At an election rally in Bihar on Monday, former chief minister and JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar tried to address the biggest suspicion voters have about the just formed unlikely alliance between his party and Lalu Prasad's RJD. "Our mutual differences are not as big as the communal forces," Nitish said. "We were together in the past and we are together now."
With bypolls to 10 Assembly seats in Bihar due on 21 August, the two former chief ministers have hit the campaign trail together, with both fighting public perception that this marriage is nothing more than one of electoral convenience. The two former colleagues parted ways in 1994 when Nitish floated the Samata Party. In fact, Monday saw their first election rally together in over two decades.
Just explaining the circumstances of their coming together appears to be taking up most of their energies, for now at least.
After all, as this Hindustan Times report explains, the JD (U) and the SJD have not exactly been a complementary pair. "Socially and economically, Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu represent two equal and powerful caste groupings. They have been rivals — socially and politically — and even inimical," the report says. Nitish is backed by the Kurmi caste, Lalu by the Yadavs. In Bihar's highly caste-dominated politics, the Kurmis and the Yadavs are equally significant, and they haven't ever been friendly.
Nitish and Lalu's strategy is not just to target the Muslims. The two hope to consolidate the Muslim, Yadav and backward caste votes. At stake are not just these 10 seats that the alliance is targetting -- Bihar goes to polls in 2015 and this Congress-JD(U)-RJD combine is their only hope to keep the BJP from sweeping the state. Still, this alliance is a gamble for the two former CMs, combined as well as individually.
For one, the Bharatiya Janata Party's superlative performance in the Lok Sabha is still fresh, the cadre still enthusiastic and the state leaders of the BJP keen to prove a point that the LS election results were not simply a flash in the pan.
More significantly, as the HT report points out, 40 percent of Dalits voted in favour of the NDA. Lalu and his family members lost the elections too, evidence that the Yadav vote had not remained consolidated. "Nitish’s Kurmis had been similarly splintered in Nalanda, where a defeat was barely avoided in the face of the Narendra Modi ‘NaMo’ wave," the report says. So electorally, just getting the caste mathematics right could be easier said than done for Nitish and Lalu.
What's more, each will be aware that there is some personal credibility to be lost if this math does not work out as they hope.
During his stint as CM, Nitish won laurels for his efforts to prod development and industry in Bihar, replacing caste politics with a politics of aspiration based on the promise of jobs, education and growth. Aligning with Lalu has immediately prompted his former deputy CM and BJP leader in the state Sushil Kumar Modi to state that this is "Jungle Raj - II".
Modi was referring to the lawlessness in the Lalu era, a 15-year period. "There's no doubt that Lalu made a mockery of the functional political and bureaucratic culture in Bihar and suppressed the aspirations of the Bihari masses," according to a report in The Economic Times.
If this combine does not click, rebuilding his personal credibility will be that much tougher for Nitish. This has to be especially true for a man who forced the comfortably placed JD (U)-BJP alliance in Bihar, which had ruled for two consecutive terms, to collapse over Narendra Modi's ascendancy as prime ministerial candidate. Personal credibility was all he walked away with from that mess, something he has already tossed into the stakes with this alliance.
For Lalu personally, a defeat now would be simply disastrous. The RJD, already riven by factionalism, could cease to count as a political force if it splinters.
Of course, the arithmetic works in the favour of the alliance. As BJP president Amit Shah said at the National Executive Meet over the weekend, first it was the Congress versus everyone else, now it is the BJP versus everyone else. The RJD, Congress and the JD (U) combine the impressive might of multiple voting blocs -- the Muslims, the Yadavs, the OBCs and the Dalits.
It was a split in these votes that led the BJP-Lok Janshakti Party alliance to do well in the LS polls, especially in western and southern Bihar. If anything can stop the BJP from consolidating its position, it would be the combined might of these groupings. The problem is, the caste arithmetic did not perform as planned in the Lok Sabha elections. Nobody would be surprised if Lalu and Nitish's original supporters fail to put their vote where their mouth is.
Updated Date: Aug 12, 2014 13:20:18 IST