‘We are all students of Ram Manohar Lohia, who advocated a constant campaign against the establishment. Today, the BJP and RSS are the establishment,’says Nitish Kumar
Patna: It appears that a critical mass of the Bihar electorate wants to reward Nitish Kumar for the good work he has done over the past several years. Everyone this writer spoke to in the parts of Bihar going to the polls in the third and fourth phase had only good word to say about the chief minister. This, indeed, is what makes it difficult for the BJP to attack Nitish on the development agenda. Even Narendra Modi characterises Nitish’s regime as marked by 10 years of arrogance, but cannot publicly attack him on the plank of development. In a big public meeting outside Muzaffarpur, when Modi asked the crowd whether Nitish Kumar’s 10 years were marked by arrogance and lack of accountability, there wasn’t much response. This won’t be lost on the BJP strategists.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is an authentic Nitish wave in the central-northern parts of Bihar. No wonder, the BJP is very worried about the general sentiment generated during the first three phases of polling. The party’s anxiety is reflected in the manner in which it is bringing issues like India’s “adversarial relations” with Pakistan and China into the campaign for the last few phases of the election. In a public meeting outside Muzaffarpur, the BJP’s undeclared CM candidate, Sushil Modi, fumes before a biggish crowd: “The one man both Pakistan and China fear is Narendra Modi”. Why bring India’s neighbours into the campaign at this stage, you might rightly ask. It is an unmistakable sign of the BJP’s insecurity that it should do this in an election debate which is otherwise dominated by bijli, sadak, paani, caste equations and , in the current context, dal (pulses). Dal at Rs. 200 a kilo is on everyone’s lips. At the end of it all, the BJP just might get defeated by two sources of protein – dal and beef. Beef, of course, is linked to caste.
Elsewhere, near Raxaul, BJP president Amit Shah is doing what he does best – playing the polarisation game. When he said Pakistan will celebrate if the BJP is defeated in Bihar, he again betrayed the fact that the party’s desperation has reached newer highs. The Seemanchal region, which votes in the fifth phase, has a high concentration of Muslims. By invoking Pakistan, the BJP thinks it can consolidate Hindu votes across castes. The party’s attempts don’t seem to be bearing fruit as the electorate knows what is going on. Large sections of the backward castes seem to be in a mood to give Nitish Kumar another chance. That, in short, is what is happening in Bihar.
Lalu Prasad is complementing the broader sentiment in favour of Nitish by holding on to his Yadav vote base – which the BJP tried to break by raising the issue of beef but failed. The Muslims, emotionally impacted by the Dadri episode, seem to have put their fullest weight behind the grand alliance. Lalu’s meetings are attracting unusually large crowds with hundreds of youths enthusiastically clicking away with their smart phones. I had seen a similar spectacle only during Narendra Modi’s public meetings in Bihar during the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
Bihar is not turning out the way BJP had anticipated. A conversation with Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar suggests that both are looking at creating a new politics against the “Delhi establishment”. In his rally in Muzaffarpur district’s Meenapur assembly constituency, Lalu tells his audience that the real aim is to change politics in Delhi.
In many ways Bihar looks so much like a forerunner of events in national politics. Both Lalu and Nitish are talking the same language and the political grammar is converging around a larger strategy of creating a national front to fight the BJP’s. Hindutva agenda.
Nitish Kumar articulates this strategy cogently as he says, “We are all students of Ram Manohar Lohia, who advocated a constant campaign against the establishment. When Lohiaji said this many decades ago, the Congress was the establishment. Today, the BJP, and the forces its represents, have become the establishment. So we will forge a front against the BJP and its divisive politics.”
But doesn’t Narendra Modi also invoke Lohia? Nitish says there is no basis for Modi to lay claim to the Socialist leader. “Lohiaji would have been shocked at the nature of intolerance being spread by the Hindutva forces. Lohiaji wanted decentralised exercise of power but look at the way the BJP, after getting a majority in Parliament, started threatening various regional leaders who are elected chief ministers.” Nitish suggested that the sangh parivar’s DNA is to have a unitary political system of governance which is why Modi is so anxious to seize power in all the states.
Nitish Kumar’s thinking finds an echo in the manner in which chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal have endorsed the grand alliance in Bihar. After talking to Nitish, one gets the sense that a national alternative to the BJP constituted by regional leaders is fast evolving.
Lalu Prasad also endorses the Nitish line by suggesting the real fight will be Delhi. The fact that Nitish and Lalu want to focus on countering the Hindutva agenda at the national level is emphasised by a book lying on Lalu’s table. It is the former RSS chief, M.S. Golwalkar’s infamous book, A Bunch of Thoughts, which outlines the sangh parivar world view of Hindutva nationalism wherein non-Hindus must live as second class citizens in India.
Lalu holds Golwalkar’s book in his hands and says, “This is the issue I want to take to the people of Bihar and at the national level. So whatever the results of the Bihar elections, there are signs of a new kind of politics evolving which will be driven by regional leaders. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have a big contribution to this development.”