Nitish Kumar saves the day for NDA in Bihar

Correct caste calculations and Nitish Kumar’s vote-catching abilities, along with Chirag Paswan’s stupendous victories, propel the NDA to the top.

Published : Jun 11, 2024 17:04 IST - 9 MINS READ

After his party won 12 seats in Bihar and the BJP failed to get a simple majority on June 4, Nitish Kumar has emerged as a key player in ensuring a stable government at the Centre.

After his party won 12 seats in Bihar and the BJP failed to get a simple majority on June 4, Nitish Kumar has emerged as a key player in ensuring a stable government at the Centre. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

In Bihar, where there are specific Lok Sabha seats identified as “Kurmistan”, “Chittorgarh”, and “Gope land”, indicating a particular caste’s dominance, the election result is a story of complex twists and turns, with some stereotypes broken and some reinforced. It is also a story of fluctuating fortunes, where a few emerged victorious after a long and tiring wait while others bit the dust.

The Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), whose leader Nitish Kumar had largely been written off as a drag on the BJP, proved all the naysayers wrong by bagging 12 of 16 seats it contested.

In the process it gives Nitish the opportunity to position himself as kingmaker at the Centre. In fact, the turnaround has been so startling that many are even talking of “Nitish as PM” again. The BJP won 12 of the 17 seats it contested.

Chirag shines

The late Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan scripted a rags-to-riches story, bagging all five seats allocated to his party, the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas). Chirag was left to fend for himself when his uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras hijacked the party in 2020 and, along with its five MPs, extended support to the BJP. For this, he was rewarded with a Union Ministry.

This reportedly happened because of Team Nitish, which was reacting to Chirag’s decision to field candidates in the JD(U)’s safe seats during the Assembly election held earlier, which many believe was done at the behest of the BJP. But Nitish became Chief Minister and the BJP abandoned Chirag. Come 2024 and the BJP, seeing which way the wind was blowing, quickly dumped the uncle and embraced the nephew.

Also Read | Will the smaller castes upset the NDA applecart in Bihar? 

Joining Paras in the political wilderness is former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha, whose Rashtriya Lok Morcha is now facing an uncertain future after his second consecutive defeat in Lok Sabha elections. Likewise, the high-profile “son of Mallah”, Mukesh Sahani, founder of the Vikassheel Insaan Party and former Bollywood stage designer, is in the doldrums after his outfit lost all three seats it contested in alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

Jitan Ram Manjhi, leader of the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) or HAMS, fared better. On three previous occasions, in 1991, 2014, and 2019, he failed to win the Gaya seat, a constituency represented by a Manjhi for the past 25 years, but won this time in the absence of any Manjhi rival. He is now eyeing a senior position in the Cabinet.

Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) chief Chirag Paswan greets supporters after gaining a massive lead in Hajipur, in Patna on June 4.

Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) chief Chirag Paswan greets supporters after gaining a massive lead in Hajipur, in Patna on June 4. | Photo Credit: Aftab Aalam Siddiqui/ANI

The Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation or CPI (ML) Liberation, an ally of the Mahagathbandhan, is back in the game after winning two of three Lok Sabha seats allotted to it. Coming from the margins of Bihar’s political landscape, the party fielded Sudama Prasad, who belongs to the Kanu-Halwai OBC community.

He defeated Union Power Minister R.K. Singh in Arrah, a region known for bloody caste wars between the Ranvir Sena and the Maoist Communist Centre. In Karakat, the party’s Raja Ram Singh, a Kushwaha, won in a triangular contest against Upendra Kushwaha and popular Bhojpuri singer Pawan Singh, a BJP exile who contested as an Independent. In the 2020 Assembly election, too, the CPI (ML) Liberation’s strike rate was above 63 per cent, winning 12 of the 19 seats it contested.

The Congress, which won a lone seat (Kishanganj) in 2019, has won three seats this time, adding Katihar and Sasaram to its kitty. Perhaps it can also lay claim to Purnia, where Congress leader Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav fought and won as an Independent after his party denied him the ticket. Of the three Congress winners, two are Muslim and one is a Dalit.

RJD seat count remains low

Surprisingly, despite a spirited campaign by Tejashwi Yadav, the RJD could win only four seats, although the victory of Tejashwi’s sister Misa Bharti from Patliputra against former Union Minister Ram Kripal Yadav, an RJD leader who defected to the BJP, will bring some solace. While the RJD’s Muslim-Yadav support remained intact, Tejashwi’s attempt to include the BAAP vote, a term he coined denoting Bahujan (majority), Agda (dominant caste), Aadhi Aabadi (half the population or women), and Poor, did not meet with the same success as Akhilesh Yadav’s PDA (Pichchda, Dalit, and Alpsankhyak) pitch.

From just over 6 per cent of the vote in 2019, the RJD secured over 22 per cent of the vote this time, while the vote share of the BJP dipped from 24 per cent to 20.5 per cent while that of the JD(U) fell from 22.25 per cent to 18.5 per cent. While the synergy of alliance among the NDA constituents resulted in a better strike rate in terms of seats, the emergence of the RJD as the party with the highest vote share shows that in the 2025 Assembly election, Tejashwi will be the chief ministerial face of the Mahagathbandhan alliance, and the NDA could have a tough time repeating its 2024 performance.

One of the reasons why the NDA could control the damage in Bihar unlike in Uttar Pradesh was its umbrella social coalition and because the BJP is the favourite of the dominant castes. Among the extremely backward castes, Nitish Kumar still has the most influence. Among the Mushahar or Manjhi caste, which falls under the Mahadalit category, the tallest leader is Jitan Ram Manjhi, whose HAMS is part of the NDA. Chirag Paswan is unquestionably the most popular leader of the Dusadh or Paswan caste, the most dominant and assertive Dalit group in Bihar. Besides his caste vote, Chirag also won the support of young voters across caste lines.

While Upendra Kushwaha was the best-known leader of the Kushwahas or Koeris, with the CPI(ML) Liberation in the Mahagathbandhan a sizeable chunk of the Kushwahas moved to the opposition alliance.

The Mallahs (boatmen), who largely moved to the BJP in 2014, still seem to prefer the party despite the last-minute alliance between Sahani and the RJD. In total, therefore, the NDA’s social coalition catered to a larger segment of voters.

Among the Yadavs, while two winners (including one from Lalu Prasad’s family) were from the RJD, an equal number of BJP Yadav candidates also won, including Union Minister Nityanand Rai. Similarly, two Yadav candidates of the JD(U) won, including in Madhepura, the land of Gope or Yadavs, which was retained by Dinesh Chandra Yadav.

NDA sweeps reserved seats

Of the six seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, the NDA won five—Paswan’s LJP 4 and JD(U) 1—and the Congress one. The reserved seat of Samastipur saw a fierce fight between LJP candidate Shambhavi Choudhary, daughter of the powerful Bihar Minister Ashok Kumar Choudhary, and Sunny Hazari, son of another Bihar Minister, Maheshwar Hazari.

In Aurangabad, which is called the “Chittorgarh of Bihar” (Chittorgarh is a Rajput bastion in Rajasthan), the RJD’s Abhay Kumar Sinha, a Kushwaha, scripted history by defeating the BJP’s Sushil Kumar Singh in a pitched agda-pichchda (dominant caste versus backward caste) battle. Since 1952, when the seat came into existence, it was always won by a candidate from the Thakur-Rajput caste.

In Saran, the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy retained the seat, defeating Lalu Prasad’s daughter Rohini Acharya. Rudy, who was defeated by Lalu Prasad in 2009 in the same seat, won it in 2014, defeating Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi. In 2019, he defeated Chandrika Rai, father-in-law of Lalu’s eldest son Tej Pratap Yadav.

Former Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had an easy win from Patna Sahib against Congress candidate Anshul Avijit, son of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, while in Sheohar, Lovely Anand, the wife of Anand Mohan Singh of the JD(U), defeated the RJD’s Ritu Jaiswal. Munger, a hotbed of the illegal arms trade, also returned a JD(U) candidate in Lalan Singh, who defeated the RJD’s Anita Devi, wife of gangster-turned-politician Ashok Mahto.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav during a public meeting in support of the Patna Sahib Congress candidate, in Patna on May 27.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav during a public meeting in support of the Patna Sahib Congress candidate, in Patna on May 27. | Photo Credit: Aftab Alam Siddiqui/ANI

In a caste-dominated State where Madhepura is always represented by Yadavs, Nalanda by Kurmis, and Aurangabad by Kshatriya Rajputs, Begusarai alone remained a Left bastion for years, known as the “Leningrad of Bihar”. But this seat, too, has turned saffron in the past decade, with Union Minister Giriraj Singh now winning it for the third time, defeating the CPI’s Awadhesh Kumar Rai. The RJD refused to give the seat to the Congress, which wanted to field Kanhaiya Kumar.

According to Congress leader Kishor Kumar Jha, the RJD’s obstinacy in not agreeing to field Kanhaiya Kumar from Begusarai and Pappu Yadav from Purnia cost the alliance the two seats. Besides, the alliance completely ignored the Maithili Brahmins in the Mithilanchal region, once a Congress stronghold. “The result has been the rout of the Mahagathbandhan in the region,” he said.

BJP plays it safe

In 2019, cognisant of the need to keep Nitish Kumar on board, the BJP agreed to an equal division of seats (17 each), even though the JD(U) had won just two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

The BJP, which won 22 seats in 2014, had been decimated in the 2015 Assembly election, when Nitish Kumar teamed up with Lalu Prasad’s RJD and the Congress. This year, after Nitish Kumar’s flip-flop, the BJP again decided to play it safe.

Outside the JD(U) office in Patna, a huge cut-out reads “Nitish Sabke Hain” (Nitish belongs to everyone). This invited sneers and was interpreted as Nitish Kumar’s felicity to change alliances. Almost the entire media and a majority of pollsters and analysts had written his political obituary, but after the results were out, a beaming Nitish was seen next to Prime Minister Modi, clearly enjoying the kingmaker role.

Also Read | Identity politics, polarisation, and development aspirations mark the electoral battle for Bihar’s Mithilanchal

With both parties having won 12 seats each, Nitish Kumar can play big brother in the NDA in Bihar, more so because the alliance needs his support at the Centre.

In the 2015 Assembly election, Nitish Kumar’s slogan was “Bihar mein bahaar hai, Nitish Kumar hai”(Bihar is cheering, it has Nitish Kumar). In 2020, his slogan became “Kyun karein vichar, theek to hai Nitish Kumar” (Why worry, Nitish Kumar is fine).

Now that he has again proven to be the NDA’s main vote catcher in Bihar, one wonders what slogan he will coin for the 2025 Assembly election.

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