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Bihar: The changing picture of politics

February 21, 2015

Much like his contemporary Narendra Modi in Gujarat, Nitish Kumar had won the massive three-fourth majority to return to power successively for third time in Bihar on the Development plank in 2010.


Yet in subsequent years, development has gone for a toss as opportunism recasts its shadow on Bihar politics in no uncertain terms.

The last few days have seen it all that Bihar was earlier notorious for – return of caste-based politics; politicians discrediting Constitutional institutions such as the Governor and the Speaker; criminality in politics; political expediency; and personality-based politics.

It would be apt to take up each of these aspects separately to highlight how Bihar today offers to be a perfect case study of how decadence still prevails over development politics.

Manjhi tried to play the dalit card

Consider how the now deposed chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi tried to play up the Maha Dalit card to save his chair when his party, the Janata Dal (United) wanted him to relinquish the post for his mentor and former CM, Kumar. While Kumar himself is a backward, Manjhi flaunted the dalit card to portray himself as a victim. In a caste-ridden Bihar society, it is a fact that dalits are still an oppressed community and obviously Manjhi wanted to exploit his Dalit ‘credentials’ for political gains. His moves did succeed initially with the opposition BJP lending its support to him to ensure that “insult to a Mahadalit is not taken lying down”.

However, the BJP support was not enough considering that the present strength of the Bihar House was 233 as against the total strength of 243 and Manjhi needed 117 votes to survive a trust vote. Even though the BJP’s 87 MLAs came out in support of Majhi, he still fell short of the required number since the Nitish camp had the support of 130 legislators that included  99 JDU MLAs, 24 Rashtriya Janata Dal MLAs, 5 Congress MLAs, one CPI MLA and one Independent MLA, who all had  pledged support to Nitish Kumar.

Manjhi therefore quit before the trial of strength on the floor of the House on February 20 and there is much speculation now that he will float a new political outfit. But won’t it be based on caste considerations? Besides, Manjhi’s allegations that he as well his “legislators and even the ministers received death threats and even threatening messages”, indeed is a reminder of the criminality aspect of politics. There have been numerous commissions set up from time to time, and recommendations made to ensure clean politics. There have been legislative measures too – to ban politicians from contesting for life if convicted for certain stipulated period. Yet, Manjhi’s allegations do call for a re-look into the existing provisions.

Criminality and Caste-politics apart, the attack on Constitutional institutions and even the role of Governor and Speaker during the crisis have come under a close scrutiny and this is not the first time that such institutions are under attack.

Consider Kumar’s assertions that he had “circumstantial evidence” to prove that the BJP was “precipitating” the crisis in Bihar. He had singled out the decision of Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi – a BJP appointee – to prove his point. He publicly claimed that by allotting “sufficient time for a trust vote, the governor had actually opened the doors for horse trading”. The Governor acceded to Manjhi’s demand for secret voting during the trust vote, “although there is no legal provision for secret voting”.

Kumar went on to drag his bête noir, PM Modi’s name too into the controversy, stating that the prime minister had propped up Manjhi when they met at the first meeting of the NITI Aayog in New Delhi earlier this month.

The role of the Speaker, Uday Narayan Chaudhary, too was not above the board either, the way he notified Vijay Chaudhary of JD(U) as the Leader of the Opposition, replacing the BJP’s Nand Kishore Yadav, hours before the trust vote. Chaudhary’s reasoning was “Assembly Secretariat has to act according to numerical strength”. Considering the numbers, he claimed he had “no reason to deny the JD(U) the status of main opposition” when the party sought the status of main opposition. Chaudhary, though, is considered close to Kumar and the BJP wasted no time, slamming him for not bothering to consult the BJP before taking the decision. BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain even alleged that “The Speaker’s office has become the JD(U) office”.

It may be mentioned that both Governors as well as Speakers are considered neutral and above partisan politics, which at times have proved to be a notional concept. The Bihar events yet again fuel a debate on the roles of such Constitutional authorities.

Politics makes strange bedfellows – proved in Bihar politics too

Yet another aspect as highlighted during the Bihar crisis was the fact of political expediency. Politics make strange bedfellows and this has been visible everywhere. Remember the “right wing” BJP joining hands with the Left to support the VP Singh government at the Centre in 1989?

The ideological drift continues and opportunism remains the buzzword. Bihar again is leading the way with alliances and breakups being affected, that are devoid of any ideology. Consider friends turned bitter foes Laloo Yadav (RJD) and Kumar joining hands yet again for their political survival in face of a rampaging BJP – that had swept all polls except the one in Delhi in the last nine months. Yet, only about a year ago, the JD(U) and the BJP were partners in the government in Bihar!

Ironically the man responsible for Bihar’s plunge is none other than Kumar himself who inarguably was the man behind Bihar’s transformation to a better governed state. He as the CM had taken initiatives to develop the state by a slew of measures such as keeping crime in check, building infrastructure, appointing over 100,000 school teachers, ensuring that doctors worked in primary health centers.

Yet, as it is said, over-ambition kills.

Much like Modi, Kumar too had nurtured prime ministerial ambition and made moves to position himself as a likely challenger by:

  • Aborting the alliance with the BJP ahead of the national election since the latter had chosen Modi as its PM candidate
  • Initiating a Third Front, the coalition of 11 anti-Congress, anti-BJP parties, just about three months before the general elections
  • Directly targeting Modi, accusing him of playing communal politics

Finally when Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party won with unprecedented majority, and the JD(U) could get only two Lok Sabha seats, Kumar grandiosely quit as the Bihar chief minister on May 17, 2014, taking moral responsibility for the Janata Dal (United)’s poor performance in the 2014 general elections, even though he was not the president of the JD(U). He installed his close confidant Jiten Ram Manjhi – a Maha Dalit leader who belonged to the most backward rat eater Musahar community, to the CM’s chair but, as it is now clear, only as a seat-warmer for Kumar.

Obviously Kumar had erred grievously when he snapped ties with the BJP. It is to be seen whether his decision to return as CM – by splitting his own party – will help his party win a fourth consecutive term in the state assembly elections due later this year. In any case, he has won the initial battle. But at what cost?


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