2020 was a year of change with new normals sweeping into our lives. Likewise, in the dynamic Bihar politics, a change is visible, as a new generation of dynasts emerges ready to aim for the throne and challenge the veterans, driven by the thirst to carve out a brand for themselves.
The two energetic leaders eyeing the top post this time — Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD and Chirag Paswan of the LJP — come from well-established political backgrounds that enjoy strong backing of caste-based vote banks, something that’s both quintessential and inevitable for Bihar’s politics.
While Tejashwi is the chief ministerial candidate of the state’s Opposition alliance comprising the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by the ailing and imprisoned Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Congress and the Left parties, Chirag is the face of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which is fighting the elections alone this time.
The complicated and intrinsic strategic nuances and the election dynamics this year would make it seem unnecessary to compare the RJD with LJP, for the Chirag-led party is widely seen as a vote-cutter for the JD(U). Nonetheless, the death of LJP patriarch Ram Vilas Paswan last month is expected to earn sympathy votes for the party.
Riding on anti-Nitish sentiments
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, known as the Chanakya of Bihar politics, has been at the helm of the state’s affairs for 15 years, manoeuvring through the political intricacies by carefully choosing the allies of the Janata Dal (United). But the resentment against him over his handling of the pandemic, the migrant crisis and the track record on employment and development is providing both Chirag and Tejashwi the ammunition to take on the JD(U) candidates.
Riding on these anti-Nitish sentiments, both the leaders are waiting for the November 10 results that would trigger a post-poll churn in state politics. They are also aware of the dilemma faced mostly by the upper castes, who want Nitish to go but the BJP to stay.
The RJD, the major party in the Opposition alliance, is contesting 144 seats, while the LJP, which is fighting the elections alone, has fielded candidates in 137 seats, mostly in constituencies being contested by the JD(U), in a clear bid to target the Nitish Kumar-led party’s vote share.
Modi’s Hanuman as the second fiddle
Chirag has publicly proclaimed himself as the ‘Hanuman’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, time and again claiming loyalty to the saffron camp, though the BJP has not echoed similar sentiments. Allegations are that the LJP fighting the elections alone is a BJP ploy that is aimed at targeting Nitish Kumar electorally. History testifies to the LJP’s keenness for a place in the Union cabinet, a legacy that Chirag is expected to carry forward after the death of his father Ram Vilas Paswan, given his frequent cries of loyalty for saffron masters.
His only resentment is towards Nitish Kumar. And for the BJP, which has so far been playing a junior role to the JD(U) in Bihar, cutting the chief minister to size with the help of a second fiddle, the LJP, does sound like a doable plan. Bihar is the only Hindi heartland state yet to be conquered by the BJP on its own, a task that it hopes to complete in 2020 with the help of Chirag, using him as a kingmaker.
In contrast, Tejashwi may not be Lalu’s Brahmastra in Bihar, but he is the best the jailed leader has got. Unlike the LJP, the RJD is confident of a strong voteshare, banking on the Muslim-Yadav alliance and even the youth votes. It was the single-largest party after the 2015 Assembly elections and, despite the setback in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where it failed to secure even one seat, the RJD’s voteshare did not dip below 15 per cent. Tejashwi knows his strengths and weaknesses and is well aware that 2020 is not going to be an easy sail but that it certainly provides enough opportunity for a sweep that would change the game.
Both Tejashwi and Chirag have been seeking votes on the development plank, with the 30-year-old RJD leader even promising 10 lakh government jobs. Chirag is tactically slamming the Nitish government, questioning the chief minister’s report card on Bihar’s development, while hailing its ally BJP which is in power at the Centre. He’s confident of a double-engine government of the BJP-LJP in Bihar, an ambition that has triggered a few smirks in political circles, but not a laughter since 2020 has been a year when predictions are getting defied under circumstances that are exceptional.
Lalu’s Ashwathama for an image makeover
However, the challenge seemingly remains tougher for Tejashwi who has to fight the ‘jungle raj’ (reign of terror) image of his party that was created during the rule of his parents, Lalu and mother Rabri Devi, both former chief ministers. In contrast, for Chirag, an emotive element due to his father’s demise is expected to add wind to his sails, as he is likely to earn sympathy votes.
In the end, the Tejashwi versus Chirag comparison results in only one conclusion — that with their targets different, it’s unfair to compare them on the same plank. The two leaders, both charismatic and heading regional political strongholds, are, however, yet to prove their political mettle, that too in the hotbed of caste politics and in the absence of the party patriarchs.
The Assembly elections in Bihar are being held in three phases. The first phase was held on October 28, the second phase is on November 3, while the third will be held on November 7. The votes will be counted on November 10. And then, the real game will begin, given that in Bihar, government formation depends on social combinations and changing loyalties.