Bihar 2010: Hard times for Nitish

The elections will be a triangular contest between ruling combine JD (U)-BJP, RJD-LJP and Congress

Bihar 2010: Hard times for Nitish

The battle-lines are now clearly drawn for the Bihar Assembly elections. The ensuing poll assumes all the more significance because in the present calendar year, this is the only State where elections are being held. All eyes will be riveted on the JD (U) strongman Nitish Kumar, who has been credited with taking Bihar out of the morass, and putting it back on the development track.

Poll analysts will be equally eager to watch Lalu, who, so far, has been berated for non-development in Bihar, but has assured that if returned to power, he would write a turnaround story of Bihar in a similar way as he did as the Union Railway Minister. 

The six-phase elections, slated from October 21 to November 20, will also be a litmus test for Nitish and may herald a new chapter in Bihar if the poll is contested on the development plank. Otherwise, the State is infamous for elections being held on caste lines followed by caste carnage.

But in the last few years, things have changed for the better. Nobody wants any bloodshed any more. The massacre unleashed by upper castes, or the killings by Dalits have now become a thing of the past. No riots, no carnage, or no major bloodshed were witnessed in the last five years.

The clearest evidence was provided recently when the Ayodhya verdict saw a lukewarm response from all the quarters. The indifferent response of Hindus as well as Muslims show they have moved much ahead from what had happened in 1989, when the country witnessed one of the worst communal riots in Bhagalpur during peak Ram Mandir agitation.

Make-or-break poll
The elections for 243 seats will be a make-or-break poll for Lalu, who has been pushed to the margins in his home State. After failing to stitch a grand alliance with the Congress, Lalu preferred the next best option. He tied up with his foe-turned-friend Ram Vilas Paswan, and, in a tactical pact, conceded 75 seats to the LJP, while retaining the remaining 168 for his party to contest. It is believed that most of the seats given to LJP are the rejected constituencies of RJD (where Lalu’s men can never win). But then, Paswan, who himself lost the Lok Sabha polls last year, knows very well that beggars cannot be choosers.

The biggest worry for Lalu, as of now, is the three-way split of minority votes. Had the Congress, RJD and the LJP entered into a grand alliance, the minorities would have voted the group to power, as it had happened during 2004 Lok Sabha polls. But this Assembly election, a large chunk of minorities are likely to vote for Congress, given the fact that its State leadership is headed by a young Muslim leader Mehboob Ali Kaiser, handpicked by Rahul Gandhi.

Besides, those Muslims who still swear by Lalu will show their inclination towards the RJD-LJP combine. But a third section of Muslims, who abhor the BJP, but has a strong liking for Nitish, will root for the JD (U) nominees.

Interestingly, Rabri is contesting from two constituencies - Raghopur and Sonepur. Her rivals aver that Rabri’s dual contest is an indication that Lalu has conceded defeat even before the battle has begun. But RJD sources say that in case Lalu comes to power and becomes the chief minister, he would like to enter the Assembly from one of the two constituencies. 

Another significant issue is the trend of upper caste voters. While the forwards and backwards jointly voted for JD (U) in 2005 elections, it will not be a cakewalk for Nitish this time. Upset over being marginalised after being voted to power, the upper castes have decided to throw their weight behind Congress, and teach Nitish a lesson.

Lalu’s advantage is that his MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination, to a large extent, is still intact. And as he himself admitted recently, “I lost 2005 polls because the Yadav fraternity became a bit lax. That’s why my candidates lost with a slender margin. But this time MY will bless me (MY in Bhojpuri means mother) as Yadavs have decided to vote for me in a consolidated form.”

‘Proud Bihari’
Nitish, however, remains unfazed. He says he has worked for everyone, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. “I have worked tirelessly for you in the last five years… given you an identity. Now you can proclaim you are a Bihari and not feel ashamed, like in the earlier days. You can travel with your family anywhere, anytime in Bihar. Criminals have been sent behind bars. Kidnapping industry has been shutdown. Now, it’s time for my remuneration. Give me another five years to take Bihar to new heights,” Nitish urged while opening his election campaign.

It is believed that his own castemen - Kurmis, besides Koeris, Other Backwards Castes (OBCs), Extremely Backward Class (EBCs) and a section of Dalits will root for Nitish. Add to this the BJP traditional vote base of Brahmins, Vaishyas and Kayasthas, who together constitute 10 per cent votes. The combination is lethal on paper.

Third angle
But the Congress could play spoilsport. Already on ascendance, Congress is the third angle in this triangular contest. With just nine MLAs (in the outgoing Assembly) to boast of, the Congress has already touched its rock bottom, and has nothing to lose.
Contesting all 243 seats, if it manages to even double its tally, the party could assert that it has electorally grown 100 per cent. And if in case it bags at least 35 seats, nobody can stop it from becoming a kingmaker, if not the king.


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