Bihar :A poll for 2025 


The 2020 state election in Bihar is probably the last one where the three Socialist leaders around whom the politics of Bihar has revolved in the last three decades -- Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and the late Ram Vilas Paswan -- will have direct or indirect influence. The demise of Ram Vilas Paswan and the fact that Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar are now veteran politicians, the next state polls in 2025 could see a new start in Bihar politics, presenting a fresh and fair opportunity to every party, large or small. The political parties and their leaders in Bihar understand this. Hence, while they contest the present elections, they have 2025 in mind -- and the strategies they have devised for 2020 seem to be aligned to their plans beyond 2020.

In the Mahagathbandhan, in spite of the fact that the exit of RLSP, HAM and VIP would impact the overall vote percentage of the alliance this time, Tejashwi Yadav pushed these parties to a corner to the point that they were left with no option but to leave the alliance. In order to compensate this to some extent, he brought in the Communist parties who have an influence in a small number of assembly constituencies. In RJD, any leader who criticized or challenged him, had to leave the party. In the family, Tejashwi Yadav ensured that he was declared his father, Lalu Prasad's political heir. These efforts could serve two purposes for him in the long run: no challenge to his leadership in his family, party and Mahagathbandhan and elimination or marginalization of the smaller (backward) caste-based parties in the state. Having fixed these two issues in 2020, Tejashwi Yadav and the RJD may look to re-establish themselves once again as the champion of backward politics in Bihar with probably the BJP as the other pole in the backward centric politics of Bihar.

RLSP chief, Upendra Kushwaha has chief ministerial ambitions and he has never concealed this. That is perhaps one reason why he had to leave the Mahagathbandhan. It is also true that, till now, he has not been able to prove himself indispensable for any political alliance in Bihar. It's high time he created space for himself in Bihar politics to build a loyal political constituency -- of course, among the numerically significant Kushwahas but also among other EBC castes, majority of whom have been with Nitish Kumar for a long time. In 2020, Upendra Kushwaha can neither be king nor probably even a kingmaker, but in this election he can definitely start establishing himself and make himself indispensable for one or the other political alliance in future.

Since its inception, the LJP has consistently maintained the limited but loyal caste-based support of the Paswan caste and with this support, it has often managed to be on the winning side and shared power. After staying confined to this limited support base for a long time the LJP, under Chirag Paswan's leadership, is aiming to go beyond this support base to be able to play a bigger role in state politics. Chirag Paswan has got it right that he can't grow as the No.3 party in the NDA. His exit from the NDA seems to be in line with his plans for the future. Bihar politics is largely bi-polar and at this time there is not much space for a third pole. Understanding this fact, he has positioned the LJP against the Mahagathbandhan and the JD(U) but not against the BJP. If this strategy works even to some extent in 2020, in future the LJP may pitch itself as a replacement for the JD(U) and be a junior partner to the BJP-led alliance in the state. That will be a more than welcome scenario to the BJP, which has always aspired to have a BJP-led NDA government in Bihar.

The BJP, which was once a larger party than the JD(U) (earlier the Samata Party) in Bihar, has had no choice but to play second fiddle to the JD(U) to stay in power. It had done poorly in the 2015 state election, when it did not have the JD(U) on its side. Since then, the BJP has increased its support base in Bihar -- but conscious of what happened in 2015, it is contesting the current polls with the JD(U) as the symbolic senior partner in the NDA and Nitish Kumar as the leader of the alliance in the state. But, the BJP has very clearly shown that it is not going to contest this election in the shadow of Nitish Kumar. It's very clear that the BJP is preparing itself to capture a larger political space in Bihar and would pitch for a BJP-led government in 2025 or even before that. And if it gets the help of a third party in achieving this goal, it may not mind returning the favour, if not directly than indirectly at a local level in certain assembly seats in these elections.

It is evident that while contesting the 2020 state election, every political party in Bihar is preparing and positioning itself for the future politics in the state. Therefore, the 2020 Bihar election will not only decide who will form the next government in Bihar but will also set the stage for future politics in Bihar.

(Rahul Vatsa is a researcher)


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