The three messages from Bihar’s verdict

Mark Tully


The Bihar assembly election results have resulted in three humiliations, all indications that opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s hardline Hindutva policy is crumbling.

Chief Minister (CM) Nitish Kumar should be able to take pride on taking office for his fourth term, a record for the state. But he is a much-diminished figure, humiliated by his partner, the BJP, the public and the press.

The public humiliated him by their hostile reaction to him at some of his rallies and by their response to his party when it came to voting. The press humiliated him by writing him off as a political force. The BJP humiliated Kumar by not stopping, and some suggest actually encouraging, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP)’s Chirag Paswan’s entry into the polls as a distinct force.

His stated intention was to cut into Kumar’s vote. Paswan’s LJP is a member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), small and of limited importance. So, it’s unlikely its leader would have declared open war on Kumar, the NDA’s leader in Bihar, without the BJP’s tacit approval. The approval appears to have been aimed at reducing the CM’s chances of emerging from this election on equal terms with the BJP and, hence, with some room to act independently. As it turned out, this is precisely what has happened.

The BJP’s intention to weaken the CM is also clear by the party leadership’s decision to have two deputy CMs. One of them, Renu Devi, is from the Extremely Backward Class (EBC). Not surprisingly, this appointment is being interpreted as an attempt to win over EBCs and women, the two groups Kumar has cultivated during his time in office. He has also not been allowed to retain his deputy for many years, BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi. The two worked so closely together that they are sometimes referred to as Siamese twins.

For Sushil Kumar Modi, used to dominating the BJP in Bihar, his displacement as deputy CM without, at the time of writing, being offered an alternative post in Bihar or the Centre is a humiliation. The victors are those who regard him as a relic of the Vajpayee-Advani era, too soft for the hardline party of today. He is one of the last prominent members of the old school in today’s BJP, a politician I remember for his sharp sense of humour.

And what can be said about the Congress? It has had to face yet another humiliation, winning just 19 out of the 70 seats. As usual, the humiliation has been followed by silence from the high command and sycophancy silencing mild questions from some leaders. This election has made it clear that the Congress does not matter in Bihar any more than it matters in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

This means the party has lost its foothold in the most-populous and the third-most populous states in India. Yet, Congressmen and women remain paralysed, apparently unable to do anything to stem the rot. They repeat mantra-like that the party will fall apart without the Gandhis at the helm and, at the same time, watch the party withering away under those very same Gandhis.

It is generally admitted from the prime minister downwards, that India needs better governance. So it is, to say the least, sad to see a politician like Kumar, once so renowned for effective and honest governance that he was talked about as a potential prime minister, ending his career accepting humiliating subservience as a price for staying on in office. Sushil Modi’s humiliation makes it even less likely that hardline Hindutva will be questioned within the BJP.

The continuing humiliation the Congress is suffering means that there is no national party to challenge that hardline or pretty much anything else.

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