Aditya Sinha: A slow burn towards 2019
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has little choice but to watch communal fire spread in his state as the only path ahead for him might be joining BJP
There is great public anger against Kumar for betraying the electoral mandate he received in the November 2015 assembly election. Ilustration/Ravi Jadhav
Last week, eight inter-communal clashes happened in Bihar. The first was in Araria, where the ruling JD(U)-BJP combine recently lost a Lok Sabha bypoll. A video reportedly circulated of the electoral win celebrated with anti-national slogans, though I can't imagine anyone would do something so provocative or suicidal after four years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Then came the clash in Aurangabad, a day before Ram Navami. Several clashes have centred around Ram Navami processions that were less than benign, given they were led by BJP people (police booked a local leader in Aurangabad). One such clash happened in Nalanda, home to chief minister Nitish Kumar.
The rioting started less than a month after Bihar got a new police chief, KS Dwivedi. He was Bhagalpur's superintendent of police in October 1989, when India's worst riots till then had erupted. Had Kumar not jettisoned Tejashwi Prasad Yadav's RJD last July, Dwivedi's appointment would have been doubtful. Kumar's coalition ally is probably the hand behind the appointment.
You don't need a degree in "entire political science" to see that the violence has an electoral purpose. The BJP has almost always electorally benefited from inter-communal clashes involving Muslims. Polarisation along religious lines after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots helped it secure a whopping 71 seats in UP, which delivered to Modi the party's first Lok Sabha majority in three decades. Another Lok Sabha election is due in a year's time. A terrible run of governance means that Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah could possibly lose 100 seats, if not more, from their massive 2014 tally.
To retain power they may either manipulate electronic voting machines, or engineer inter-communal violence, or both. Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats, but it is also an uphill battle for the BJP. There is great public anger against Kumar for betraying the electoral mandate he received in the November 2015 assembly election by dumping the RJD. The anger is most bitter among the RJD's core supporters, and one can expect heavy election violence. If in UP, the tie-up between former chief ministers Mayawati (BSP) and Akhilesh Yadav (SP) makes the BJP's fight formidable, in Bihar, any win for the party is impossible without religious polarisation.
Also, in Bihar the BJP has already played its other card: the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Mayawati is forever being threatened with CBI cases, but to her credit, she is not backing down these days (nothing like a struggle for political survival to focus the mind). N Chandrababu Naidu, having been compelled by sinking political fortunes to part ways with the BJP, is also being threatened by CBI cases.
But against the RJD, the CBI as a political tool faces the law of diminishing returns: Tejashwi's father Lalu is in jail and out of electoral politics, while Tejashwi's sister Misa is the subject of an investigation. Hence the BJP's early resort to inter-communal violence.
Whither goes Kumar in all this? News reports say the chief minister is monitoring the violence and police action. To this columnist, it seems Kumar is at the least condoning if not conniving with what his coalition partner is up to. He realises this is his only way of staying CM and keeping himself politically relevant. There is no going back to the RJD. This might have been an option before the 2020 assembly election or even the 2019 poll - after all, he's ditched the BJP before - but the BJP, a party known for planning ahead, has preempted him.
Additionally, the BJP is famous for swallowing up or leaving behind former allies, as in Assam where the AGP is now a junior partner, or in Maharashtra, where the Shiv Sena is an idle spectator. Kumar represents a numerically small backward caste, and the BJP has already demolished the monolith of non-Yadav other backward castes.
After betraying the RJD, the JD(U) stands no chance in Bihar. This suits the BJP fine - it wants to emerge as the sole opposition so that it can, as it did in UP, come to power in Bihar on its own one day. Kumar's political life is over, unless he reinvents himself as Ram Vilas Paswan. For the past three decades, no matter who is in power, Paswan is always in government. He and Kumar might murmur about forming a pressure group within the NDA to rein in the BJP, but that is just lip service. Modi is least bothered about the Akali Dal or the Shiv Sena, and the JD(U) is bush league.
The only path ahead for Kumar might be joining the BJP. Thus, he has little choice but to silently watch the fire spread in Bihar. It is true what they say about former 1970s' socialists: in their old age they can't do without the elixir of power.
Aditya Sinha's new book will be out in May. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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