Eroding base

Print edition : March 25, 2005

Rabri Devi. - RANJEET KUMAR

FOR the first time cracks are visible in the formidable Muslim-Yadav social combination under the leadership of Lalu Prasad, which held sway over Bihar for one and a half decades. This is the most striking message of the 2005 Assembly elections in the State.

In all the elections that Bihar witnessed in the past 10 years - four to the Lok Sabha and two to the Assembly - Lalu Prasad's party - initially the Janata Dal and then the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) - garnered more than 28 per cent of the votes. It was drawn essentially from the combined strength of the Other Backward Class (OBC) Yadavs and Muslims, who account for about 13 and 16 per cent respectively of the State's population. The number of seats the party won varied from election to election, but the vote share never went below 28 per cent. Even in the 2000 Assembly elections, when a coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party fought against it (the Samata Party later merged with the Janata Dal-U), the RJD managed to secure 28.34 per cent of the votes polled.

After the creation of Jharkhand and the reduction in the number of Assembly seats in Bihar to 243, the RJD's vote share was estimated at 32.97 per cent. Hardly a year ago, in the Lok Sabha elections, the party led a strong political and social combination comprising the Congress, the Lok Janshakthi Party (LJP), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and got 29.6 per cent of the votes polled. The 2005 Assembly polls have undone all that.

In the February elections, the RJD lost over 40 seats it won in 2000 and its vote share dropped to an all-time low of 25.07 per cent. Its only consolation is that it emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly, with 75 seats. The fall in the RJD's vote share helped the principal opponents of the party, the BJP and the Janata Dal (U), to increase their seats. But the real beneficiary of the cracks in the Muslim-Yadav combine is Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP. The party, which got 8.7 per cent of the votes polled as part of the secular alliance in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, almost single-handedly bagged 29 seats and a vote share of 12.62 per cent in the Assembly elections.

Interestingly, the BJP and the Janata Dal (U) have lost in terms of vote share compared with the 2000 and 2004 elections, in spite of an increase in the number of seats they won. In 2000, the cumulative vote share of the Janata Dal (U) and the Samata Party was 17.55 per cent. In 2004, the Janata Dal (U) got 22.9 per cent of the votes polled. But this time round, though the number of seats it held went up by eight, the party got only 14.55 per cent of the votes polled. The BJP added two more seats to its 2000 tally of 35, but its vote share dropped from 14.2 per cent in 2004 and 11.75 per cent in 2000 to10.97 per cent.

The Congress, which won 10 seats this time compared to 12 in 2000, received 4.69 per cent of the votes polled. It got 8.56 per cent in 2000 and 4.8 per cent in 2004. However, the party had contested more seats in 2000. Among the smaller parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) bagged seven seats, though it has only 2.49 per cent of the vote share. The Samajwadi Party got four seats and garnered 2.69 per cent of the votes polled.

In short, the verdict has to be analysed as one created essentially by the depletion of votes in the support base of the RJD and the accretion of parts of it to the LJP. The verdict and voting pattern makes it abundantly clear that the principal opponents of the RJD benefited from this split, though the BJP and the Janata Dal (U) by themselves did not attract any additional support from the voters.

THE cracks in the Muslim-Yadav social combine are conspicuous in several constituencies in the RJD strongholds of Madhepura, Kishenganj, Purnea and even Lalu Prasad's home district of Gopalganj. The Gopalganj City seat, which went to supporters of Lalu Yadav in all earlier Assembly elections since 1990, provides a stark example of the party's downslide. This time round the seat went to the Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) Reyazul Haque with the LJP's Subhash Singh ending up second. The RJD's Ambika Prasad Yadav finished a poor fourth with a mere 7,250 votes (7.58 per cent of the votes polled).

Incidentally, the Janata Dal and the RJD had garnered as high as 73.41 per cent of the vote in 1990, 50.6 per cent in 1995 and 28.1 per cent in 2000. In Madhepura, part of the eponymous Lok Sabha seat won and vacated by Lalu Prasad a few months ago, the RJD's Siyaram Yadav was trounced by the Janata Dal (U)'s Manindra Kumar Mandal. Mandal belongs to the Yadav community and is the son of B.P. Mandal, the architect of the Mandal Commission Report. The RJD lost four of the five seats in the district.

If these constituencies highlighted the drift of the Yadav vote, areas like Kishenganj highlighted the reduction in the Muslim support. Two Assembly segments in Kishenganj where the Muslim community constitutes 67.7 per cent of the population tell the story succinctly. In Jokihat, Manzar Alam (Janata Dal-United) defeated the sitting RJD MLA Zarfaraz Alam, and in Munger Monazir Hassan (Janata Dal-United) was elected. Zarfaraz is the son of Union Minister Mohammed Taslimuddin.

According to RJD leaders, including a Union Minister who spoke on condition of anonymity, apart from the disillusionment of a section of Yadav and Muslim voters with the 15-year track record of the party in power, the mistakes in the selection of candidates contributed to the defeat in over 40 seats. The Minister pointed out that the party failed to gauge the capacity of the Congress and the LJP to win over Muslim supporters of the RJD.

In spite of the losses it suffered in about 50 seats, the RJD can take solace in the fact that it has emerged as the runner up in as many as 92 seats. According to senior RJD leader Sivanand Tiwari, this clearly indicates that the party can correct its mistakes and bounce back. It remains to be seen whether the future will confirm Tiwari's optimism or the cracks in the Muslim-Yadav combine will widen.

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