Bihar’s political drama today—poachings, splittings, expulsions and switching sides—resembles a typical Shakespearean plot in three Acts. The twist in the tale is that the drama is neither a classic comedy nor tragedy, but simply a farce.
ACT I: Friends turned foes, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar versus former chief minister Lalu Prasad. Compatriots during the Jayaprakash Narayan movement, today the two are sworn enemies. While Nitish splits Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and attempts to walk away with 13 MLAs, Lalu manages to grab back nine of the straying flock and with characteristic bluster and bravado challenges the Assembly Speaker for “unfair partisanship” after screaming “et tu Brute”! The split strategy proves to be a game-changer: A fodder scamster, debarred from contesting elections for six years, Lalu is suddenly all over the media winning public sympathy. A down and out Lalu today appears on a comeback trail. Conclusion: Nitish’s splitting strategy misfires.
ACT II: Tit for tat. While Nitish is overambitiously forming the Third Front in Delhi to challenge BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Lalu and the BJP inspire and instigate rebellion within Janata Dal (United) camp. As a result the JD(U), not so united anymore, is forced to expel five leaders, four of them Lok Sabha MPs and an outgoing Rajya Sabha MP, Shivanand Tiwari—at one time Lalu’s right-hand man. Two of those rebel MPs have made a beeline for the BJP and the other two are parlaying with the RJD. Conclusion: As you sow, so you reap. Slicing your enemy boomerangs for Nitish.
ACT III: Sleeping with the enemy. Even while Nitish and Lalu are busy fencing, and Lalu is working out a pre-poll alliance with the Congress, Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan, feeling rejected by all three “secular” camp players, ends up secretly supping with the enemy, the Modi-led BJP. Paswan, who has managed to be a key cabinet minister in each and every government in Delhi since 1996, except UPA II, is a veteran in switching sides. Conclusion: You ignore pivotal players like Paswan at your own peril.
At the heart of the bruising Bihar battle are 40 Lok Sabha seats. The NDA, which included BJP and JD(U) before they split in June 2013, had grabbed 32 of those seats, 20 with the JD(U) and 12 with the BJP. Since Lalu allied with Paswan but not with the Congress in 2009, the RJD was reduced to four seats, the Congress won two, Paswan none.
The 2004 Lok Sabha results were a contrast: UPA I, including Lalu, won 29 of 40 seats. Lalu’s RJD won 22. Congress bagged won three, and LJP four. The NDA was reduced to 11 seats.
Pure algebra of alliances suggests that in 2014, the RJD in pre-poll alliance with the Congress will have an advantage. While the RJD’s core support among the 15 per cent Yadav voters remains largely intact, its penetration among the 17 per cent Muslim voters is bound to increase given that the Congress is part of the alliance.
With its strong upper castes vote base and substantial penetration among the backward caste voters, the BJP, which has allied with Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), is likely to be also among the top two. The Modi wave in the Hindi heartland states will only help. All pre-election surveys predict the Bihar battle between the NDA and the UPA.
A farce aims at entertaining the audience through ridiculous, slapstick situations that are overly exaggerated.
Ironically, in farcical comedies, it is not the serious hero who becomes the heartthrob of the audience but the clown, the joker with his antics. When it comes to clownish buffoonery, there is no match to Lalu Prasad.
So by walking away with RJD’s 13 MLAs, Nitish’s actions which were aimed to appear as a masterly stroke of Machiavellian politics by a victor appeared more like a cheap shot, a backstab, against a former university days bum-chum. Despite Nitish’s poker-faced reaction, the audience saw through the game.
Tiwari, at one time a confidant of Nitish, attacked him claiming the chief minister’s feigned ignorance about the recent major split in RJD despite being the “sutradhaar” (narrator) of the event.
“The mover and instigator of the RJD split rather politely told the press and the public that he (Nitish) is innocent and ignorant about the event. I wish to salute his duplicitous dictatorial politeness,” asserted Tiwari.
A development pioneer, Nitish overnight appeared unheroically and desperately trying to cobble together a majority in the Bihar assembly to simply politically survive given his government’s minority status. Lalu, who managed to gather nine of the rebel MLAs and marched with his characteristic flourishes and antics to protest against the Speaker’s decision to recognise the split group, won the audience’s sympathy.
“Ironically breaking parties for selfish ends was introduced in the Janata Dal (JD) by Lalu Prasad in 1997, when he split the RJD out of the JD by running away with 17 MPs out of 46, in order to ensure that his wife Rabri Devi becomes the chief minister of Bihar,” says Shaibal Gupta, Director of Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute.
Nitish claims to have introduced a new political culture in Bihar, that of political morality. Today, under crisis, Nitish borrowed Lalu’s, template of todo-jodo rajniti (split, break and build politics).
Nitish is likely to be the biggest loser from the splitting game. Lacking a core social base (except the not -so-dominant Kurmi-Koeri voters, Mahadalits and the Pasmanda Muslims) and having taken a suicidal risk in jettisoning his alliance with the BJP, Nitish, the hero of 2009 Lok Sabha and 2010 Vidhan Sabha polls in Bihar, faces a disadvantage.
Whatever gains Nitish might get given his development agenda, he is likely to lose from battle boomerang. Unless Nitish learns a lesson from his mistakes, he might end up in 2015 as chief minister of Bihar for only two terms.