There are two winners and two losers in the recent Bihar assembly elections. The victors were the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) Tejashwi Yadav and the BJP’s Narendra Modi while the losers were the Janata Dal (United)’s Nitish Kumar, who is the chief minister, and the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi.
Tejashwi heads the list because his party came out on top with 75 seats although it lost the election. The BJP, on the other hand, won the poll but was only the second largest party with 74 seats. Modi played a stellar role in his party’s and the ruling alliance’s success because there is little doubt that but for his popularity, they would have found the going tough.
If Nitish Kumar can be considered a loser, the reason is not only the fall in the number of seats of his party, the Janata Dal (United), from 71 in 2015 to 43, but also because it is clear that his continuance as the chief minister will be only because of the BJP’s pre-poll assurance since he is no longer in a position to call the shots.
Instead, it is Big Brother BJP which will be in the driver’s seat in the state for the first time in its political career. As such, no one can be sure that Nitish Kumar will be able to complete his term without any hiccoughs and will not generally be regarded as a puppet chief minister.
However, there are reasons why the BJP will be treating him with kid-gloves for the time being. Having lost three allies – the Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party – in the recent past, the BJP will be careful not to annoy Nitish Kumar lest he, too, should walk out.
But there is little doubt that the chief minister himself has become a much diminished figure compared to the times when he was not only labelled sushasan babu or a good governance man, but was also a standard bearer of the secular side before he switched to the BJP. It is that reputation of his which has persuaded the Congress’s Digvijay Singh to invite him back to be among the secularists once again since his stocks have fallen in the BJP camp.
If Nitish Kumar has lost his footing, the unlikely hero of the moment is the 31-year-old Tejashwi who was considered a novice before the elections with neither experience nor a vote-catching appeal. Yet, belying all negative perceptions, Tejashwi succeeded in electrifying the masses so much so that the surging crowds at his rallies became the talking point of the political class and the media and must have given sleepless nights to the BJP.
Not surprisingly, the RJD has emerged as the No 1 party and might have done even better if its partner, the Congress, hadn’t let it down by putting up a dismal performance. As it gradually became clear during the campaign that the Congress was faring poorly, it was widely said that the aging Grand Old Party should not have been allotted as many as 70 seats.
It is believed that Tejashwi was unwilling to give the Congress so many seats, but was persuaded by his father, Laloo Prasad, who is in jail, to do so. In the event, Tejashwi has been proved right, for the Congress could win only 19 seats, thereby hurting the mahagathbandhan or grand alliance of the RJD, the Congress and the Left.Interestingly, the Left has punched above its weight with the CPI(ML) winning 12 of the 19 seats which it contested. The CPI and the CPI(M), too, won two seats each. If only the Congress was given fewer seats ~ say, 40 ~ and the Left parties more, it might have been a different story.
As it is, the story is that the BJP received the fright of its life before it managed to retrieve the situation with, as its critics say, a resort to its familiar tactic of branding the opponents as antinationals as when Modi told a rally that there are people who are unwilling to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai” or victory to Mother India or invoke Lord Ram’s name by saying, “Jai Shri Ram”, which is the BJP’s political slogan.
Notwithstanding its victory, which was a narrow one, the BJP is aware that it now facing a doughty challenger in Tejashwi, who may well become the opposition’s new mascot.
This possibility is all the greater because Rahul Gandhi has failed to make an impact in Bihar. Not only has his party proved to be a liability for the mahagathbandhan, his own rallies proved to be far less effective than those of Tejashwi.
Besides, it is not only in Bihar that the Congress has proved to be an embarrassment for its allies, the party has lost a series of by-elections in Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. In contrast, the BJP has won 41 of the 59 seats in the by-elections that were held in 11 states.
The fading out of the Congress would have been deemed a disaster for the opposition but for Tejashwi’s unexpected rise. Arguably, along with the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, the duo could become the new focal points of the non-BJP camp. Both the Bihari and the Marathi have a reliable base in their respective states and are not scared of taking on the BJP with caustic observations, especially where the Shiv Sena is concerned.
The country, therefore, is on the verge of a new brand of politics where two dynasts other than the Nehru-Gandhis can be expected to play a prominent role. It may not be besides the point to say that the two are quite different from their fathers. Both Tejashwi and Uddhav are more restrained in their utterances and outlook than Laloo Prasad and Bal Thackeray.
The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman