Change may be in the air, but great change has already come to Bihar’s political order of battle. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and Lok Janashakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan have landed on the same side of the fence, and it is the Congress side.
Yadav could easily get the friend-in-need award of the UPA II years, not missing a single occasion to demonstrate his loyalty to the Congress. For a man whose political coming of age was predicated on anti-Congressism in the Hindi heartland’s tectonic 1974 JP movement, the situation is ironical. Paswan, Yadav’s once bête noire and now ally, too is leaving no stone unturned to prove his political loyalty as his party’s lone representative in Parliament after his party’s wipeout in Bihar’s last parliamentary and assembly elections. Even that berth was courtesy Yadav, as the LJP has but one member in the Bihar Assembly.
A political downslide over two successive rounds of elections is what has forced both Bihar leaders to concentrate on building afresh in New Delhi. Both men lost their Cabinet berths in UPA II when they decided to go it alone in the 2009 elections instead of giving up respectable seats to the Congress. All three parties lost miserably, and Yadav with his four MPs was not of much use to the ally-happy Congress. Yadav was forced to support the Congress from outside like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. It was perhaps the RJD chief’s greatest political blunder, for not only did the RJD chief lose his berth in the Cabinet but also suffered from the fragmentation of the anti-Nitish Kumar vote in 2010 Assembly elections. The NDA won four-fifths of the 243 seats in the Assembly, the RJD reduced to 22, and Paswan got only three which too didn’t last as his MLAs later left for the JD(U)’s greener pastures.
It is widely accepted as a truism in Bihar that Yadav had no option than to go with the Congress owing to strong anti-BJP stand taken by him after the October 1990 arrest of BJP leader L K Advani during his Rath Yatra to mobilise the masses for the construction of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The strong Muslim support Yadav then got helped him to form the politically clever ‘M-Y’ combination i.e. Muslims and Yadavs. Yadav remained in power for 15 years. The other factor behind Yadav’s love for the Congress is the array of fodder scam cases pending with the CBI. The appointment of Ranjit Sinha as CBI director is being seen as a demonstration of Yadav’s clout, as the Bihar cadre IPS officer is considered close to the RJD leader.
After missing the UPA II bus, Yadav feels that he would be minister-in-waiting after 2014 general elections. Yadav, who is well-versed in handling the levers of political power, knows well that strength being part of the UPA can provide in his battle against the NDA.
Yadav has thus embarked on a new social engineering experiment, trying his best to make a dent in upper caste vote bank of Bihar, till now almost totally aligned with NDA in the post-Mandal era. The Congress has traditionally been supported by the upper castes, and this makes it a winning card that Yadav is so interested in obtaining.
The Yadav-Paswan remake is on, and, as always, the voters will know best.
The article was also published in The Sunday Standard