Will an RJD-Congress-Left Alliance Ride the Anti-Incumbency Wave in Bihar?

Left parties are currently in talks with RJD leaders, and an alliance appears to be in the making.

Patna: Anti-incumbency against the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar seems to have inspired the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led Grand Alliance and the Left parties to unite, and halt the split of anti-ruling establishment votes in the state.

The state’s Left parties – CPI-ML-Liberation, CPI and CPI(M) – had initial rounds of dialogues with the state RJD chief, Jagdanand Singh, on August 26. Sources said that both camps – RJD-Congress and the Left parties – have agreed, in principle, to be part of a broader Grand Alliance against the Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party combine.

RJD spokesman Mritunjay Tiwary said, “The RJD and the Left are natural friends. We have worked together in the past. We will work together again to defeat the fascist forces.” The CPI(ML)-Liberation’s Bihar office secretary, Kumar Parvez, too said, “The Left parties are in a position to influence the results at least in 50 assembly seats in Bihar. We are hopeful that Left parties will join the Grand Alliance for the upcoming assembly elections due ahead of November 29 in the state.”

In fact, both the RJD-Congress and the Left parties had initiated efforts to work together against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but it did not work out at the end. The RJD refused to withdraw its candidate, Tanveer Hassan, in Begusarai where the CPI had fielded Kanhaiya Kumar. BJP’s Giriraj Singh ending up winning this seat, which had witnessed a triangular contest.

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Though the CPI-CPI(M) could not be a part of the Grand Alliance in 2019, the RJD had left the Arrah seat for the CPI(ML)-Liberation and the latter had left the Pataliputra seat for Lalu Prasad’s daughter, Misa Bharti. The BJP’s Ram Kripal Yadav, who had switched over from the RJD in 2014, retained the Pataliputra seat.

It’s believed that Lalu Prasad’s heir apparent, Tejashwi Yadav perceived Kanhaiya Kumar – a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University equipped with eloquence and flair to attract the masses – as a “threat” to Tejaswhi’s rise, and he influenced his father against supporting Kanhaiya’s candidature.

The RJD is projecting Tejashwi as its chief ministerial candidate. But sources in both the RJD and the Left revealed that the issue of the chief ministerial candidate wouldn’t come in the way of a broader alliance between the Left and the RJD. Kanhaiya is now a national council member of the CPI, which is far more interested in defeating the BJP than in arguing of the chief ministerial face with other opposition parties.

Jagadanand Singh – who has been authorised by the RJD to talk t0 the Left parties – has said, “The RJD, under the stewardship of Tejashwi, is willing to accept Left parties in the Grand Alliance.” What appears to have created reasonably healthy climate for RJD-Left unity is also the realisation that they can’t defeat the Nitish-led NDA – equipped with enormous resources and power – unless they put up united fight.

Sources in the Left also revealed that Kanhaiya, for the time being, is lying low for strategic reasons, particularly after the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi approved his prosecution in sedition cases. Kanhaiya might be interested in building up cadres and reviving the CPI in Bihar, rather than entering the assembly poll fray. Sources said that Kanhaiya would be the “star campaigner” for all Left parties in Bihar, and he might campaign for the RJD, Congress and other partners of the Grand Alliance too, if invited.

It’s a fact that the CPI, which had a formidable presence and base in Bihar till the early 1990s, has lost much of what it had. The only Left party which has somewhat retained its base in the state is the CPI(ML)-Liberation, which has three MLAs in the Bihar assembly. So powerful was the CPI in Bihar that it was the main opposition party in the assembly in the 1970s, with Sunil Mukherjee as the leader of opposition.

Both international and national developments worked towards the fall of the Left in Bihar. The fall of the USSR in the early 1990s deprived the party of financial and logistical support, which caused the closure of Janshakti – its mouthpiece publication in Bihar. The party’s ambivalence on the Mandal Commission report, vis-à-vis Lalu Prasad emerging as the champion of Mandal politics in the 1990s, caused the CPI’s backward caste and Dalit base to shift way. The BJP’s aggressive Hindutva agenda appealed to the upper castes, who were once vanguards of the CPI’s leadership in Bihar.

The CPI had an array of towering leaders – Chaturanan Mishra, Bhogendra Jha and Ramavtar Shastri, among others – who represented the party in the Bihar assembly and the Lok Sabha many times between the 1970s and early 1990s. But the party failed to replace its stalwarts, who passed away over the years.

The Left parties, however, still have disciplined cadres mainly in Jehanabad, Barauni-Begusarai, Mithila, Siwan and Champaran regions of the state. “The RJD has a good social base and the Left parties have cadres. If the Left’s cadres and RJD’s social base combine, it can create wonders,” said a senior CPI(ML)-Liberation leader.

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The talks between the RJD and the Left have, apparently, created anxiety in the Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and some other caste-based smaller parties. They fear that they might not get the desired number of seats if the Left parties join the Mahagathbandhan. Former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) has already left the Grand Alliance and is in the process of joining the NDA.

If the Left and RJD-Congress unite, they can put up a spirited fight against the Nitish-led NDA. Nitish faces huge anti-incumbency because of his mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis and overall failure on the fronts of employment, health and education. But the biggest positive on his side are the resources – money, muscle and machinery – he commands as an incumbent for nearly 15 years. On the other hand, with Lalu Prasad behind bars, the opposition parties woefully lack in resources and leadership to counter the NDA.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist and author of Gopalganj to Raisina-My Political Journey, an autobiography of Lalu Prasad Yadav. He has also written Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar.