The JD(U)-BJP Split: Opportunities and Challenges for the Left in Bihar

CPI-ML activists took out rally and staged demonstration to highlight price rise, corruption, atrocities on women and police repression in Patna on November 7, 2012. Several CPI-ML leaders addressed the rally. Photo: Aftab Alam Siddiqui (http://viewpatna.blogspot.in)

CPI-ML activists took out rally and staged demonstration to highlight price rise, corruption, atrocities on women and police repression in Patna on November 7, 2012. Several CPI-ML leaders addressed the rally.
Photo: Aftab Alam Siddiqui (http://viewpatna.blogspot.in)

CPI(ML) Liberation on the recent political development in Bihar

The JD(U)-BJP alliance has finally come to an end. According to Nitish Kumar, the alliance was no longer tenable and the time had come when it had to be ‘sacrificed’ for the sake of ‘principle’. What triggered this sudden pang of ‘principle’ was the elevation of Modi as the chief of the BJP’s poll campaign for the coming Lok Sabha elections and the tame surrender of Advani.

If it is a matter of ‘principle’ now for Nitish Kumar, clearly he has a thoroughly opportunist yardstick to measure it. Nitish Kumar has no problem with the BJP. He has shared power with it at the Centre and then in Bihar since 2005. He has no problem with Narendra Modi either. He had never said anything when Narendra Modi’s government orchestrated the Gujarat genocide in 2002. It now turns out that while inaugurating a railway project in Gujarat in 2003, Nitish Kumar as union railway minister had even foreseen a greater role for ‘Narendrabhai’ in the service of the nation. Even in 2009 Nitish Kumar had no problem flashing the victory sign together with Narendra Modi in an NDA meeting in Punjab.

His problem started when some Bihari businessman with business interests in Gujarat sponsored an advertisement in newspapers in Bihar flashing that photograph of bonhomie between the two chief ministers. Nitish Kumar did not want Modi to spoil his show in Bihar. He had kept Modi away from any kind of electioneering in Bihar. But now that the BJP has chosen Modi as its poll mascot, a prelude to or an equivalent of his formal projection as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Nitish Kumar could not possibly keep him out of the Bihar scheme of things any longer. So he decided to call off the alliance now, making it into a matter of ‘principle’.

Clearly Nitish Kumar’s assessment is that while initially he needed the BJP to gain and consolidate power in Bihar, he could now afford to come out of the BJP’s embrace and seek some other alliance. While striking deals with the Congress over ‘special category status’ for Bihar, he also seems ready to contribute to the chorus for a ‘federal front’ by reaching out to his counterparts in Odisha and West Bengal. On June 12, while a JD(U) emissary was present at the Naveen Patnaik show in Delhi demanding ‘special status’ for Odisha, another JD(U) leader came to Kolkata to have a talk with Mamata Banerjee. 

There is also a pressing need for Nitish Kumar to seek a new context for himself in Bihar. He is aware that the social and political coalition that catapulted him to power was born under extraordinary circumstances and cannot be sustained for any indefinite length of time. In 2005 February he emerged as a key player but without a clear mandate. In November 2005 he got a mandate to usher in ‘regime change’ in a chaotic and stagnant Bihar. In 2010 he played on the danger of a possible return of Lalu Prasad, but what fetched him a bigger mandate was Bihar’s aspiration for development.

But now in 2013 when the dream of development has visibly begun to turn sour, and social oppression, police repression and the highhandedness of a corrupt bureaucracy have become the hallmarks of his government, Nitish Kumar evidently needs to shift the goalpost. Hence his sudden rediscovery of the secular principle! And unlike VP Singh who had to sacrifice his government at the Centre by parting ways with the BJP, Nitish Kumar has the comfort of playing the ‘secular’ card without risking the safety of his government as his own party is just a few short of the majority mark!

From left to right: BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (second from left), Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (centre) and BJP President Rajnath Singh at an NDA rally in 2009. File photo: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com

How should the Left respond to this split in the ruling alliance in Bihar? The fact that the ruling alliance has split under the weight of its own unsustainable opportunism is certainly welcome and the Left must use this welcome turn of events to intensify the ongoing struggles on the host of people’s issues and sharpen and strengthen its own intervention in the increasingly competitive political situation of Bihar.

It must be understood that the Left in Bihar has not come together only to oppose the impact of central policies on Bihar – the joint actions of the Left in Bihar have primarily been directed against the policies and measures of the Bihar government, against the latter’s comprehensive failure and betrayal in keeping its poll promises and fulfilling the demands of the people. The people of Bihar will not shed tears over the loss of trust between the BJP and JD(U), but there is no way the people can condone the betrayal by the Nitish Kumar government of the interests of the toiling masses of Bihar and of the very aspiration for ‘development with justice’.

At every turn of event and on every issue of importance, the Nitish Kumar government has proved to be a handmaiden of the feudal forces and if the BJP has succeeded in almost doubling its strength in Bihar Assembly, it is very much a result of Nitish Kumar’s politics of appeasement of feudal-communal forces in Bihar. This historical reality cannot be erased by the belated and opportunist split on the question of elevation of Narendra Modi as the chief of the BJP’s election campaign committee. With the BJP pushed into the opposition space, opposition politics will become much more competitive in Bihar and the Left will have to assert its agenda by intervening in this competition with all its strength. It must be understood that this is an important part of the Left’s battle against the BJP in this new phase in Bihar.

The Odisha model where a section of the Left ran into the embrace of Naveen Patnaik the moment he severed ties with the BJP must serve as a negative reference point for the Left in Bihar. The Odisha model may have helped the CPI win a Lok Sabha seat with the blessing of the ruling party but today Odisha is a hotbed of corporate plunder and the people are forced to fight hard against the government that the CPI continues to support. In Bihar, the CPI has already declared the support of its lone MLA for the June 19 vote of confidence sought by Nitish Kumar, of course adding that this stand should not be construed as an expression of general support for the government. The future of understanding and cooperation between the CPI and CPI(ML) will depend on the course the CPI takes vis-a-vis the JD(U) and the Nitish Kumar government.

The Left ranks in Bihar need not learn only from Odisha. The CPI has its own experience in Bihar to learn from. The early 1970s were a period of great advance for the CPI in Bihar but the Emergency era blunder of partnership with Indira Gandhi stunted its growth and discredited its politics. After years of determined anti-feudal struggle, when the Congress was ousted from power, the CPI once again repeated the blunder by getting into an uncritical alliance with Lalu Prasad. By the time the party leadership woke up to the danger of this perilous partnership, it was too late and the CPI could never regain the strength, credibility and initiative it once enjoyed in Bihar.

Now that Nitish Kumar has been forced to end the extraordinary and unsustainable alliance in Bihar, the political situation in the state has surely opened up. The revolutionary Left must take the fullest advantage of the new situation to rejuvenate the resistance of the working people, sharpen the struggle on every question of democracy, justice and development and forcefully intervene in the developing ideological-political churning in the society in Bihar.

Nitish Kumar had reduced whatever ideology he had inherited from the 1974 movement to a pursuit of power marked by utter political opportunism and total appeasement of feudal forces. Today when the Congress faces its deepest crisis of credibility, ironically enough, both Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, the two self-styled legatees of the 1974 movement are busy in a competitive bid to court the thoroughly discredited Congress. The revolutionary Left must take the lead to unify the Left and other democratic forces in Bihar in a determined and powerful bid to emerge as a pole not only against the Congress and the BJP but also in contrast to the corrupt and opportunist political culture symbolised by the JD(U) and the RJD.

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