Who Cares For Bihar?


At a time when north Bihar is depredated by floods, an annual calamity the region is geographically fated to brave, the defiance of Sharad Yadav in the Janata Dal (United), accompanied by a group of suspended, expelled and other disgruntled comrades, has brought the leading ruling party of the State to a state of precariousness. Following Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s decision to return to the National Democratic Alliance after the surfacing of a scam involving Lalu Prasad’s son and then Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejasvi Yadav, it is uncertain how many Members of Parliament and Legislative Assembly the party will be left with. It has expelled 21 already; Kumar, for all his craftiness, is too impatient with dissidence. On the one hand, the image of the “Sushasan Purush” was at stake, given the allegedly criminal tendencies of its former coalition partner Rashtriya Janata Dal. Kumar, who might have nursed the ambition of being a so-called Third Front’s prime ministerial candidate, come 2019, dumped the idea as it was also essential that he remained, in public perception, not only tolerant but also untainted for a pan-Indian acceptance. No wonder, he declared right after his ‘ghar wapsi‘ that Modi was now invincible. On the other hand, this very leader had wrestled with the bogey of a ‘communal’ Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate at that stage, in 2014, and then the Bihar election in the next year was contested so bitterly that a bunch of pseudo-secular politicians had begun feeling more at home in the JD(U) of the period 2014-17. They cannot live in the company of Modi, let alone as his subordinate.

The dilemma that Sharad Yadav faces is personal in more manners than one. His resignation would cost his Rajya Sabha membership ― he has been stripped of the status of JD(U)’s leader in the Upper House already ― so, he is desperately creating an atmosphere where the party leadership will be forced to expel him. The Sajha Virasat Bachao Sammelan (Meet to Save a Shared Legacy) that he convened for Thursday, egged on by Ali Anwar Ansari of his faction, shows he now wishes to fill the void that Kumar has left in the opposition camp by exploiting the additional advantage of being a Yadav, the identity Lalu Prasad had ridden on, helped in ample measure by Muslims of Bihar. However, while Lalu’s brush with the law wouldn’t let him return to direct participation in electoral politics in the foreseeable future, his family wouldn’t relinquish its dynastic claim. Thus, Sharad Yadav’s parleys betray not only his utter callousness towards the thousands rendered homeless by inundation but also his myopia in politics. Whereas the M-Y combine gives a party a headstart in an election, with a 26% base taken for granted, a majority of Biharis will feel neglected in this coalition of convenience that wouldn’t be headed by a clean Kumar who had endeared to the voters as the chief ministerial candidate of the Mahagathbandhan in 2015. Nationally, Sharad Yadav does not enjoy the goodwill of Kumar; in Bihar, he does not have the charm of Lalu. A far cry from being in the next Lok Sabha election what the Bihar Chief Minister could have been had he not returned to the NDA, Sharad Yadav will soon have to eat a humble pie, unable to hold the my--is-better-than-your-communalism brigade together in the event of the JD(U) splitting formally.

Seventy-four per cent of a Bihar, including Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs, might stand with Nitish Kumar as BJP president Amit Shah has changed his approach towards the demographic divides. The national party now has its own outreach programme rather than hangers-on like Ramvilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi; that made all the difference between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh results. Anyway, numerical popularity was never an issue with the shrewd Kurmi leader. Throughout the 17 years of JD(U)’s partnership with the BJP in the alliance’s first innings, he always managed to extract the privileges he coveted from a partner that was electorally more successful. He stayed the chief minister even in the Mahagathbandhan government where the RJD was a larger partner. To cement his status, Kumar will now extract that ever-elusive special package for Bihar and tom-tom it before the people, claiming that his decision of realignment was for their benefit. As the floods have offered him a humanitarian ground, the opposition will sound insensitive if it alleges that Modi had lured him financially.

Ultimately, whether the JD(U) shrinks to irrelevance or, like Tamil Nadu’s Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, reaches the verge of merging with the BJP in the absence of numerical strength or an ideological raison d’être is immaterial. Kumar and Sharad Yadav’s destinies do not matter either. The act of a panic-stricken Indian National Congress summoning its Bihar MLAs to Delhi, wary of Modi-Shah’s suction power witnessed in Gujarat, is extraneous. Political analyses do little more than stimulate political animals; people are losing life and property in the Seemanchal region and beyond. Nature, in the form of the ever-changing course of Kosi and the network of Mahananda, Bagmati and Adhwara group of rivers, Gandak, Budhi Gandak, Sakri, Kamla-Balan, and also Ganga, throw a perennial challenge to humanity in the region. The threat is unfortunately met with ad hoc rehabilitation, compensation and a dreaded wait for the next year’s deluge when the endemic situation warrants a long-term scientific approach. Nitish Kumar, in all likelihood, will get some money from the Centre for the relief of the distressed. What is Sharad Yadav offering, beyond his own esurience, to the devastated destitute?

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