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.