There are few states in India, where politics is as deadlocked as in Bihar. On the one hand, there is a political monopoly that has grown complacent and delivers subpar service to the people. You can try to wiggle out of the monopoly, but then you would have to opt literally for disaster. The monopoly understands your predicament. That’s exactly why they are so complacent. They know you have no way out.
The deadlock is just as much among the political parties as among the people. The biggest political party in Bihar knows it is not getting the respect nor power it deserves. But if you move a muscle, you end up losing whatever little you have.
Enough of blank statements. Let’s get to the specifics.
Look at Bihar from the eyes of a common voter. The BJP+JDU has been in saddle for (almost) three terms. The elders have told you enough horror stories of Lalu’s jungle raj. You remember with gratitude how the two parties pulled Bihar out of the hole during their first term. But after 2010, what? The period from 2010 to 2015 was marked with JDU’s endless drama and jealousy towards Narendra Modi. After 2015, the JDU ruled for 2 years with RJD and then returned to its comfortable old alliance with BJP. The ruling faces have not changed in 10 years and delivery is really subpar.
So now what? Vote for RJD in hope of change? No way. You are smarter than that. What option remains? Just vote BJP+JDU and let things go on as they always have. Accept the inevitable, which will only make BJP+JDU more complacent, likely bring down even further the pace of delivery. Sad.
Now look at Bihar from the eyes of the BJP. Yes, they have power. But definitely much less than what they are entitled to. In fact, Bihar is now the only state in the entire Hindi belt where BJP has not had the post of Chief Minister for even one day. It’s almost unbelievable if you think about it. At this rate, the BJP will get the CM chair in Bengal before it gets the CM chair in Bihar. Oh, the irony, especially with TMC machinery trying to stereotype the BJP in Bengal as the party of Biharis 🙂
There can be no doubt which party is stronger in Bihar : BJP or JDU. When the 3 parties fought separately in 2014, the BJP’s vote share was by far the biggest. In the 2015 Assembly elections, the BJP again had by far the largest chunk of votes. Significantly, the JDU had the lowest vote share and won fewer seats than RJD.
In 2019, the arithmetic was such that NDA would have swept Bihar. But again, almost hilariously and as if acting deliberately to irritate Nitish Kumar, the people of Bihar gave NDA 39/40. The BJP won all its seats. The LJP won all its seats. Who lost that one seat? The JDU, of course.
This is not just a new thing. Even as far back as 2010, the BJP’s strike rate in seats was higher than JDU. There is no doubt which party is bigger and stronger.
The Assembly elections are now approaching. The BJP could demand due respect and the CM post. But then, Nitish Kumar will walk right out of the door, join hands with RJD and sweep the election again, leaving BJP out cold.
The only one who is happy in Bihar is Nitish Kumar. He wins in every possible scenario. It is truly astonishing for a leader to have a state so under his control with so few votes of his own.
The RJD’s 18-20% vote share doesn’t matter. The BJP 22-25% vote share does not matter. Only the JDU’s 15% votes matter. How ironic is that?
A thorny issue is coming up for BJP and JDU. It’s seat sharing. Probably, the JDU will, as a starting point, insist that the two parties go back to their traditional arrangement: 102 seats contested by BJP and 141 contested by JDU. The LJP would be allotted seats proportionately from the quotas of the two big partners.
This is staggeringly unfair to BJP and it’s unlikely they will accept this deal under any circumstances. The BJP will point to something resembling the Lok Sabha seat distribution: 17 for BJP, 17 for JDU and 6 for LJP. Yes, the BJP gave up four sitting MPs in 2019 to strike the alliance with JDU, but the JDU also conceded something big : the number one position in Bihar. Until now, the Lok Sabha seats had been divided up as 25 for JDU and 15 for BJP, making BJP by far the junior partner.
Given that Nitish’s popularity is definitely ebbing and he needs Modi’s popularity to create a “hawa,” the JDU will most likely accept the principle of equal seats for BJP and JDU. Remember this carries a lot of risk for Nitish Kumar, because contesting equal seats means almost certainly that BJP will emerge with more seats than JDU.
Ultimately, there is only so far that Nitish can push the BJP. His luck has held so far like a charm. But if he does another U-turn and goes to RJD now, it may just be one gamble too far. You cannot underestimate RJD beyond a point. Remember how 2005 started? People knew Lalu Yadav was “under pressure” but not very sure. It took two elections in 2005 in rapid succession, but Bihar dumped Lalu Yadav. What began as a ripple became a wave. Remember that RJD had swept Bihar just the year before in 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
What if the ripple of anti-incumbency against Nitish also turns into a wave?
For BJP, there is only one long term solution to the Bihar deadlock. They have to break RJD’s monopoly on the Yadav vote. For this, the BJP has to put forward its own Yadav leadership to replace the Lalu family.
In flashes, the BJP has shown that it understands the idea. When Nitish broke ties with BJP in 2013, Nandkishore Yadav became Leader of Opposition in Bihar Assembly. The BJP could have picked any number of leaders from other OBC groups, but they knew which was the right move. But as BJP and JDU allied again, the strategy was lost in the wilderness. For BJP in Bihar, politics has become too easy.
Therein lies the rub.
Bihar is a poor and backward state. But great sweeping changes in Indian politics have also started from the banks of the Ganga in Bihar. Nitish Kumar will probably win, but he should be watchful about the perils of history.