Call for caste census and ‘one nation, one electricity tariff’ show all’s not well in Bihar
With his call for ‘caste-based census’ and ‘one-nation-one-electricity-tariff’ Bihar CM has ruffled BJP. His refusal to have reconciliation with Chirag Paswan and overtures to Kanhaiya are noteworthy
Beyond the surface calm, not all is well with the ruling coalition in Bihar. A lot will depend on the outcome of the West Bengal election, believe observers. Till then both partners are reconciled to the uneasy marriage of compulsion.
The extended RSS family and the BJP have been opposed to caste-based census. Caste based census, if conducted, will be as much of a landmark as the Mandal Commission recommendation implemented by VP Singh. Such a census does not however suit the political and economic agenda of BJP’s core support base. But Nitish Kumar has reiterated his demand for a caste-based census. On this issue, Nitish has positioned himself on the same page as his young opponent Tejashwi Yadav.
Despite being in alliance with the BJP, Nitish is regarded as a hardcore Mandal protagonist and in private conversations, while comparing Lalu Prasad Yadav with Nitish Kumar, rabid upper caste sections in Bihar, including those sympathetic to the now-defunct Ranvir Sena, a private army of the land owning caste, openly say that from the upper-castes’ point of view, Nitish was more harmful than Lalu. ‘Nitish Kumar, through his carefully crafted reservation policy at the Panchayat, Block and district levels, hit us in the belly’, is the common refrain.
Caste based census is not the only card being played by Nitish. The Bihar CM is also on record saying he favoured ‘one nation, one electricity tariff’, which is seen not only mocking BJP’s slogans of ‘one nation, one election’ and ‘one nation, one tax’ but also as an audacious assertion of authority.
As if that was not enough, the politically loaded meeting between Ashok Chaudhary, Nitish’s blue eyed boy, and CPI’s poster boy, sedition case accused Kanhaiya Kumar, whom BJP leaders taunt as one of the leaders of the ‘Tukde tukde gang’, has not gone unnoticed. Despite Kanhaiya and Nitish being on opposing sides of the political divide, they are known to share cordial relations and mutual respect and admiration. The Bihar CM is reported to have personally intervened to facilitate the JNU Students’ Union ex-President’s political yatra in the state. In return Kanhaiya Kumar has never been irreverent towards the chief minister.
The inordinate delay in the expansion of the Nitish cabinet also confirmed the strained nature of the alliance. Since BJP has shabbily treated its oldest allies like Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, people close to Nitish Kumar say the Bihar CM is under no illusion on the nature of the alliance - an alliance of compulsion like in an incompatible marriage.
Contrary to earlier expectations, the two BJP Dy CMs too have not so far publicly asserted their authority. The duo, in any case are together no match for Sushil Modi, who as Deputy CM was once Nitish’s favourite colleague.
Also BJP, which is more than eager to openly hug Chirag Paswan, Nitish Kumar has given enough signals that for him Chirag remains a pariah. He opposed Paswan’s formal entry into the NDA and Paswan Jr, despite being invited, stayed away from a NDA meeting in Delhi.
His PM ambition effectively stymied, Nitish Kumar is seen to have reached a point where he has little to gain and almost nothing to lose; and as such he can afford to cause bruises to the extra-large BJP ego.
However, all this does not mean that there is any immediate threat to the coalition. Much will depend on the Bengal election outcome and if BJP wins Bengal, it will certainly not be good news for Nitish. If it falters in Bengal, then all bets on Bihar will be off.
Views are personal