Political Implications of NDA's Second Defeat

Published : Mar 18, 2000 00:00 IST

THE Bharatiya Janata Party and the hodgepodge National Democratic Alliance have failed ignominiously to achieve, through Governor-aided political fraud, what they failed to win legitimately: a change of regime in Bihar's February 2000 Assembly elections. One of the strategic objectives of the Hindu Right over the past decade has been to destroy the pre-eminence of Laloo Prasad Yadav's political formation in the State that sends the second largest contingent to the Lok Sabha so that the path can be clear for establishing unchallenged communal hegemony in the Hindi-speaking region. Whatever can be said against the record of Laloo Prasad's decade-long rule (first, directly and, subsequently, through the agency of his wife, Rabri Devi), there can be no dou bt that his brand of politics has possessed one major and redeeming virtue - the virtue of uncompromising opposition to communalism as a political mobilisation strategy and, specifically, to the disintegrative politics of the BJP. It is this, and not wha t is attributed to a demonised Laloo Yadav in motivated characterisations of 'jungle raj' in Bihar, that explains the Hindu Right's implacable hostility to the RJD and its resourceful leader. To achieve its strategic objective, the BJP succeeded in formi ng an alliance with opportunist political forces, notably the Samata Party led by George Fernandes, and, more recently, defecting elements from the so-called Third Force such as erstwhile Janata Dal leaders Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. As in its st rategy for Uttar Pradesh, the BJP's anti-corruption, anti-'jungle raj' platform in Bihar had no compunction in making common cause with notorious criminal elements to combat Laloo Yadav's politics.

This approach seemed to pay big political dividends in 1998-99. Given the sharp erosion of the RJD's vote base demonstrated in two successive Lok Sabha contests and the continued marginalisation of the Congress(I) in the State, the widespread political e xpectation was that the BJP-led combination, now known as the NDA, would easily wrest power from the RJD in the 2000 Assembly election. Virtually every pre-poll survey and exit poll predicted that the RJD would be lucky to win 100 seats in the 324-member Bihar Assembly and that the NDA would be able to form a majority government. How the RJD, with support from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), but no thanks directly to the other Left and secular parties, upset a squabbling NDA's calculations and e merged as the single largest party, and how the anti-NDA arithmetic in the new Assembly closed the door legitimately to anything other than an RJD-led government has been analysed in detail and some depth in the columns of Frontline (see this and the March 17 issue).

But what bears political emphasis is that the RJD's relative triumph in Bihar was won, essentially, by focussing on the threat posed to India, to its secular Constitution and polity, and to its minorities by the BJP's nexus with the fascistic Rashtriya S wayamsevak Sangh and the dangerous agenda (evidenced by the Gujarat government's decision to allow its employees to participate in the activities of the RSS, and also by some notoriously communal administrative decisions taken by the BJP-led government i n Uttar Pradesh) of converting a secular India into a Hindu Rashtra. On the other side, the squabbling among the BJP's allies, which was an important cause of the NDA's election fiasco in Bihar, and the blaming of overambitious and egregious allies by th e BJP for the outcome, have served to sharpen the contradictions within an NDA that is clearly on the defensive on the RSS issue as well as on economic issues at the national level.

The other major implication of the NDA's second defeat in Bihar relates to constitutional institutions and relations, Centre-State relations in particular. Twice in the past two years (in September 1998 and February 1999), the BJP-led Central dispensatio n attempted fraudulently to invoke Article 356 to dismiss the elected State Government of Bihar - and failed badly in the attempt, for both constitutional and political reasons. Governor Vinod Chandra Pande's swearing in of a Nitish Kumar-led NDA regime, a grouping flagrantly short of the required numbers (even after the induction of criminal talent of an impressive variety), represented nothing but the continuation of political fraud by other means. No post facto rationalisation by the Raj Bhava n, no benefit of doubt given to the Governor, no excuses made for an uncertain and evolving situation can divert attention from the simple truth that the parliamentary democratic rule of inviting the leader of the single largest party, who also happened to be the Chief Ministerial candidate of the single largest pre-election alliance and the single largest post-election combination, to form the government was cast to the winds. There can be no doubt that Governor Pande, who made his 'discretionary' deci sion in indecent haste, after it became clear to the whole country that the RJD and its allies were being supported by the Congress(I), acted in collusion with a BJP pursuing its strategic objective and with a power-crazy NDA. That the Governor-licensed horse-trading did not take place in anything like sufficient numbers, and that the hoped-for split in the Congress(I) did not occur, speaks encouragingly of the political situation in Bihar and the country at large. But the Bihar experience also demonstr ates that, more often than not, the Governor in the Indian system continues to function as a partisan agent of the Centre against State rights and democratic interests. This larger institutional reality, as well as Pande's continuation in Bihar as Govern or, must be regarded as incompatible with federalism and democracy.

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