A leader without a mandate
Nitish ascends the throne of chief minister of Bihar for the fourth time in a row, but with a diminished stature, and under the shadow of a towering BJP.
The mandate given by the people of Bihar is rather tenuous and not emphatic. BJP has unseated JD(U) from the position of the dominant partner, but, thanks to a pre-poll assurance, it has been obliged to offer the chief minister’s chair to Nitish Kumar, whom the Biharis have no love for. Queering the pitch for the NDA, there are the two small parties, HAM(S) and VIP, who have won four seats each within the coalition.
As a party that has been mauled by the electorate and relegated to the third position in the 243-string legislature, JD(U) will find its leader Nitish Kumar operating as the chief minister with BJP breathing down his neck relentlessly. The unease Nitish will face is understandable. The two strong points that endeared Nitish to the voters were his good record in governance, and his ability to erect a big enough tent under which people from many minor castes and sub-castes and Muslims could find a secure place. With passage of years, Nitish has lost his sheen as the ‘Sushasan Babu’ and as the messiah of those at the bottom of the caste pyramid. Now, he looks as a leader whose glow has faded.
The NDA’s success with the numbers is due to Modi’s personal charisma and BJP’s astute organizational skills. Unquestionably, Nitish Kumar’s jaded aura acted as a ‘drag’ for the NDA campaign. BJP’s flip flop in backing Nitish during the canvassing added to his woes. No wonder, JD(U) returned with dismal numbers.
Some two decades ago, Nitish held sway over Bihar, and did treat BJP like an errant partner whose communal agenda he dared to publicly spurn. This election has reversed the situation. It marked a humiliating fall from grace for Nitish, who has now to look up to BJP as the big brother if he decides to be the chief minister. Quite arguably, BJP leaders feel the top post belongs to them, and not to Nitish Kumar whom the voters have rejected. Deeply aware of this painful reality, Nitish will go through the swearing in ceremony with drooping shoulders, and a mellowed spirit. He will remain a nervous and sulking chief minister, unable to govern effectively.
Going back to the campaign days, BJP had nothing to show on its ‘Vikash’ agenda, so it harped on the ‘worn-out’ topics like Article 370, Ram Mandir, Kashmir etc. It is apparent that these themes still have takers in Bihar overriding bread and butter issues. BJP’s bankruptcy of ideas was more than compensated by its formidable electioneering machine. No party could match BJP’s reach and resources. The Grand Alliance (Mahagathbandhan) of the RJD, Congress, and the Left did put up a commendable show, but failed to cross the finish line. Tejashwi Yadav, the young leader of RJD, can draw comfort from the fact that he has emerged as the leader of the largest party in Bihar beating the BJP by a few seats. In the run-up to the election, no one gave Tejashwi any chance of even putting up a minimally credible show, but he proved all the pundits wrong. The three left parties – CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML)—have confounded their detractors by their stellar performance. As the champion of the downtrodden and the vulnerable lower caste groups, they carve out a space for these voiceless people in the Grand Alliance led by the Yadav’s. It is no secret that the lower caste groups don’t bond well with the Yadav-dominated RJD. So, the Left brings more cohesiveness and inclusion to the Grand Alliance.
The fact that Modi continues to cast a spell on the voters is undeniable. Countering his charisma will remain the opposition’s greatest challenge as it has none to match his stature presently.