This signifies that despite a wider anti-incumbency against the Nitish Kumar government, there were quite a large number of electorates that didn’t really want a regime-change. Kumar governed Bihar for almost 15 years, a state in which the polity is still deeply fractious, with various social groups and identities trying to get their share. Add to it communal polarisation, through which the upper castes appeared this time to try and get back to ‘ruling Bihar’.
This aspiration has become stronger ever since Ajay Bisht, a.k.a. Yogi Adityanath, a Rajput, was selected as chief minister in 2017 in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Rajput outfits such as the Karni Sena and the Hindu Yuva Vahini, founded by Adityanath, have been spreading their organisational and cadre base among the Rajput settlements in parts of Bihar contiguous with Gorakhpur, where the UP chief minister has been the mahant of the Gorakhnath Math since September 2014.
The Sushant Singh Rajput suicide issue, hitched on the plank of ‘Bihari Pride’, was sought to be raised, aimed at wooing Rajputs to BJP. No one took the ‘bait’.
In a way, this was an election that sought a mandate on the acute sufferings of returning migrant labourers. The issue was deflected by communalising the pandemic, in which sections of media once again did their bit. It was here that in the opposition space, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) Tejashwi Yadav showed his leadership mettle.
What many Bihar-watchers missed in this hyper-mobilisation of Yadavs was the still-palpable concern of Yadava hegemony among the non-Yadav shudras and dalits. The more assertive Yadavs were seen in Tejashwi’s rallies, while more non-Yadav subalterns rallied around Nitish Kumar by way of counter-consolidation. RJD may not have realised this. Muslims have been RJD’s ‘captive’ voters for a long time. Together, ‘M+Y’ (Muslims-Yadavs) constitute almost a third of Bihar’s population. In many seats, M+Y alone comprise 40%-plus of the electorate.
This kept RJD more complacent about accommodating members of other social groups into leadership positions within RJD. Former Union HRD minister Upendra Kushwaha, Vikassheel Insaan Party leader Mukesh Sahani, former chief minister Jitan Manjhi and others were not made any substantive offers like the deputy chief ministership. Although, given the prevalent ‘saffronisation’, these leaders may not have succeeded in transferring votes of their communities to the Mahagathbandhan as much as they may have succeeded in doing so with NDA.
Against this, BJP pitting the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) against JD(U) pleased upper castes. The anti-incumbency ‘aakrosh’ was sought to be dispersed, thereby nullifying its overall impact on BJP, and directed only against Nitish Kumar, not against its ally. LJP’s Chirag Paswan was a desperately willing pawn to be used for this, so much so that he didn’t bother to raise the tally of his own party inside Bihar’s legislative assembly.
LJP ended up getting a single seat. In this intricate scenario, RJD (inevitably) gained more at the cost of JD(U), benefiting from the divided house of NDA. It also benefited by greater Muslim consolidation behind the Mahagathbandhan — barring in the Seemanchal region where Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-eIttehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) won five seats. On the back of this performance, Owaisi announced on Wednesday that AIMIM would be contesting in West Bengal next year.
Given the widespread ire against the National Population Register (NPR)-National Register of Citizens (NRC)-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), JD(U), being BJP’s ally, was almost completely deserted by the Muslims. All its 11Muslim candidates, seeking reelection, have lost.
In this scheme of identity politics of castes and communities, it may not be unwise to doubt how sincere NDA — or, for that matter, the opposition — is about pursuing a ‘development’ and employment creating agenda.
Also, there is an apprehension that to accomplish the still-unfinished agenda of becoming the hegemonic political force in Bihar, BJP may prefer to pursue a mix of a communally divisive agenda for anti-Muslim majoritarian consolidation.
Will a weakened Nitish Kumar — if at all he is reinstated as the next chief minister — really be able to hold his own and have an effective grip on Bihar’s bureaucracy? This is why it remains to be seen whether Bihar has really moved on from basics such as road, electricity, drinking water, healthcare, education and governance, to employment creation in agriculture and industrialisation.
The writer is professor of history, Aligarh Muslim University