The BJP has as much soul-searching to do as the Congress in the wake of the Bihar assembly election results. It just about managed to save face, and the problems are already spinning a web around the party.
It has no idea how to handle Nitish Kumar. The wily politician has no scruples or morals. When it comes to survival, the likes of the late Ram Bilas Paswan pale into insignificance. The BJP promised before the elections that Kumar will be the CM face of the NDA. If it had not so announced, there was a lurking fear if Kumar would switch sides. He already did that once and became CM; then switched back and still stayed CM.
Kumar is inevitable for now
For the time being, the BJP has no option but to let Kumar handle the reins in Patna. But it is also clear that all debts are off between the two alliance partners. Kumar also knows the BJP now calls the shots and even if he becomes CM, the state-level BJP leaders won’t allow him a free hand any longer.
Theoretically, Kumar always has the option to join hands with Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD. It was how Lalu Prasad’s son became deputy CM for the first time. Given his objective of resurrecting his dad’s party and wean it away from a Yadav-only image, the younger leader would have no qualms to say no to Kumar. That option always exists in Bihar.
A sorry lot
The Bihar BJP leaders are a sorry lot. For 15 years they have been patient for what they think is their right: the CM’s chair. What they got is the worst possible bargain: A weak, lacklustre city level leader, Sushil Modi, as deputy CM. What about the mass-based Bhumihars, Brahmins, Rajputs? Since 2014, they are carrying the party on their shoulders. Their sweat and toil was as vital as brand Modi in keeping BJP entrenched in the state. And what do they get in return? Not even a pittance.
But they can’t rebel. BJP tolerates rebellion only in the opposition camp when MLAs ditch a party and join the BJP to fell an elected government. BJP rebels, unlike rebels from other parties, have rarely been successful outside the organisational umbrella. So, like the deadwood Congressmen who never leave the party, the “impatient” BJP leaders have their hands tied. They are tongue-tied too.
Tejashwi, head of the largest party
If only the NDA had a formidable mandate, they would have had some extra leeway in getting things done their way. But Tejashwi as the leader of opposition and head of the single largest party will be a stumbling block. He will not allow his cadres to indulge in usual mayhem. No, for him that is a thing of the past because he is desperate to make RJD (a) respectful and (b) expand the social base of the party beyond Yadavs.
Unmindful of the inner truths, analysts are gleefully claiming that the Hindutva party ran through the opposition in Bihar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even talked of a special “silent majority” that is protecting him and the BJP. The party leaders paid compliments to the women of Bihar for supporting the NDA. For all this to be true, the numbers should be right, shouldn’t they?
Numbers tell a different story
The numbers pooh-pooh these assertions. No, Hindutva has not spread its tentacles across every nook and corner of Bihar. Jungle-Raj-RJD is not decimated in the vote share race in 2020. But the BJP is certainly wary of JDU which is why it took pains to cut it down to size.
Taking the vote share of BJP, JDU and RJD in the last five elections in Bihar, and without including other factors, this is how the chart looks (vote share figures taken from Wiki):
2014(LS): 29.4% Down
2015(AS): 24.4% Down
2019(LS): 23.58% Down
2020(AS): 19.5% Down
2014(LS): 15.8% Down
2015(AS): 16.8% Up
2019(LS): 21.81% Up
2020(AS): 15.39% Down
2014(LS): 20.1% Up
2015(AS): 18.4% Down
2019(LS): 15.36% Down
2020(AS): 23.11% Up
Unless these figures are false, the case rests.
Now comes the crux. The issue of Dalits. The BJP is sleepless at present. Chirag Paswan of the LJP has turned into a millstone around its neck. Initially, the thinking probably was – can’t really assert because it is still speculative with the BJP hardly in a position to confirm – the LJP could be used to cut Nitish Kumar to size. But as the campaign for the first phase closed, they realised the RJD was surging. Handling RJD became a bigger priority than cutting down Nitish. But the strategy was probably already in execution and could not be reversed.
LJP is indispensable for BJP
Nobody believes the cock and bull story that the LJP is not part of the NDA in Bihar. Yes, technically it is not. But it is an integral part of the NDA. It remains a constituent at the Centre. And neither Modi nor Amit Shah can get rid of Chirag Paswan so easily. Because Dalit votes matter. The BJP is also aware of the resurrection of the Left parties and, importantly, the Marxist-Leninists. The Dalits and the lowest among them supported “Ma-Le” wholeheartedly. And in any case, as the reasoning goes among the greying beards in the BJP, Paswan is a charismatic leader, a young leader, has miles to go and can prove to be a dependable ally (till he learns how to fly). Why distance him?
When to ditch Kumar?
Looking at the big picture, the BJP has to take a call on when to ditch Nitish Kumar. On the face of it, he stands between the BJP and its total control of the politically crucial Hindi heartland states of UP and Bihar. There is an ego problem too. Bihar has always thwarted its attempts to flex its muscles; till Modi came in, that is. But as stated above, the repercussions might be costly.
As it is, the BJP has to handle crucial assembly elections in 2021. They can turn out to be a referendum on the BJP’s prospects for 2024. Literally. Look at the states: Assam, where the NRC and the CAA controversy began. A communal cauldron which the BJP hopes to win again. Kerala, the only state still red. Right from RSS head honcho Mohan Bhagwat everybody in the Parivar has been going to the state, but to no avail. Puducherry is a minor irritant.
No efforts spared in Tamil Nadu
Then come the real challenges: Tamil Nadu where the BJP ever since Jayalalithaa died has been assiduously trying to get into the scheme of things. It spared nothing in wooing the ruling faction of the AIADMK, but ended up realising that the Dravidian regional instincts are very strong and that the BJP would not go anywhere by using Hindi as a nationalist tool. Finally, West Bengal. Amit Shah is singularly focused on this state. How they would all want Mamata Banerjee to lose and their goons replace the TMC goons in the state? They have in the last three years completely polarised the state along communal lines, forcing Mamata to join the game. But tackling Brand Mamata is not as easy as annexing Uttar Pradesh.
(Views are personal. The author is a journalist, academic, blogger and impatient commentator on politics, media, democracy.)