Politics in Bihar

Published: March 23, 2013
The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar 

The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar [email protected]

This is actually a local story but its details will interest Pakistanis, especially in Karachi, who want to understand India’s politics.

It concerns the chief minister of Bihar (India’s second most populous state) who is thought to be reconsidering his partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). If he goes ahead, Nitish Kumar, a devotee of the socialist intellectual, Ram Manohar Lohia, could change the course of the 2014 general elections. This has excited our newspapers.

However, I find it difficult to see why Kumar’s Janata Dal United (JDU) would consider breaking with the BJP.

His allying of Lohiaite socialists with Hindutva has produced the best caste coalition of any state in India. It is a formidable combination that is likely to stay in power for a long time if it stays together.

The JDU-BJP team commands 40 per cent of the vote in Bihar. This is remarkable for such a fragmented state, and invincible in our first-past-the-post electoral system. In India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, by comparison, Mulayam Singh won a majority with only 29 per cent of the vote. His rival Mayawati, just three per cent behind, was trounced 224 to 80.

In Bihar, Kumar has a 15 per cent vote-share lead over his primary rivals Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan’s alliance. This sort of dominance is not thrown away in politics. This is why it is difficult to see why Kumar would leave the BJP and side with the Congress after next year’s general election.

What is meant by best caste coalition? Let’s have a look. The key aspect of the JDU-BJP alliance is its domination across sections of society. We can observe this through the names of Bihar’s legislators, and through the winners of constituencies reserved for the scheduled castes.

In Bihar, the scheduled castes are totally with the JDU-BJP. Of the 38 seats reserved for scheduled caste candidates, 37 are with the JDU-BJP, split 19 to 18 between them. The attraction of Dalits to the BJP, where it is in power, is not unusual: in Gujarat also, Narendra Modi has trounced Congress eight to three in scheduled caste constituencies.

Of the 18 peasant Yadavs in the assembly, 14 are with the JDU-BJP (10 with the JDU), Upper castes are, of course, solidly behind the BJP as always. All eight Brahmin MLAs and the only Baniya name I could spot on the list are with the alliance, with six in the BJP.

Meanwhile, very large numbers of Muslims are voting for the JDU. Kumar has the most Muslim MLAs of any party. Of the 19 Muslims in the assembly, eight are with the alliance (of whom one is with the BJP). This sort of sweeping lower caste plus middle caste plus upper caste plus Muslim coalition that Kumar has put together is reminiscent of the Congress in the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. It shows his alliance in Bihar is working. Both parties have different strengths.

The JDU brings most of the middle castes and many Muslims, the BJP brings all the upper castes and the two split the lower castes. Kumar cannot replace the BJP easily because it has assets to offer him that no other party has.

The Janata Dal-BJP alliance has 115 and 91 seats respectively, in an assembly of 243. Their individual vote share is 22.5 per cent and 16.5 per cent, respectively. This is locked in and in the 2009 general elections, the JDU got 24 per cent.

By himself — it is obvious here — Kumar is unlikely to win Bihar again without the BJP. The other thing is that he has an excellent partner in the Bihar BJP, Sushil Modi. A pragmatist, who is not from the lunatic end of the party (his wife Jessie George is Catholic), Modi is the ideal man to temper the BJP and prepare it for the alliance. While all the attention is on the other Modi in Gujarat, he is one man to watch out for.

And so, the Kumar-Modi combination is likely to continue to 2014, with Kumar continuing to temper the BJP’s extremism to pacify his constituency.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2013. 

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Vish
    Mar 24, 2013 - 12:09AM

    “A pragmatist, who is not from the lunatic end of the party (his wife Jessie George is Catholic)”.
    Can’t understand why his personal life is mentioned here. Is it in anyway related to Mr.Sushil Modi’s political beliefs? After all Mr.Jinnah was a staunch secularist even if he was against his daughter’s marriage to a non-Muslim. As an aside, can the author name some members of BJP’s lunatic fringe as in his own words “its details will interest Pakistanis”.


  • BlackJack
    Mar 24, 2013 - 12:32AM

    Finally a pragmatic piece from Mr. Patel. Politics is the art of the possible, and much that which seems possible for Nitish Kumar is because of the strength that the JD(U) – BJP combine commands in Bihar across voter segments. The numbers also indicate that the BJP is not a junior partner as it is in Punjab – it has almost an equal share of seats. Further, assuming that the Narendra Modi factor becomes a point of contention, it is important to note that he (NM) has captured the imagination of the urban youth, who may not vote within the caste configuration – and thus a break in the alliance before the 2014 general elections could prove detrimental to the JD(U) while the BJPs core caste-based vote bank in Bihar is unlikely to diminish.


  • Kartik
    Mar 24, 2013 - 12:45AM

    Please note that, winning of a particular party on the Scheduled castes seats does not mean that the SCs vote for that party. We do have a reservation of seats but do not have separate electorates. Hence, even on the reserved seats the fate of the candidate is decided by the majority caste in the constituency. Hence, please do not conclude that SCs are voting for a particular party from the reserved seats election results.


  • varuag
    Mar 24, 2013 - 2:59AM

    Nitish can’t pull a Naveen ( who broke off the alliance with BJP in Orissa) precisely because BJP, on its own, will individually pull off a substantial chunk of vote in Bihar. Tthe idiosyncrasies of first-past-the-poll system ensures that in case of a divorce, both parties will have a disastrous outing at the polls with the Laloo-Ramvilas and possibly Congress combine back in power in Bihar. So for better or for worse, both the political parties are stuck, at-least in Bihar. But this is actually a good thing because this keeps the fringe elements in both parties locked up and ensures that the combine takes up mostly centrist positions. Any arrangement that ensures that the extreme elements in the left-right divide or the socialist-capitalist divide are marginalized is good, as long as it does not result in a policy paralysis. The sine qua non for such an arrangement to work are adept, flexible and experienced political operators and both Nitish and Sushil seem to fit the bill, atleast till now.

    The larger debate on Nitish for PM that Aakar seems to project is pretty much a non-starter. Assuming that NDA attracts more parties to dislodge the UPA in 2014, it will be uphill for Nitish to get the coveted post since his party will have 20-30 seats, at par with a Badal, a Jayalalitha or an Uddhav. Nitish may settle for Railways (why do people want this ministry is beyond me !) or better still pull of a Chandrababu and give outside support and ensure that his constituency in Bihar is nourished by a benevolent centre and he is also free to take occasional pot-shots at the NDA, a la-Mamta, when she was part of UPA. Prediction is fraught with too many ifs and buts and we may still see a resurgence of the left a la-2004 as Mamta continues antagonizing common people and the intelligentsia along-with the traditional appeal of the left due to the pinch of free market that both the UPA and NDA have espoused ( like decontrol of petroleum products )
    Interesting times as always ………..


  • Sohrab Karboy
    Mar 24, 2013 - 8:26AM

    This interesting column by Aaker Patel has more relevance to the situation in Pakistan and, as he says, especially to Karachi, in more ways than one. For one, the population of Bihar, before it was divided in three entities not too long ago, was exactly the same as the population of Pakistan. The JDU-BJP winning alliance between two ideologically disparate parties demonstrates the art of compromise in politics and the process of forming sustainable and beneficial alliances to serve the people. Mr. Patel’s assertion that it is primarily a “local story” reminds me of the longtime adage attributed to the late U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil who said “all politics is local.” What Tip O’Neil meant was that a politician’s success and relevance depends on his capacity to understand and influence the issues of his voters, which are always fundamentally local. Politicians’ ability to raise and address those local issues, rather than intangible ideological slogans, ensures their success. With Karachi’s changing demographics and emergence of huge populations encompassing various ethnicities, languages, and religious affiliations Mr. Patel’s column could not have been more timely and noteworthy to the people of Karachi.


  • karma
    Mar 24, 2013 - 10:03AM

    There is one more factor that is likely to influence Nitish Kumar & JD(U). He & Sharad yadav have always been anti-congress politicians. Starting with the agitations under emergency era (only equivalent to freedom movement the current generation of politicians have seen), they have always been opposed to congress, especially Gandhi Family dominance of Congress.

    So, to do any deal with congress is to negate their life time of work!!


  • Genius
    Mar 24, 2013 - 1:17PM

    Please please can someone educate us as to what is the right name for the Indian province West of Bunglahdaysh?
    Is it Byhaar when written as Bihar? Is it Beehaar when written as Behar? Or is it Bayhaar which appears to be the case. If indeed it is Bayhaar then this is how it should be written.
    It is true that English at times is butchered when used in India. I was trying to read a label
    for the ingredient Maythee but in India it appears that ME means both i.e MEE and MAY.
    The label reads METHI. An Englishman will read it MEETHEE or MEETHY. An American for certain, will read it as MEETHY.
    There is a small town called Delhi in Ontario Province of Canada.
    It is pronounced as DELHY. By the way, not far away is also Lucknow and London.
    If we want an Englishman to read Ahmed as we mean to, then it should be written as Ughmud or Uhmud.


  • akash
    Mar 24, 2013 - 3:56PM

    I dont know about the caste politics or cast combinations(which i know exists) but one big reason in the victory of Mr. Nitish Kumar(JDU+BJP) is his work. The author either forgot or chose not to write about the development of the state. As a Bihari expat, when I go there i see things are better on ground. I and my family feel safe at nights, road actually exists and electricity is way better(there is room for big improvement on this front though).

    In Lalu and congress raj it was free for all jungle rule. Thank god they are gone.


  • Prerna
    Mar 24, 2013 - 4:47PM

    @Genius: If we want an Englishman to read Ahmed as we mean to, then it should be written as Ughmud or Uhmud.

    Then why in the name of heaven do they pronounce Punjab as “Poonjab” ( the “jab” rhymes with cab) ?

    Consistency,sincerity and the Englishman can never be used together.You may write a foreign word any which way you want to make up for the limited number of sounds in the English language,you can rest assured they will find a way to mis-pronounce it.

    @ET:Just occurred to me that you might object to the use of “hell”.


  • Mar 24, 2013 - 5:35PM


    The word Bihar has its origin from the Sanskrit word VIHAR . In ancient times ( during chandragupta – Ashok period) Buddhist monks usually go to places for preaching and have the opportunity to stay in Monestry called Bouddh Vihar (Sanskrit meaning of Vihar is also staying/residing) Such Vihars were in abundance everywhere in the territory of Gupta rulers. Later the word undergone a change to Bihar ,the existing province..


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