Saturday, 24 October 2015


Lalu Yadav - Facebook
While most political commentators dipped their pens in black ink and wrote the political obituary of former CM Lalu Prasad Yadav after his party was reduced to mere four parliamentary seats in the 2014 Union Polls, the 'unholy and unexpected' alliance between him and his bĂȘte noire - Nitish Kumar seems to have given the RJD supremo one more chance to remain relevant in a state which he dominated for nearly two decades. In the run up to the big polls, the split in the NDA was seen by many as the 'opening' that Lalu needed to stage a political comeback after being on the fringes for nearly five years and his conviction in the multi-crore Fodder Scam; unfortunately, the Modi wave was just too strong for him to regain his lost glory. However, the realignment of political forces in the state with the coming together of the former Janata Dal constituents to take on a resurgent BJP could well be the opportunity that has been eluding the Yadav leader for long. With the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, Bihar 2015 has become a 'Do or Die' scenario for one of India's most colorful yet controversial politician.

Nobody understands the gravity of the situation more than Lalu himself. The astute politician that he is, the sheer number of 'sacrifices' that he has made in the last few months should make it clear how much importance the former Rail Minister attaches to the poll verdict. Firstly, in spite of his bitter rivalry with his one time comrade turned foe Nitish Kumar, the Yadav strongman agreed to a coalition with the latter's JD-U, the same party that has eroded Lalu's Muslim and lower caste vote base. Many were skeptical of such an alliance considering the bad blood between the two regional leaders and their ideological differences. However, Lalu on his part should be appreciated for holding on to 'Maha Ghatbandhan' in the wake of many differences. Secondly, aware of the popularity of the incumbent CM amongst the masses, the RJD supremo buckled under pressure, allowing the mega coalition to project Nitish as its CM nominee. This is so much different than the Lalu Prasad we have known over the years; remember, it was he who famously stalled Mulayum Singh Yadav's bid to become the PM back in the nineties. Not only this, he also agreed to fight the same number of seats as the JD-U, something that many believed was just not possible, more so after the RJD conceded the CM's chair to Nitish. Surely, the former CM has gone out of the way to ensure that his alliance remains strong in its battle against the NDA.

Lalu clearly understands his role in the campaign for grand alliance; his conviction in the Fodder Scam and the pathetic state of law and order in the state during his tenure as the CM make him the prime target of the BJP which has termed his days at the helm of affairs in Patna as 'Jungle Raj'. However, the RJD chief is the master in caste based politics, a factor that continues to resonate with the electorate here even today. No wonder than that he is playing the caste card to win over the voters. The recent comments by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat calling for the retrospection of reservation policy in the country and the spate in the killings of Dalits in the BJP ruled Haryana has given more ammunition for the Yadav strongman to train his gun at the saffron camp. Lalu has been the darling of the Muslims ever since he stopped Advani's Rath Yatra back in 1990 and he continues to flaunt his 'secular' credentials particularly in the wake of the Dadri lynching, hoping to stitch back his fabled Muslim - Yadav combination that was the base which catapulted him to three straight wins in the state. And in his vintage style, the Rashtriya Janata Dal boss has not shied away from attacking PM Modi even calling him a 'Brahm Pishchak' on one occassion.

Meanwhile, an indication of his declining clout in Bihar was evident from the defeat of his eldest daughter Misa Bharati from the Paliputra parliamentary seat in May last year. With his sons - Tej Pratap and Tejaswi in the fray for the state polls this time around, the stakes for Lalu Yadav are much higher. In case, the saffron alliance manages to sweep the state and the RJD fails to put up a good show, serious questions will be raised over the future of his party. In the past two years, several of the RJD's leaders including Ramkripal Yadav and Pappu Yadav have either deserted the outfit or have been shown the door. In case, the party fails to perform well in the scheduled polls, one can expect another exodus of the few remaining leaders from the party outside its first family. Not only will it relegate Lalu to the fringes, but will also take the gas out of the RJD's lantern. The Yadav strongman will certainly want his sons to have a good start in their political careers and for this to happen, a victory for the mega coalition in Bihar is essential.

Speaking to the media, Lalu had once remarked 'Jab tak rahega samose mein aloo, tab tak rahega Bihar mein Lalu'. While the starchy vegetable will continue to be a part of one of India's most famous snack for a long time, the November 12 verdict will decide the fate of the RJD chief and his party. Till then, we need to keep our fingers crossed.

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Saturday, 17 October 2015


The Bihar elections has been touted as a two horse race between the incumbent CM Nitish Kumar led 'Grand Alliance' on one side and the Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance on the other. With most Opinion Polls predicting a neck to neck contest between the two sides, parties are trying hard to retain their 'traditional' vote banks while hoping to break into those of their rivals. From the development card to caste based politics to evoking religious sentiments, outfits are using every issue under the sun to strike a chord with the electorate and win what is turning out to be the most important polls since the last General Elections. However, with the two coalitions grabbing all the headlines, it is easy to overlook the other smaller parties or formations in the fray; while they may not win many seats, they sure can emerge as 'spoilsports' in their strongholds and at the end tilt the results in the favour of one side. Here is a look at the 'not-so-famous' parties or alliances that could play a crucial role in Bihar 2015.

The Third Front: A golden rule of Indian politics is that 'You should never mess with Mulayum Singh Yadav'; the wrestler turned former CM of Uttar Pradesh is not known to forgive his detractors so easily. The leaders of the Grand Alliance were made aware of this when the SP supremo not only walked out of the Nitish led front but joined hands with the Pappu Yadav's JAM to float a rival coalition that threatens to wean away some votes that would have otherwise gone to the ruling combination.

The 'Socialist Secular Morcha' as it is being termed is targeting the powerful Muslim - Yadav vote bank which till about a decade ago was the primary support base of Lalu Yadav. There is no doubt that Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayum is the tallest Yadav leader in the country and he is expected to wield some influence in western parts of Bihar, mainly in the district bordering UP. Besides, the presence of Pappu Yadav's Jan Adikhar Morcha (JAM) will boost the alliance's chances, particularly in his stronghold of Madhepura. The JAM founder certainly has a point to prove; after being expelled out of the RJD, he would want to make Lalu pay for it. In fact, it is believed that several RJD and JD-U leaders who have been denied tickets by their parties are in talks with the controversial politician ahead of the polls. Former Union Minister Nagamani's Samras Samaj Party (SSP), former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma's Nationalist People's Party (NPP) and former Jhanjharpur MP Devendra Prasad Yadav's Samajwadi Janata Dal - Democratic (SJD-D) too are a part of this combination.

Of course, it has not been all smooth sailing for this alliance. One of its major constituent - the NCP walked out of the Front citing differences with the SP. Ironcially, NCP leader Tariq Anwar was being projected as the Morcha's CM candidate.

Nationalist Congress Party: The Sharad Pawar led outfit has certainly made a fool of itself in the Bihar assembly elections. In the beginning it was a part of the Nitih led 'Maha ghatbandhan' but walked out of it after it was given just three seats instead of the 12 that it has asked for. Next, it entered into a pre-poll tie up with the SP and was allocated over 40 seats to contest as a constituent of the Third Front. However, days before the second round of voting, the party snapped all ties with the coalition, accusing Mulayum Singh of being hand in glove with the BJP.

Kathiar MP and party's Muslim face Tariq Anwar speaking to the media said that his outfit will contest 45 seats alone. The NCP will be a strong contender in the six assembly segments of Kathiar district of Bihar and will again eat into the votes of the Nitish - Lalu alliance. The extent of the damage it causes to the 'secular' parties needs to be seen.

The Left Front: Six Communist parties too are fighting the Bihar polls with the aim of providing a 'viable' alternative to the people as per Communist Party of India (CPI) General Secretary Prakash Karat. The other constituents of the alliance include the CPI-ML, the CPM, the RSP, the Forward Block and the Socialist Union of Communist India - Communist (SUCI-C). The coalition is believed to have substantial base Bhojpur and Beguserai regions of the state but it will be crucial to see if it translates into seats.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen: It turns out that all the hullabaloo surrounding Owaisi's debut in Bihar turned out to be a dud. Though he had earlier announced plans of contesting on seats from four districts in the Seemanchal region of the state, in a statement made this past week, the AIMIM chief has said that his outfit will only contest from six assembly seats. This move should come as a big relief for the mega coalition since it was believed that Owaisi could end up splitting the Muslim vote which till sometime back was said to be firmly behind Nitish and Lalu.

Shiv Sena: A partner in the government headed by the BJP in Maharashra, the Uddhav Thackeray led outfit's entry into the fray is likely to affect the chances of some NDA candidates in Bihar. The saffron outfit which is regularly in the news for harassing Bihari migrants in Mumbai is hoping to capitalize on disgruntled BJP leaders to help it open its account in the northern state. Though even opening its account will be a big achievement for the Sena, it could play the spoiler for the NDA on some closely fought seats.

Bahujan Samajwadi Party: Though the Mayawati led party once had representatives in the Bihar state assembly, today the BSP's prospects look bleak. The party on its part is contesting all 243 seats but it will take more than a miracle to even win a single seat. As per the plan, the BSP is targeting the Dalit and women voters to do well in the polls

Jharkhand Mukhti Morcha: The Shibu Soren led JMM has some support base in parts of southern Bihar with significant tribal populations. The former Jharkhand CM will be banking on these votes to spring a surprise and win a few segments.

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Sunday, 11 October 2015


Rahul Gandhi - Facebook
He came, he saw, he spoke but did he conquer? While he might still have been able to charm the audience while addressing a rally in Western Champaran in mid-September, the absence of regional heavyweights including incumbent CM Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav proves that the Congress Vice President is still to rub off the tag of being a 'pariah' (outsider) in political circles. The grand old party tried to brush this issue under the carpet by stating that the Amethi MP was in the poll bound state not for campaigning but to participate in the INC's celebration of Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary. Though the younger Gandhi did his best, accusing the Modi government of failing to fulfill most of its electoral promises, the absence of the big names from the grand alliance on the dais took the sheen out of the rally even before it began. Although the JD-U supremo Nitish Kumar did receive RaGa at the Patna airport, he excused himself from being seen with the Gandhi scion citing ticket distribution, which as per the detractors was just a ploy. Meanwhile, Lalu preferred to stay away too; his younger son Tejaswi represented the RJD at the rally. From the ruling party, it was Rajya Sabha and senior leader K C Tyagi who accompanied Rahul Gandhi at the September 19th rally.

It is well-known that the Congress VP and the former Bihar CM Lalu Yadav have a little bit of history between them; many will remember that it was Rahul who famously tore the Ordinance introduced by the previous Manmohan Singh led UPA II regime allowing convicted legislators to continue in their post. With the Congress' move to protect its former ally going down the drain, the Lalu-Rahul relations were spoiled forever. Of course, this should not have been a surprise at all for either the Congress or its leader. However, what would have hurt for sure is the absence of Nitish Kumar. We very well know that the Amethi MP is a big admirer of the JD-U chief. Even while the latter was an integral part of the NDA, RaGa had asked him to shun the 'communal' BJP and join the UPA. It is also believed that he was in favor of an alliance with Kumar for the 2014 General Elections but it was his mother who prevailed and the INC joined hands with the RJD. With the negative publicity surrounding Gandhi yet to die down, Kumar seems to be playing safe and rightly so; besides, unlike the Congress leader who has virtually nothing to lose in Bihar, for the CM, the upcoming polls is for sure is going to be a 'do or die' scenario.

I wrote a blog post a few months ago (Link) citing what the Amethi MP needs to do in my opinion to 're-brand' himself so that he is taken seriously, both by the electorate and by people within political circles. I must say, that in the last few months, the Congress VP has done really well; he is seen more often in the Parliament nowadays. He is seen taking a more hard line, criticizing the Modi government at every given opportunity. In fact, if party sources are to be believed, the washout of the monsoon session of the Lower House was largely his idea. Most importantly, he is seen taking a stand on issues that matter to the people at large. Be it net neutrality, OROP or the Land Bill, he is seen in the midst of the action of late which is certainly a plus. However the snub by senior regional leaders indicates that there seems to be a lot more that RaGa needs to do.

The last point that I made in that post - collaboration with other non-NDA leaders is something where there is a lot more for Rahul to work upon. I thought that the Bihar elections where the Congress is fighting in alliance with the JD-U and the RJD would be a superb opportunity for the younger Gandhi to strike a working relationship with other non-BJP parties. If the reports coming out of the state are anything to go by, that certainly does not seem to be the case. As of now, Nitish and Lalu have kept a safe distance from junior Gandhi. Perhaps, for things to change and such 'embarrassments' to be avoided in the future, the Amethi MP and his party need to end their drought and start winning some polls. Certainly, Bihar where the INC is a part of a grand coalition, could be the state from where the RaGa bandwagon starts rolling. In that case, apart from deciding the fate of Nitish & Co, Bihar 2015 could be the launch pad for the revival of the Congress and its crown prince Rahul Gandhi.
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The NDA in Bihar
All the ego clashes and political arm twisting apart, the four parties that constitute the NDA in Bihar reached a consensus on the seat sharing arrangement in mid September, a couple of weeks after its bĂȘte noire - the Mahaghatbandhan made a similar announcement. Speaking to the media, BJP president and the man behind the accord Amit Shah put up a brave face, squashing all rumors of rift between the partners, primarily LJP's Paswan and HAM's Manjhi who seemed to be at loggerheads to prove who amongst the two is the real leader of the lower castes within the NDA ranks. As per the arrangement, the saffron outfit which is heading the front took away the lion's share and will be fielding candidates from 160 assembly segments. The pecking order within the alliance was clearly demarcated with the LJP getting 40 seats followed by Kushwaha's RLSP getting 23 and Manjhi's newly launched HAM bagging 20. Here are the key takeaways from the entire exercise in my opinion.

The seat sharing arrangement between the four players has clearly shown who is the boss. With the BJP contesting nearly two thirds of the total seats, almost 60 seats more than what it had contested in alliance with the JD-U in last state polls, the party has given itself an opportunity to form a simple majority on its own. Of course, at present indications are that the contest is going to be keenly fought affair and it is highly unlikely that the party can go past the half way mark on its own. However, it has at least given itself a chance. Moreover, it is now but sure that in case the NDA forms the next government in Patna, the CM will for sure be from the saffron outfit. If you remember, allies like the RLSP and the HAM were pitching for their supremos to be anointed as the alliance's choice for the top job. With the hierarchy firmly established, all these murmurs have been laid to rest. Also from the BJP's perspective, with the deal being hammered out, it can no go on the offensive in its bid to form its maiden regime in Bihar.

So have the allies got a 'raw' deal? To answer this question, we need to answer a different question: Does the BJP need the allies or do the allies need BJP? With the entire opposition ganging up against you, having a few friends on your side does help; hopefully the saffron camp realizes this. Moreover, in a state where caste can be a dominant factor in determining the outcome, these outfits who have backing of certain sections of the society can help tilting the balance on one side in a closely fought contest like this one. In spite of this, I think it is the allies who benefit more from the arrangement.

Imagine the scenario wherein the LJP, the RLSP and the HAM had not aligned with the BJP. Firstly, two of the three parties would not have had any MPs in the Parliament today; the only reason that six LJP members and three RLSP nominees made the cut was that the belonged to parties backing Narendra Modi.

For outfits like the Hindustan Awam Manch (HAM) or the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) whose chiefs had left the JD-U to float their own parties after differences with incumbent CM Nitish Kumar, there was no way they could have joined the Grand Alliance. Going back to Kumar would mean compromising on their self respect and enduring political humiliation from all quarters. On the other hand, their association with the BJP gives them a chance in a fight in which they otherwise would have been destined to lose had they gone solo; without the support of the NDA, even opening their account would have been nothing short of a miracle considering the lack of organization structure within these outfits and their inability to arrange the resources needed to fight such a high stakes election for the time being.

While one may understand why the likes of Kushwaha and Manjhi had to go with the NDA, the case of Bihar's political joker - Ramvilas Paswan is, as usual 'curious', to say the least. In the last three decades, he has tried all permutations and combinations; no wonder, allying with the grand alliance was also an alternative which the Dalit leader would have contemplated, even post the May 2014 General Elections. However, one needs to realize that the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has been in a moribund state ever since 2004 with its support base dwindling with every passing day; in the last state polls, the party in alliance with the RJD could win just 3 seats. At this juncture, if the Hajipur strongman had gone with the Nitish led coalition, he would have been fourth in the hierarchy, even behind the Congess and thus would have at max, got 20 to 25 seats to contest. On the other hand, the LJP is the second largest partner in the NDA now and will nominate candidates for 40 assembly constituencies. Though a NDA victory in Bihar will be the ideal scenario for LJP chief, his main aim will be to leverage whatever is left of the Modi wave to regain lost political ground by maximizing his final tally; moreover, knowing the wily fox that he is, Paswan should have no problems dumping the NDA and walking over to the Nitish camp in case of a hung assembly in case of a hung verdict if he is offered a 'good' deal.

Perhaps, one factor that most of us have missed is the political mastery of BJP president Amit Shah. A brilliant strategist who was elevated to the top post in the party ranks after scripting a memorable win for his boss in the big polls, he showed us again why he is amongst the most astute politicians in the country today. Bihar is an important state for the BJP and failing to cross the mark here will be a major embarrassment for the PM himself. No wonder, with unrest brewing within the constituents of the NDA and the allies getting more assertive, Modi had to depute his trusted aide to sort out the matter at the earliest. Having completed his task with distinction and brokered a deal, it remains to to be seen if Shah can paint the big state 'saffron' for Modi.
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