By N R Mohanty
Will the unravelling of the Lalu-Nitish alliance be as swift as its coming together?
Given the flurry of statements by the flunkeys on either side, that may seem probable. But in all likelihood, it would not happen anytime soon, unless a death wish overwhelms either party or both of them.
The stability of the alliance is predicated on its necessity. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. It is the necessity of political survival that brought the two arch-rivals – who called each other names and tried to poach into each others’s den – together.
The ‘coming together’ resulted in an unexpectedly sweeping victory at the hustings; now staying in power would be a glue that would hold the alliance together unless they behave like the anarchic socialists in Janata Party government in 1978-79 (incidentally Lalu was a Socialist MP then, and Nitish was also part of the then Janata Party).
Socialist leader Madhu Limaye had single-handedly destroyed the Janata experiment by his uncompromising stance on the RSS.
Both Lalu and Nitish are the ideological followers of Madhu Limaye, but they are not cast in the puritan mould of Limaye. Nitish went on to cohabit with the BJP (and, indirectly, RSS) for almost two decades without any qualms. And, as everyone knows, Lalu can sup with the devil to acquire and stay in power.
Both Lalu and Nitish are political pragmatists. Nitish broke with the NDA because he knew that with Narenda Modi’s ascendancy in BJP, he would lose the support of Muslims, a majority of whom he had weaned away from Lalu by a series of symbolic as well as substantive measures.
When Nitish broke with the BJP before the Lok Sabha elections he had not bargained for an alliance with Lalu. Far from it. His anticipation was that because of his anti-Modi stance, the entire Muslim community — even the ‘forward’ Muslims who had stayed back with Lalu as the ‘backward’ Muslims led by Ali Anwar had joined hands with Nitish — would back him in the elections for his ‘supreme sacrifice’ of deserting the saffron outfit.
An overwhelming section of Muslims indeed backed Nitish in 2014 but that was not enough for him to protect his political fortune. His carefully planned social engineering — of splitting backward castes into backward and extreme backward and providing statutory reservation to extreme backward castes — did not deliver political dividends.
Even the revolutionary step of providing 50 per cent reservation to women in panchayat elections and cycles to school-going girls did not bring in votes from women voters on a large scale. Nitish naturally suffered an ignominious defeat in the 2014 general elections when his party contested without an alliance with the BJP.
Lalu, meanwhile, had been gathering dust after a spectacular three-term run of power in Bihar. In fact, his party had miserably lost the Bihar assembly elections in 2005 and 2010. His party’s losing streak in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and 2014 only reinforced the belief that all alone he was a spent force.
His conviction in a fodder scam case and subsequent disqualification appeared to have sealed his fate. His heart surgery gave intimations of mortality that he could not any more brush aside.
So both Lalu and Nitish were in a desperate corner. They had to join hands if they did not want to be swept aside in the Modi storm. But whether their joining together would translate in vote transfer on the ground – given the bitter hostility between the supporters of both parties over two decades -- was a big question.
But Lalu and Nitish decided to give the alliance a try as it was a Hobson’s choice for them. And to the surprise of the world – and maybe to even their own surprise – it clicked; they trounced Modi and the BJP.
Nitish became the chief minister for the third term; so it was a continuity for him. For Lalu it was a rehabilitation. In the 2010 assembly polls, Lalu’s wife and former de jure chief minister (when Lalu went to jail in fodder scam) Rabri Devi had lost elections in two Yadav-dominant assembly seats.
In 2014, his daughter Misa lost in another Yadav stronghold, giving out the impression that Lalu had lost his hold over even his own caste.
But the 2015 Assembly polls have brought Lalu to the driver’s seat – RJD has emerged as the single-largest party in Bihar and has thus become the bigger partner of the alliance. Though Nitish, the leader of the junior partner in the alliance, is the chief minister as per the pre-election agreement (Lalu is debarred from holding any constitutional office), the RJD leader has a greater informal say in the administration.
Lalu’s 26-year old son is the deputy chief minister; the other son, 28, is the number three cabinet minister, going by protocol. Lalu has made it clear that he would send his wife and daughter, Rabri and Misa, to Rajya Sabha this year.
It is a dream-run for Lalu and his family. He would not like to upset the apple-cart, unless, of course, overweening ambition leads to a death wish.