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Battleground Bihar: Key Election Strategies

October 3, 2015

Strategy is made to achieve a long-term goal. Often, it is related to planning of military operations. After all, winning or losing a war determines the fate of a nation! Strategy is important for one’s survival, developing one’s career, enterprise, and even for country’s overall development. The scope of strategy is overarching and elections are no exception. They demand meticulous planning since they are no less significant than wars. It is the case in 2015 Bihar assembly elections.

Political Alliances and Their Strategies for Bihar Elections

For months, political parties have engaged themselves to work out a winning strategy for elections in Bihar – a survival battle for the state icons Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, and a prestige issue for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, particularly, after the drubbing at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi state elections in February 2015.

What’s the Poll Strategy Adopted by Nitish-Lalu Duo?

The word ‘long-term’ is the key in defining strategy. Yet, the essence of any strategy lies in its success. Consider Nitish. His strategy to contest the elections as a sitting chief minister when all state resources are presumably under his command has only put him in trouble. His move to remove Jitan Ram Manjhi – a Mahadalit that was Nitish’s very own creation – prior to the elections only resulted in Manjhi splitting the ruling Janata Dal (United) to form his own Hindustani Awam Morcha and joining hands with the arch rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Earlier too, Nitish’s strategy of stepping out of his alliance with the BJP months before the last general elections boomeranged as his party fared disastrously in Bihar and could win only two Lok Sabha seats. Thereafter, he joined hands with Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress irrespective of the fact that both he and Lalu were products of anti-Congressism. Though Lalu did join the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, even his strategy failed to yield the desired result and he was left to fend for himself by the Congress when he was found guilty in the Fodder Scam. The Congress had then rejected an ordinance in 2013, which could have provided protection to Lalu from being disqualified from contesting elections after his conviction. As for the Congress, no strategy seems to be working for it anywhere in the country and it has no other option than to stick to Nitish and Lalu for a piggyback ride in Bihar. That it is given just 41 of the 243 seats to contest by Nitish and Lalu – who among themselves share 101 seats each – speaks enough of the Congress’ downfall.

This time, it seems that the only strategy for Nitish-Lalu duo is to check the BJP’s progress in Bihar. Hence, the Congress is no more untouchable for Nitish. Yet, the singular motive of halting the progress of the BJP could not be the rallying point for others to join the alliance. A strategic move was to set up a grand alliance or Mahagathbandhan of “like-minded” parties against the BJP. However, internal conflicts and over-reaching ambition of leaders meant that the Samajwadi Party and Nationalist Congress Party – neither of the two has much say in Bihar politics – stepping out of the grand alliance at the very last minute to form a Third Front. In the process, they also roped in the Jan Adhikar Party Loktantrik of Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav—who, incidentally, was eyeing the NDA and even met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, Pappu Yadav was sidelined, ostensibly, because of his chequered past.

Nitish’s oscillations could well be summed up to be a failed strategy wherein he has migrated from his development agenda – that catapulted him to seat of power twice in succession since 2005 – to caste-based politics dominated by Lalu’s Muslim and Yadav card. The preponderance of Yadav and Muslim candidates – 64 Yadav and 33 Muslim contestants fielded this time by the Mahagathbandhan – combined with the fact that at least 75 per cent of the 134 candidates who represent the backwards, belong to only three castes – Yadavs, Kushwahas and Nitish’s own Kurmi. If the strategy is to continue ruling Bihar along caste and community line, it is not good for state’s development. Does it also signify that Nitish’s development agenda of the past was propelled only by his association with the BJP?

Unlike the BJP, which seems strategising well in this elections despite internal feuds (or short term irritants), the Mahagathbandhan has more than one problems. Consider how Lalu’s strategy to beat BJP’s ‘Parivartan Raths’ with ‘Tamtams’ in June this year was torpedoed by the animal rights body PETA. Nitish’s attempt to canvass through cycle to counter BJP’s rath, too, proved a non-starter as superior technology prevailed.

Failed Long-term Strategies Lead to Reactionary Politics

The failure of long-term strategies for Bihar elections seems to have resulted in adhocism and reactionary politics. A desperate Nitish or Lalu now miss no chance to react to their rivals – whether the ‘DNA’ barbs or the special package of Rs. 1.25 lakh crore announced for Bihar by Narendra Modi. Their ephemerality is being proved as no further voice on ‘DNA’ or package is being raised this election.

In the process, the only long-term strategy that still stands for the Mahagathbandhan is the decision to stick to Nitish as its chief ministerial choice. Given the fact that the Mahagathbandhan has split and Lalu cannot contest elections, only Nitish remains the tallest leader of the Mahagathbandhan, especially, when the Congress – another alliance partner – is also battling for its survival. Besides, the Mahagathbandhan does not have any pronounced strategy even to thwart the impending threats of division of its vote base by the Third Front and the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which is making its debut in Bihar elections and has strategically decided to contest 24 seats in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region, as well. This brings the focus on the BJP-led NDA.

Is NDA Strategically Ahead of Mahagathbandhan?

As a strategy it not only managed its Dalit and Backward allies well and deftly negotiated with them over seat sharing, it also broadened the Dalit/Mahadalit base by bringing Manjhi to the NDA fold. Its decision to remain away from controversial figures such as Pappu Yadav and at the same time give considerable representation to Yadavs (22 in all) appeared to be a well-thought-out plan to beat Lalu in his own game of caste-based politics. The strategy to play the development card to stress on ‘Parivartan’ (Change), too, is part of the strategy that has helped the party reap a rich harvest in Bihar in the recent past.

Yet, its own leaders have always proved to be the stumbling blocks for the BJP. The party’s national president Amit Shah’s camping in Bihar could be crucial and well mitigate the issue of dissidents within the party.

The party, despite provocation from Nitish and Lalu, has stuck to its decision of not projecting any CM candidate and contest by presenting PM Modi as its mascot. Yet, it has been conscious enough to make it loud and clear that the next CM, if it comes to power, will be from the Other Backward Castes that today dominate Bihar’s votes.

In the final analysis, it does look that BJP is strategically well ahead of the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. But strategies can fail and ad hocism can prevail. After all, both Nitish and Lalu are heavyweights in Bihar politics and proven mass leaders as well!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

I am a journalist, educationist and filmmaker with over twenty years of experience in the media industry. I have worked in different capacities in all formats (print, television and web) in prestigious media organizations in India and abroad. As a journalist I have covered social issues, natural calamities, successive state assembly as well as parliament elections since 1989, government offices, Indian political parties, state legislative assemblies as well as Indian Parliament.

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