Sunday, Sep 25, 2022

Allies Should Thank Stars If Lalu Yadav Still Gives Them Piggyback In Bihar Polls

Allies such as the Congress apparently do not realise that Lalu Prasad Yadav's party has rarely benefited whenever it has stitched up an alliance against Nitish Kumar in the past 15 years.

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav. File photo

Allies have been keeping the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on the tenterhooks, haggling over the number of seats ahead of the assembly seats in Bihar, not realising that the party founded by a maverick Lalu Prasad Yadav does not stand to lose anything if it decides to go solo this time.

Come to think of it, the RJD should thank its stars if its allies choose to walk out on the Mahagathbandhan one after another, leaving the field open for Tejashwi Prasad Yadav & Co to go the whole hog in its bid to prevent Chief minister Nitish Kumar from returning to power for a fourth consecutive term. In fact, the exit of the RJD allies from the grand alliance led by RJD has already begun. Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) president and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has already joined NDA and is set to contest the polls as an ally of Nitish, while Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) founder and former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha has chosen to join forces with Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati in this election.

Its talks with the Congress have remained deadlocked over the past few days. Congress is demanding more seats than what is being offered by the RJD. Lalu, who is at present serving a prison term at a Ranchi hospital, is learnt to have told Tejashwi not to spare more than 60 out of total 243 seats for the Congress, which wants not less than 70-75 seats.

Allies such as the Congress apparently do not realise that Lalu’s party has rarely benefited whenever it has stitched up an alliance against Nitish Kumar in the past 15 years. In 2010, Lalu had contested the assembly elections in alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party but together, they could win only 25 seats. The LJP which had contested as many as 75 seats ended up winning only three seats. The Congress which contested 237 seats on its own at the time had a disastrous showing with only four seats in its kitty. Lalu’s subsequent ties with the Congress, either in the Lok Sabha or the Vidhan Sabha polls, did not click, except in 2015 when Lalu and the Congress joined forces with Nitish’s Janata Dal-United.

The biggest reason behind the failure of the RJD to put up a creditable performance in its fight against the Nitish-led NDA is the inability of its electoral partners to transfer their votes to the alliance candidates. In 2010, a majority of Dalit voters chose to vote for Nitish, except the Dusadhs, who have been the traditional supporters of Ram Vilas Paswan. It primarily happened because Nitish had successfully made a dent into the 16 per cent vote bank of the Dalits by announcing a slew of sops through a newly set-up Mahadalit Commission. Also, many Dalits were angry with Lalu because of the hegemony of the Yadavs within the alliance.
Congress has fared worse as an ally. Even though it has had a vote share of six to eight per cent in successive assembly elections, its traditional votes have hardly been transferred to the Mahagathbandhan candidates. Worse still, its upper caste votes have invariably gone to the rival NDA contestants, whenever it has forged a tie-up with the RJD. The same voters who vote for the Congress when it contests on its own prefer to back the NDA whenever it goes into an alliance with RJD.

One of the primary reasons behind it is that certain upper castes (Bhumihars, for example), never vote for the RJD. Many of them might vote for a Congress candidate if the party goes it alone, but the same voters have no qualms in switching over to Nitish or the BJP if the oldest party stitches up an alliance with RJD. 

In the 1990s, Lalu had emerged as a messiah of social justice, but he was also perceived to be an anti-upper caste leader at the same time. A widely publicised remark, BhuRa BaaL Saaf Karo (get rid of Bhunihars, Rajputs, Brahmins, and Lalas (Kayasthas, the upper caste quartet in Bihar) attributed to him over the years further underlined this image, despite the fact that in later years, Lalu vehemently denied to ever have coined any such slogan.

Lalu, therefore, does not gain much from his alliance with Congress or any party which claims to represent certain castes. None of them are able to get the votes of their respective castes transferred to the RJD-led alliance.  Kushwaha and Manjhi may have been the big leaders of the Koeri and Mushhar caste, but it cannot be said with certainty that they hold sway on the voters from castes the way someone like Ram Vilas Paswan has had on Paswan voters over the years. It is because of this reason that LJP president Chirag Paswan is able to flex his political muscle during his ongoing protracted seat-sharing talks with the BJP.

In the ensuing election, the Congress, or for that matter, any other Lalu ally need to understand that the best bet for them is to let the RJD contest the maximum seats. If they are not able to get their votes transferred to the Mahagathbandhan for whatever reasons, they should be happy that Lalu is still willing to give them a piggyback ride in Bihar.