Maharashtra in Bihar, but with a difference
BJP succeeds in implementing a Maharashtra model in Bihar where it has marginalised an ally who once was a big brother
Before last year's dramatic changes in Maharashtra were tipped to alter the direction of political discourse across the country, the Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad alliance's grand victory in the 2015 Bihar elections was termed as the beginning of the end of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah politics. But five years later, Modi remains the Prime Minister even more firmly, and in Bihar, the BJP has not only turned the tables on its rivals but also beaten its ally Nitish's JD(U) in a number game. Nitish, who quit Lalu's alliance to form a government with the BJP in 2017, has in the next three years conceded a considerable strength to the BJP, and yet he will be made the chief minister as fulfilment of a promise that fewer seats will not deny him the leadership. Parallels were drawn between Bihar and Maharashtra even in 2015 and they can be drawn even now.
In fact, the BJP has succeeded in implementing a Maharashtra model in Bihar where it has marginalised an ally who once was a big brother. But unlike Maharashtra, the BJP chose to keep the Bihar ally in good humour. In doing so, the BJP made the Sena claim credit for Nitish getting the throne, suggesting that the BJP feared Nitish may do a Thackeray by joining hands with the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan.
Nitish will be sworn in on Monday for yet another term of the ruling combine in which the BJP is expected to have a bigger say in matters of governance and more power in the field to further reduce whatever strength the JD(U) is left with after a poor show. The Sena faced a similar fate at the hands of the BJP, which rose to power in 2014 by winning a double of what the Sena could get by fighting independently. The BJP and Sena bonded to form the government and they went to the 2019 polls together amid much tussle. Again, the Sena trailed the BJP by more than 50 seats, though both allies reduced their respective strengths, because of the rebellion.
The Sena alleged it suffered most at the hands of the rebels the BJP put up. The BJP is accused of doing the same to Nitish Kumar's party through Chirag Paswan. No wonder that the non-BJP parties expect an upset Nitish to follow in Thackeray's footsteps, if not immediately but in near future, instead of compromising his socialist values. A similar charge of compromising the ideology (Hindutva) is levelled against Thackeray, who may have a bright example in Nitish as far as ignoring such allegations becomes important in keeping one's party in power.
Sena has gained nothing in Bihar where it contested 22 seats as against more than 100 it fought in 2015. It said that five years ago its candidates might have lost but not without ensuring the BJP's defeat in many places. But this time around, the Sena became a matter of ridicule because it polled 0.05 per cent of the eligible votes, which is less than 1.68 per cent NOTA votes, and all Sena candidates lost their deposit.
The Sena, like any other non-BJP outfit, has refused to accept the Bihar verdict as BJP's victory, and based on the assumptions has predicted a resounding victory for itself in the next Lok Sabha polls in Maharashtra from where Uddhav Thackeray could stake claim to the PM's position. The BJP may scoff at the Sena but it can't stop the projection. If Sharad Pawar with fewer MPs can be tipped as the PM umpteen times, why can't Thackeray be when he has been winning more seats than the NCP? However, Thackeray has won better strength in Lok Sabha only when in alliance with the BJP. So, next time it would be interesting to see the Sena against the BJP in Lok Sabha. The BJP and Sena have gone separate ways in the Assembly polls but they haven't yet fought the Lok Sabha elections independently. In the Assembly, the BJP achieved the best in 20 years for any party fighting solo in 2014 and almost repeated it five years later.
The Sena needed a coup to claim the CM's post when the BJP refused to part with it last year. The matter was dug up again after the declaration of Nitish's coronation. Both parties haven't forgotten the turn of events, the details of which remain shrouded in mystery even after a year has gone by.
Will Bihar make any direct impact on Maharashtra politics? The politics around the Mumbai civic polls slated to be held in January-February 2022 may have all parties weigh the Bihar connection in their strategies. Most of the city's north Indian voters come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The Marathi and non-Marathi voters' imbalance has changed Sena's policies, especially after the BJP almost snatched the BMC away from it four years ago. But the Marathi-Maharashtrian pride came into play again in the wake of Sushant Singh Rajput's death, which was turned into a battle between the Bihar and Maharashtra governments. It became a poll plank in Bihar. While the BJP overshadowed the Sena in Maharashtra and Mumbai, and now marginalised Nitish in Bihar, another major party, the Congress faces a bleak prospect in the megapolis. The Congress didn't do any better in the Bihar alliance which is now blaming the grand old party for shrinking the Mahagathbandhan numbers.
The Congress leaders in Mumbai have realised the imminent danger of being in alliance with the Sena and NCP for the BMC elections. They have demanded a 'no truck' policy, even if it leads to cracks in the tri-party arrangement. In the MVA's first year that was occupied by a global Coronavirus pandemic, the three constituents have averted creating a glitch that could bring the BJP back in power.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to email@example.com
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