New lease of life for Janata unity

Ending days of uncertainty, Janata Parivar leader and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has announced that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will be the consensus chief ministerial candidate of the new political front for the Bihar Assembly elections scheduled later this year. A reticent Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad shed his opposition to Kumar’s projection under pressure from the other non-BJP parties including the Congress, which were keen on presenting a formidable challenge to the NDA.  

The reason is obvious. In 2014, the BJP alliance won 31 out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar. The other nine went to the RJD (4), JD-U (2), Congress (2) and Nationalist Congress Party (1). In terms of vote percentage, the BJP– with its allies Lok Janshakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party– bagged 39 per cent votes. But if the opposition had been together, they would have got 47 per cent of the vote, arithmetically speaking. The implication was clear: if they remained divided, the Bihar election was unlikely to throw up a different result.  The stakes are high for all. A defeat for the BJP will send out a message that the voters are no longer enchanted with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party. A defeat for the Janata Parivar, on the other hand, will mean that its recourse to the old plank of “secularism versus communalism” and its reliance on caste calculations are no guarantee it will stay relevant.

Kumar is of the view that his is the image of a clean, development-oriented leader and that no other non-BJP leader comes anywhere close to his standing. The BJP still prefers Modi as its mascot. The party is counting on the development work done when Kumar and BJP were together for nearly a decade. Ironically, the JD(U)-BJP coalition had ended the 15-year long Lalu-Rabri Devi “jungle raj” in November 2005.  When the JD(U)-BJP won in 2010 for a second term, it was seen as the end of caste politics and an endorsement of the development model.   But, with Kumar and the BJP parting ways after the ascent of Modi followed by the coming together of Kumar and Prasad, it looks like caste calculations are back in the reckoning. The issue of governance seems to be taking the backseat.  But two final hurdles remain: the ticklish issues of sharing of seats and selection of candidates need to be sorted out. Until they are successfully crossed, no one can be totally sure whether the realignment will last. From all indications it should, but you never know in politics.

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