Bihar Diary: Win the vote, lose the trust 

Popular consensus is that Nitish Kumar has been riding a tiger and is likely to be devoured by it

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (photo: IANS)
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (photo: IANS)

Abdul Qadir

Nitish Kumar may have won the vote but he surely lost the trust, remarked writer and former MLC Prem Kumar Mani after the chief minister proved his majority in the Assembly.

By winning the vote of confidence, Nitish might have prolonged his tenure as the chief minister by a few more weeks or months but the damage to his credibility—whatever was left of it—is beyond repair, says Mani, once a close aide of the Bihar CM.

Even the most gullible supporter is finding it difficult to buy the theory that Nitish snapped ties with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) because of corruption and moneymaking by its ministers. As chief minister, he could have easily dropped them.

When Tejashwi Yadav ridiculed him for his switcheroo, Nitish’s rebuttal was that his heart was no longer in the coalition. The coalition was not formed to entertain him, hit back Tejashwi in his 40-minute speech in the House, but to support him.

Old political slogans have little resale value, says activist Md Moosa. There are few takers for the old ‘jungle raj’ charge against the RJD. After all, Nitish did form the government with the alleged promoters of ‘jungle raj’—not once but twice.

Popular consensus is that Nitish Kumar has been riding a tiger and is likely to be devoured by it. The BJP, by imposing Samrat Choudhary and Vijay Sinha as deputy chief ministers, has tightened the screws. Until a few weeks ago, Samrat was attacking Nitish left, right and centre.

The CM’s ugly fight with Vijay Sinha—when Nitish headed the NDA government and Vijay was Speaker of the Assembly—is still fresh in public memory. Having effectively cut him down to size, the BJP now covets the political constituency comprising the EBCs (Economically Backward Classes) that Nitish had carved out for himself.

With the nomination of Bhim Singh as its Rajya Sabha candidate, the BJP has already taken the first step to nibble at its unpredictable ally’s political turf. If that weren’t enough, Bhim Singh replaces Sushil Kumar Modi, Nitish’s longtime friend. According to the grapevine, the Bihar CM virtually begged that ‘Modi Jr’ be given the deputy CM’s post.

The BJP reciprocated by relegating him to the Bihar unit of the BJP’s Margdarshak Mandal. With friends like the BJP, say wags, Nitish needs no enemies. Is his political career finished? The answer, most people believe, is affirmative.

Even the luckiest of cats do not have more than nine lives; nine oaths as CM are more than he could possibly hope for.


Bipolar for the first time in five decades

Thanks to Nitish’s political marginalisation, Bihar politics has, for the first time in five decades, become bipolar. It became multi-polar for the first time in 1967, following the Congress party’s virtual rout in the assembly elections.

Between 1967 and 1972, it was a free-forall in Bihar politics with parties like the Jana Sangh, the CPI, the Samyukta Socialist Party, the Praja Socialist Party, the Shoshit Samaj Dal and the CPI(M) sharing power. In 1969, the Congress(O) led by the late Satyendra Narayan Sinha surfaced with much fanfare, only to merge with the Janata Party in 1977.

Political instability between 1967 and 1972 saw nine chief ministers and three spells of President’s rule. Satish Prasad Singh was CM for only five days and Bhola Paswan Shastri led a government that lasted all of 13 days.

Though Karpoori Thakur is credited with the leadership of the Mandal brand of politics in the state, it was the late Jagdeo Prasad who, through aggressive anti-upper caste political positioning, helped the now formidable backward consolidation in Bihar politics.

His provocative slogan was ‘Abki saal ke bhadon mein, gori ungli kado mein (come this harvest time, fair fingers will be seen in the muddy fields)’. Following the Lalu–Nitish split in the mid-1990s, Bihar politics turned trilateral with Nitish providing the third leg between the RJD and the BJP.

Now though, says activist Syed Shad Alam, the JD(U) is no longer a political party. What it was all along, he says, is what we now see it for— an opportunistic club of politically ambitious proponents of Mandal and Mandir. While the BJP and RJD are the likely beneficiaries of Nitish Kumar’s political oblivion, it will be a challenge for them to set their political agenda and address their constituencies.

Meanwhile, the field is wide open for the Left parties and the Congress in the state. With the intermediary castes (read Yadavs) now tagged as ‘neo-feudal’ by the BJP, and Tejashwi discarding the traditional M–Y (Muslim–Yadav) support base in favour of an all-inclusive A-to-Z support base, it is the BJP that will have to tread with more caution. In all this uncertainty, what’s certain is that Bihar politics will never be the same again.


Prashant Kishor
Prashant Kishor

PK’s politics

Prashant Kishor possibly understands Indian politics better than most. Who, however, can claim to understand him and his politics? For the last year-and-ahalf, PK the poll strategist has been journeying through Bihar on foot, setting up local units and telling people to vote carefully in their own interest.

More recently, he has also been holding forth on the future of Modi, the BJP and the opposition on several media platforms. He makes no bones about his ambition to form a regional party in the state but is quick to say that it should not become Prashant Kishor’s party. He is reluctant to reveal when the party will be launched and whether he is going to field independent candidates.

He is scathing about most political leaders, including Narendra Modi’s inability to spare even a day to deliberate on the economic problems faced by Bihar. Gujarat gave the BJP 26 seats in the Lok Sabha while Bihar gave 39 seats to the NDA in 2019, he points out. In 10 years, why couldn’t the PM spare even a day for us, he asks.

Some are disinclined to take him seriously. “In politics you need at least an ideological fig leaf to remain saleable… Prashant lacks that fig leaf. From right wing Hindutva to social justice, he has moved with uncanny ease as a strategist, but can he do so as a player in politics?” asks a leader in the Opposition.

Others believe his image was built by the media crediting him for the electoral victories of a range of leaders—from Nitish Kumar to Stalin, Mamata Banerjee to Jagan Mohan Reddy.

Legion are the Biharis who believe ‘Beti aur vote sirf zaat ko’. This entrenched casteist mould shows no sign of breaking. Can Prashant Kishor succeed in rescripting Bihar politics? Nobody knows, yet.


Proud to be a Bihari

After Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in the year 2000, it was said that Bihar was left with only ‘aloo, balu and Lalu’. A rich state inhabited by poor people, Bihar has been a paradox for the longest time. Its per capita income at Rs 54,383 is just a little more than half of the national average at Rs 98,374, while the per capita income of the richest state is pegged at Rs 2.41 lakh.

What then makes a Bihari proud to be one? The question elicited interesting responses. “There are 1.5 lakh Biharis serving in the army, possibly the highest number from any one state,” was one. “There are thousands of Bihari doctors, even from Darbhanga Medical College working in England and the United States,” was another.

If one said, haughtily, “We may be poor. But Biharis, unlike Gujaratis and Punjabis, do not freeze to death in failed attempts to clandestinely enter the USA or hire chartered planes at exorbitant rates to flee the country of our birth”, another declared, “As many as 55 lakh Biharis may have migrated out of the state to work as space scientists and auto drivers, but we have not institutionalised fraud to become rich.”

A more tongue-in-cheek reply was, “We are proud of our achievements in politics. Our chief minister resigns to retain his post while elsewhere people resign to relinquish office.” This respondent went on to add, “Governments change in other states but here the opposition changes while the chief minister remains the same.”

The Raj Bhavan in Patna witnessed nine swearing-in ceremonies in five years between 1967–72, possibly a record. Chief ministers in the state have lasted from five days to 18 years. Proud to be a Bihari, indeed.

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