Janata Parivaar is trying to make a comeback in national politics with six of the breakaway factions namely Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal and late Chandrasekhar’s Samajwadi Janata Party forming a block to fight elections in the near future.

The first test of this block is the Bihar elections where friends turned foe turned friends again – Nitish & Lalu – have come together to stop the BJP juggernaut. Nitish after breaking away from BJP / NDA was routed in Lok Sabha elections in May 2014. Lalu’s party was reduced to just 22 MLAs in 2010 state polls and he has been barred from fighting elections for next five years after his conviction in fodder scam. Nitish needs Lalu for survival and Lalu needs Nitish for revival. Though its crystal clear that it is a marriage of convenience and that the two don’t trust each other. While Nitish is eyeing the Muslims & Yadav vote bank of Lalu, Lalu wishes to ride on the development plank and popularity of Nitish in the state.

We take a look at the SWOT of this grand alliance.

STRENGTHS

1. Alliance has declared their CM candidate

The Janata alliance has declared Nitish Kumar as their CM candidate. This after hectic parleys and initial opposition from Lalu. Lalu was forced to compromise because of intervention of his Samadhi Mulayam who is the head of the re-christened Janata Parivaar. Lalu was actually not making noise about CM candidate, he wanted a better / fair deal for seats distribution. Though seat sharing details not officially out, he seems to have got assurance about a better deal.

Clear leadership always helps. Modi’s PM candidature helped BJP immensely in Lok Sabha polls. BJP logic is it didn’t announce CM candidate in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir and still won banking on Modi wave. It worked in those states because BJP was fighting against governments facing huge anti-incumbency (Maharashtra – 15 years, Haryana – 10 years, Jharkhand – khichdi govt. ). In Bihar though Nitish has been ruling the state for 10 years, 7.5 years out of this was with BJP. He is still popular. So anti-incumbency factor is not at play here.

Nitish leads popularity charts as most suitable CM choice with 52%

Nitish is a popular CM. People of Bihar like him for bringing an end to jungle raj and ushering in an era of development in the state. As per latest opinion poll carried out by HT-Nielsen, he is the best choice for CM for 52% of the voters. BJP’s Sushil Modi is at the 2nd choice with 42% votes. While BJP is trying to make it a Nitish vs Narendra Modi affair, people like Delhi realize that the PM can’t be CM. 64% people who voted for NDA in Lok Sabha elections said they were satisfied with Nitish govt. performance in the state (Source CSDS-Lokniti analysis).

52% respondents said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was more popular in Bihar than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 45% people said the Prime Minister was more popular as per ABP news opinion poll.

2. Good development work during 2005-2015

The State has historically been backward and was part of the infamous BIMARU. Post the establishment of the NDA Government (BJP + JDU) in 2005, Bihar registered amongst the highest GDP growth in the country (of course, low base effect has played a role). Between 1999 and 2008, state GDP grew by 5.1% a year, which was below the Indian average of 7.3%. However, in January 2010, Central Statistics Organisation reported that in the five-year period between 2005–2009, Bihar’s GDP grew by 11.03%, which made Bihar the 2nd fastest growing economy in India during that 5 year period, just behind Gujarat’s growth of 11.05%. So while Modi was developing Gujarat, so was Nitish developing Bihar.

3. Arithmetic favours alliance -16% JDU vote share + 30% RJD+Cong+NCP share 30% is > 39% vote share of NDA

NDA got 39% vote share in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. JDU and RJD fighting separately got 16% and 30% respectively. If JDU and RJD would have fought together (assuming all votes would have transferred) the Janata alliance would have won 28/40 seats.

4. Polarization of Muslim vote bank in favour of alliance

Bihar has the second largest population of Muslims in the country (16.5%). They have traditionally been a vote bank of Lalu and part of the famous MY combination which propelled him to rule the state for 15 years. 64% of Muslims voted for Lalu and 21% for Nitish in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This makes it 85%. This could further polarize in favour of Janata-Congress alliance providing a sure shot 15% vote share. Only way BJP could have dent into this vote bank would have been announcement of Shahnawaz Hussain as BJP CM candidate. But it would have been too risky and could have annoyed its Hindu hard core support base.

WEAKNESS

1. Distrust among the 2 cadres – JDU & RJD

JDU and RJD cadre has not happily embraced the top leadership decision to fight state polls together. As per media reports 65 / 115 MLAs of JDU were not in favour of the alliance. Even RJD Vice President, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh had openly questioned the leadership being given to Nitish. Both Lalu and Nitish have come together to save their ass. If they fight separately, Lok Sabha performance will be repeated and they will be decimated. However, both don’t trust each other. Both these camps will be fighting hard to ensure they get more seats than the other.

2. Poor image of Lalu – corruption in fodder scam & jungle raj during his 1990-2005 tenure

Lalu ruled Bihar from 1990-2005. This has been widely quoted as jungle raj. There was massive corruption – he himself involved and convicted in fodder scam. Law and order situation was pathetic. Kidnapping thrived as an industry. Criminals enjoyed state patronage. GDP growth was abysmal and Bihar economy was in shambles. This is the biggest drawback of this allaince. It has two facets – Development (Nitish), Jungle Raj (Lalu). They can’t happen together and are mutually exclusive.

3. Transfer of votes from JDU to RJD and RJD to JDU in all constituencies may not happen as envisaged

The alliance is built on the logic and assumption that votes will freely transfer from RJD to JDU and JDU to RJD across seats. Political pundits would admit that elections are not all about arithmetic but also about chemistry. Muslim votes would transfer. However, there are certain caste groups who are antagonist to each other most prominently Kurmis / Koeris and Yadavs. Yadavs would vote for RJD candidates but may not willingly vote for all of JDU candidates on seats allocated to Nitish’s party. Similarly Kurmis / Koeris / middle class happy with development work of Nitish may not vote for RDJ candidates on seats allocated to Lalu’s party. So this is tricky.

4. Seat distribution arrangement yet to be finalized & Rebel candidates in both RJD & JDU camps

The biggest headache for this alliance is that they will have to grapple with rebel candidates. Seat adjustments not yet finalized however it is likely to be 40:40:20 as in state by-polls and MLC elections. This means 100 each for JDU / RJD and 40 odd for Congress / NCP / CPI. JDU currently has 118 MLAs, even if we remove rebels owing allegiance to Manjhi, this means, some sitting candidates won’t get tickets. They would most probably stand as independents or be given tickets by NDA. JDU fought on 141 seats in 2010 assembly polls and RJD on 168 seats. So 40 odd rebels for Nitish and 70 odd for Lalu. This is big. Depending upon their caste they will eat into Janata alliance votes. BJP which last fought on 102 seats and doesn’t have candidates on all seats could accommodate some of these rebels.

If JDU insists on fighting on 118 odd seats, then Lalu won’t settle for anything less leaving literally nothing for Congress. This could upset Congress which has done a U-Turn and sided with Nitish. Upset Congress may then fight on all 243 seats making a dent into Muslim vote bank of RJD. It garnered around 8% vote share in 2010 assembly polls and can easily garner 5,000-10,000 votes on each seat.

Majority (61%) of respondents feel that BJP-led alliance will benefit more due to migration of leaders from both RJD and JD(U) as per ABP news opinion polls carried recently.

5. Forward caste accounting for 15% of population may not vote for Nitish because of Lalu

64% people who voted for NDA in Lok Sabha elections said they were satisfied with Nitish govt. performance in the state. The highest vote share of NDA was from upper castes (12% out of 39%). A portion of this segment could have voted for Nitish because of his good track record. However, his alliance with Lalu has irked this section and they may not vote for Nitish.

6. 2.5 years of Nitish govt. rule after JDU broke away from NDA has seen political turmoil (Manjhi episode)

While Nitish talks of development under his regime and voters acknowledge it, the last 2 years after Nitish broke away from NDA has witnessed political turmoil in the state. First Nitish was busy in one-upmanship with Modi pre Lok sabha polls from July 2013 to May 2014. Post Lok Sabha he resigned taking moral responsibility and appointed his protégé Manjhi as CM. Some months down the line, Manjhi turned guru leaving his protégé tag leading to a tug of war with Nitish. Finally, he stepped down as CM after lot of mudslinging. This showed JDU in poor light. Then for a few months Nitish and Lalu fought for nomination of CM candidate. 62% people said the performance of BJP-JDU government was better than run exclusively by JDU as per ABP news opinion polls.

7. Nitish has lost high moral ground after tie up with Lalu

Nitish along with George Fernandes left Janata Dal and formed their own outfit Samata Party in 1994. His entire politics after that was based on anti-Lalu campaign. He fought vociferously against the jungle raj of Lalu and was one of the people responsible for taking up the fodder scam case against Lalu. Essentially his last 2 decade stance was anti-Lalu. His joining hands with Lalu is not considered by some of his supporters as correct and highly driven by hunger for power.

OPPORTUNITIES

1. No clear leadership / CM candidate of NDA

NDA has chosen not to declare its CM candidate. It is trying to pitch a battle vs Narendra Modi vs Nitish Kumar. As witnessed in elections (Lok Sabha and state elections of Delhi / Rajasthan), leadership announcement helps the parties. Bihar politics is built around caste and BJP may be afraid that projecting one caste leader could antagonise other caste voters, that’s why it has not announced any CM candidate.

Other reason is situation like Delhi, as BJP has many CM aspirants in Bihar – Sushil Modi, Nand Kishore Yadav, Mangal Pandey, CP Thakur, Shatrughan Sinha, Shahnawaz Hussain, Radhey Mohan Singh, the list goes on and on. Additionally its allies also are eyeing the CM chair – Manjhi, Paswan and Kushwaha. To prevent infighting it has decided not to go ahead with any announcement.

This could help Nitish as he would taunt continuously NDA to project their leader. He would say BJP doesn’t have any leader in the state to match his calibre hence they are dependent on PM Modi. Nitish leads popularity charts for the most suitable CM with 52% votes. It is usually seen that parties whose leaders are the most popular win the elections. However, Nitish comes with a baggage Lalu. This may not make it as simple.

2. Seat distribution among NDA partners is tricky

NDA has now four parties in it – BJP, Paswan’s LJP, Kushwaha’s RLSP and Manjhi’s newly formed party. In Lok Sabha BJP fought on 30 seats, Paswan on 7 and Kushwaha on 3 seats. By this formula BJP would get 180, Paswan 40 and Kushwaha 20 odd seats. Entry of Manjhi has made matters tricky. While BJP would want everybody to give up seats, Paswan and Kushwaha may not agree and would like BJP to give seats to Manjhi from its quota. Additionally Manjhi (who is believed to hold the 10% mahadalit votes) could demand more seats than he deserves creating stress.

So seat sharing talks in NDA is as tricky as in Janata Parivaar. However, they would have less problem of rebel candidates. BJP last time in 2010 fought on only 102 seats, this time it will be much higher. Paswan’s LJP fought on 75 seats last time, so they may see some rebel action.

3. Scholarships to financially weaker sections among upper caste Hindus

Nitish has announced scholarships for all upper caste students having annual family income up to Rs. 1.50 lakh. These students would be paid Rs. 10,000 on passing the matriculation examination in first division. Besides, upper caste students from Class I to X from the same income group will also be paid scholarship. This is aimed at making a dent into BJP vote bank. Upper castes account for 15% of state population. 78% of them voted for BJP in national elections last year. Holding onto this vote bank is essential for BJP strategy in these polls.

4. NDA govt. honeymoon period over – pressure beginning to show with Lalitgate / Vyapam episode

NDA govt. completed one year of tenure in May this year. Narendra Modi govt. ruled popularity charts across TV / newspaper / online polls. However, Lalitgate hit the party hard recently in which one of its senior cabinet ministers Sushama Swaraj and Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje were named as giving undue favours to a fugitive. Opposition demanded their resignation and current session of Parliament has been hit.

Party margdarshak Advani in a statement hinted he would have resigned if such accusations were made. Due to internal as well as external pressure MP CM Shivraj Chouhan ordered a CBI enquiry into Vyapam scam. A section of the people who voted for NDA including industry figures are getting restless. The honey moon period of Modi govt. is clearly over. People want them to perform and see tangible results on the ground.

So elections in Bihar is not only a reflection of Nitish govt. but also Modi govt. performance at the center. Nitish will attack Modi over non-fulfilment of promises. He hopes to wean away people who are disenchanted with his govt. record at the center.

5. Delhi elections shows BJP can be defeated by a united opposition / no split of votes take place

In Delhi state elections held in early 2015, AAP handsomely defeated BJP. The only state which BJP lost after its spectacular Lok Sabha victory. One of the reasons was that the elections were a direct BJP vs AAP fight. Congress the third contender was virtually out of competition. So in a way there was no split of anti BJP vote. AAP got 54%, BJP 32% and Congress 10%. Congress vote share was down 15%.Result AAP 67, BJP 3, Congress 0.

In the elections to the state before the Lok Sabha polls, there was a hung assembly with AAP and Congress getting 25% vote share each and BJP getting 33% vote share. Result AAP 28, BJP 32, Congress 8, Others 2.

Even in Bihar Lok Sabha polls in May 2014, a three way fight between BJP, JDU and RJD ensured split of anti BJP votes and resultantly BJP got 39%, RJD 30% and JDU 16% vote share. Result BJP 31, RJD 7, JDU 2 seats.

Understanding this well Nitish has tied up with his political opponent Lalu and Congress hoping the Delhi magic is repeated and there is no split of anti BJP votes.

THREATS

1. Expelled leader Manjhi will dent into Mahadalit votes which account for 10% of population

JDU expelled Manjhi who was made CM after Nitish resigned owing moral responsibility following Lok Sabha debacle. Manjhi got into a tiff with Nitish challenging him and Sharad Yadav authority over the party. He made overtures to BJP and consequently had to be suspended from party for anti-party activity.

Manjhi has formed his own party and entered NDA fold. He belongs to Mahadalit category which account for 10% of population. His removal from CM post by Nitish has been projected as being anti mahadalit. With Paswan having majority control over Dalit vote bank, this could be a big headache for Nitish. In Lok Sabha when Manjhi was in JDU, NDA bagged 42% of dalit / mahadalit votes.

2. Pappu Yadav expelled from RJD will deny into Yadav vote bank in North Bihar

RJD has expelled Pappu Yadav for anti-party activities. Yadavs account for 14% of Bihar population and have traditionally been Lalu supporters. 64% of Yadavs voted for Lalu in Lok Sabha. Pappu has a sizeable influence in some districts in North Bihar and may dent into traditional RJD vote bank.

3. Sushil Modi of BJP catching up with Nitish in popularity charts at 42%

Though Nitish leads the race for most suitable CM candidate with 52% votes, Sushil Modi of BJP is not far with 42% votes. There is still 2-3 months before elections and threat for JDU is that Sushil can catch up backed by special status / financial package announced by center. An interesting question to ask voters in opinion polls (and which is not being asked) is what % of voters won’t vote for Nitish because of Lalu.

4. BJP able to take credit for development in Bihar

There is no doubt that Bihar has seen massive development under Nitish. The war will be over who takes credit for this development. JDU and BJP ruled Bihar together for 7.5 years from Nov. 2005 to mid-2013. JDU would fight to take credit based on the fact that Nitish was the leader of the coalition. BJP would fight to take credit based on the fact that it was the senior partner nationally of the coalition and provided guidance to Nitish.

Supporters of Nitish believe JDU is responsible for the development, supporters of BJP feel otherwise. If BJP is able to take the credit for development it will leave Nitish with loss of its biggest poll plank. Nitish will have sleepless nights on this point.

5. BJP able to sell the story that same govt. at the center and in the state will lead to better development of Bihar

Additionally, BJP has coined the slogan “same govt. at the center and in the state will lead to better development”. This has worked in 4 states earlier last year. This appeals to a section of undecided voters. Who wants a govt. in the state which is up in arms with central government. Delhi is an example how centre state spat is hurting development.

This article has been exclusively written for Niticentral.

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