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BRP Bhaskar: Bihar rolls back Hindutva
November 10, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

By registering a convincing victory in the Assembly elections in the Hindi heartland state of Bihar, a “mahagatbandhan” (grand alliance) led by Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar has shown that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindutva bandwagon is not unstoppable.

In the hard-fought elections, the alliance, which includes former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress party, bagged a total of 178 seats in the 243-member Assembly. The Bharatiya Janata Party ended up with only 53 seats, which was less than its pre-Modi tally.

As is his wont, Modi had personally led the BJP’s election campaigns, with his lieutenant and party president Amit Shah by his side. He made several trips to the state and addressed more than 30 rallies. Divisive and communally sensitive issues like cow slaughter and reservations, which Hindutva elements raked up, resonated in the state. Shah added grist to the communal mill by declaring crackers would go up in Pakistan if the BJP lost.

The grand alliance was the result of the decision of the JD (U) and the RJD, traditional rivals in the state’s politics, to form a secular front to check the advancing Hindutva forces. The Congress joined it as a junior partner.

The alliance partners readily accepted Nitish Kumar, who acquired a good image as an administrator over the past 10 years, as their chief ministerial candidate.

Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is a man of ambition, was in no position to offer himself as a candidate as he is currently disqualified from contesting elections, following his conviction in a corruption case.

The voting figures reveal there was a consolidation of secular forces behind the grand alliance. The Communist Party of India, the CPI (Marxist) and the Samajwadi Party, which formed a separate secular front, failed to make an impact.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen of Asaduddin Owaisi, a three-time Member of Parliament from Hyderabad, set up a few candidates in the Muslim strongholds in pursuance of its plan to extend its activities across the country. It came a cropper as the bulk of the Muslim voters rallied behind the secular parties.

Modi had come to power at the Centre last year in circumstances which created an impression that his Hindutva bandwagon was unstoppable. That feeling strengthened as he led his party to success in one state after another until Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party stopped the victorious march in the Delhi state elections. No firm conclusions could be drawn from the Delhi experience since it is a small, almost entirely urban state, unlike any other.

The rolling back of Hindutva forces in one of the backward Hindi states is significant for more than one reason. It shows that Modi is not the invincible hero that his admirers imagine him to be. It shows that secular forces have the inherent strength to roll back the Hindutva forces he is riding.

The Hindutva forces had been kept at bay by the administration and the Congress party which led it during the communal riots of the Partition period. They made headway in the recent past primarily due to a weakening of the secular forces’ resolve to check them on account of mistaken electoral considerations.

A question that naturally now is whether Bihar can be repeated elsewhere. Ground conditions differ from state to state. Conditions in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where Assembly elections are due next year, offer a variegated scenario. It may, therefore, be necessary to evolve suitable alternative strategies.

The BJP had no significant presence in these states at the time of the last Assembly elections. However, it was able to bag seven of Assam’s 12 Lok Sabha seats, capitalising on the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

The political traditions of West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu had blocked the BJP’s efforts to build a Hindu vote bank until now. However, in the recent elections to local bodies, the party was able to make inroads at the cost of the Congress in several parts of Kerala, including the state capital.

The BJP secured a parliamentary majority on its own last year with its impressive victories in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which together account for 120 Lok Sabha seats. Assembly elections are due in UP in 2017. Ground conditions there are comparable to those of Bihar. However, the Bihar experience can be repeated only if Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, leaders of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party respectively, sink their differences and work together as Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav did.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning
 

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