grist to the Sangh mill. If Nitish Kumar wins, it will give a major boost to all the forces opposing the BJP and curtail the activities of some of its affiliates. It will also allow Kumar to make a bid for the Prime Minister’s chair as well in the next general elections. This was one of the concerns that led Lalu Prasad to sulk for a while, but he seems to have overcome the resistance for now.  All in all, this seems to be an election that will certainly be more than a weathercock in the political wind.

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