New Delhi,Anikendra Sen: Nitish Kumar has clearly emerged as the Man of the Moment. Predictably, sections of the media are already describing him as a potential prime ministerial candidate of a united anti-BJP or opposition combine. A three-time winner, Teflon coated and somewhat blow-dried, he has led the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan to victory, stopped the Modi-Shah juggernaut in its tracks and proved that the Delhi election results were no fluke.
Supporters of the Janata Dal (United) party celebrate after learning of the initial election results at their party office in Patna, India, November 8, 2015. Reuters
Truth be told, the battle for Bihar was primarily fought along the old Mandal vs Kamandal lines with vague attempts to cover the shrill rhetoric with words like “Development” and “Employment.” Some might say the battle has seen the re-emergence of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s famous M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) combine but it would be both stupid and dangerous to take this beyond a point. Caste and communal combinations are no substitute to a non-sectarian polity. Ironically, the two main protagonists in the fray, Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi, could well reinforce this point. Both are part of relatively small social cluster groups. Nitish Kumar is Kurmi, a caste that accounts for just 4 per cent of Bihar’s total electorate. Modi himself is a ghaunchi from Gujarat, the equivalent of Telis in Bihar, a backward community which forms just 3.1 per cent of Bihar’s electorate. In sheer numerical caste terms, neither should have been anywhere on the political horizon. Yet one is the Prime Minister of India and the other a three time Chief minister who has just bested the PM in the electoral game. In other words, both Kumar and Modi from relatively small communities have been able to move ahead onto a much larger platform. Shorn off the patina of caste and community doesn’t this suggest an India that is moving forward on a platform of development or must it always be translated in subnational terminology?
Nationally, the Bihar results must inevitably lead to a sharply and clearly divided polity: the BJP & friends vs the rest with the anti-BJP forces encouraged to draw even closer together than ever before. There is Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal (elections next year), Kejriwal and AAP in the offing, Naveen Patnaik in Odisha (elections still far away in 2019), Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav from UP, Sharad Pawar’s NCP etc. At one time the Congress occupied the enviable position of the “party of governance” with all the others having to coalesce around the “Index of Opposition Unity” in order to dislodge it from power, the so-called anti-Congressism platform of alliances and grand alliances. It happened in more than 10 states of the country in the 1960s, the country as a whole (helped along by Indira Gandhi’s disastrous Emergency) in 1977, and again in 1989.
Times have changed since then with the BJP steadily outpacing the Congress through the 1990s to emerge in the pole position. It’s now more or less the BJP vs the rest with others having to coalesce into an index of anti-BJP opposition unity. Actually, this makes Modi’s task easier in some ways. Like the Congress leadership before him, he merely has to ensure that others don’t get together for too long. Sharp differences within the internal dynamics of the Opposition could well take care of this for Modi who just has to hang in there with a tad more than 30 per cent of voteshare at any given moment of time.
Narendra Modi was, undoubtedly, the BJP’s face in the Bihar battle, but he played Moses to a “cast of thousands” in what turned out to be the electoral version of a Cecil B DeMille production of the Ten Commandments. The entire exercise was micro-managed by party president Amit Shah from a now familiar “war room” in Patna supported by the BJP’s IT cell in Delhi with swarms of dedicated party activists spread all over the state. Cadres were drawn in not only from Bihar but from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Delhi and elsewhere. Inevitably, large numbers of them were not just party volunteers but members of the RSS as well.
The Sangh Parivar, whose cohorts were crucial to the BJP/NDA victory in the Lok Sabha elections last year and played a major role in the Bihar campaign, is no bunch of eager beaver reformists. On the contrary, most of them are antediluvian socialists. The Swadeshi Jagaran Manch is deeply suspicious of foreign investments, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is openly hostile to labour reforms and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh does not support the land reforms required for the big push to Modi’s “Make in India” dream.
Add to all this are the many individuals within the Party: Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, MP from Fatehpur and Minister of State for Food Processing (made famous by her Ramzyado vs Haramzyado remarks last year), Sakhshi Maharaj, BJP Member from Unnao (promoter of the outlandish Love Jihad theory), Yogi Adityanath, BJP MP from Gorakhpur (there is no difference between Shah Rukh Khan’s language and Hafeez Saeed’s) and BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya (Shah Rukh Khan’s soul is in Pakistan). These are not part of some lunatic fringe but very much in the mainstream of the party. Not unlike the more exuberant of English Football fans, they can be calculated upon to create mayhem either in victory or defeat. What’s to stop such characters from proclaiming that the BJP defeat was a result of their voices being silenced? Will they now come out with a roar more full-throated than ever before?
Modi has, undoubtedly, lost Bihar. But he is still the Prime Minister of the country. By now he should have realised that winning an election on rhetoric and running a country on reality are two very different propositions. In one, you have to convince some of the people some of the time; in the other, you have to carry along all of them and others outside all of the time. Development may well be the rhetoric that wins elections, with subterranean social engineering as the icing in the cake to convince a substantial body of people some of the time, but to carry on after that is something else altogether. You not only have to be in charge but to be seen to be in charge. Mr Modi should know this more than anybody else in this country ever since he won the mandate in 2014. He won the election hands down, but does he govern the country? Does he call the shots? Can he push through the development and the economic reforms that he conjured up holograms and all nearly two years ago? Is he in charge of his own cohorts, leave alone the rest of the nation and the world at large, or is he merely heading a UPA III minus the corruption and plus the unnecessary add-ons of beef and rewritten history, caste and community, which have left the rest of the world at large and India’s industrial class less than warm to his invitations to Make in India? Which India? The One that eats beef? Or the one that doesn’t? The one that prays five times a day or rings a bell or attend Sunday Mass? This is no longer a question of what works better, bottom up or top down. Left or Right. This caste or that. That community or the other. It’s either the entire country or nothing. The Bihar election result has still left this an open question. The country elected Narendra Modi its Prime Minister in 2014 after years of uncertainty. Does he actually govern it or control its destinies at the end of 2015? The son of a chaiwallah, a ghaunchi, a teli, would he prefer to be a latter day Reformer or just another political hack saying one thing in public and doing something else behind the much detested corridors of New Delhi’s opaque corridors of power?
Editor’s Note: The writer Anikendra Sen is a senior journalist and chairman, APCA