Bihar By-poll Pointers: 

Growing Rejection of Nitish Kumar’s Reign of Loot, Hunger, and Lies

It is commonly believed that by-election results tend to go in favour of the incumbent ruling parties. But recent by-election results have come as a major jolt to the powers that be in Delhi and Bihar. The ruling Congress has lost both the Assembly seats for which by-polls were held in Delhi, while in Bihar the JD(U)-BJP combine could win only 5 of the 18 seats that were up for grabs. Earlier, the Congress also suffered heavily in Gujarat where the BJP managed to wrest as many as five seats from the Congress.
The reversal of the Lok Sabha election trends within just four months is indeed quite significant. With prices soaring sky-high and the spectre of drought and starvation looming large over vast stretches of rural India, the anger of the aam aadmi is assuming explosive proportions. The by-elections have reflected this anger quite emphatically.
Most surprising has been the outcome in Bihar. Four months ago, the JD(U)-BJP combine had swept the polls bagging 32 of the 40 seats in the state. Lalu Prasad’s RJD was reduced to a tally of only 4 while Paswan’s LJP failed to open its account. The decline of the RJD triggered a veritable spree of desertion, with prominent RJD leaders seeking political shelter under Nitish Kumar’s umbrella.
Among the 18 seats for which by-elections were held in Bihar, as many as 13 were held by the ruling JD(U)-BJP combine. This time round, a supremely confident Nitish Kumar had predicted a total sweep in favour of his coalition. But the JD(U) has succeeded in retaining only three of its ten seats while the BJP has bagged just two. The JD(U) losers include two prominent dalit leaders who had quit the RJD. While the RJD turncoats lost, several JD(U) rebels contesting on RJD/LJP tickets or as independent candidates managed to win.
The results therefore mark a clear popular rejection of the Nitish Kumar government’s loud claims of having ushered in a reign of ‘development with justice’, and the anger of the electorate is resonating among millions of relief-starved rural poor in every corner of the state. Nitish Kumar’s fabled ‘social engineering’ among mahadalits, extreme backwards and pasmanda (backward) Muslims has clearly started showing multiple cracks under the pressure of massive pilferage of development funds and widespread loss of employment and livelihood in Bihar villages.
In an obvious attempt to put up a brave face, Nitish Kumar now attributes the reversals to sundry local factors. But most significantly, the BJP and sections of the JD(U) leadership are busy interpreting the results as a backlash by the predominantly upper caste landed gentry against the report of the Land Reforms Commission and the ‘threat’ of enactment of any legislation in favour of tenants and share-croppers. It should be noted that Lalu Prasad has also acknowledged the role of the disgruntled upper caste electorate. In other words, the election results are already being used as yet another excuse to dump the report of the Land Reforms Commission and thwart the crucial agenda of land reforms, with the complicity of all major non-Left parties in the state.
Another interesting fall-out of the election results is the renewed attempt of the RJD-LJP combine to woo the Congress and restore the erstwhile UPA combination in Bihar. Nitish too has acknowledged the Congress factor – the Congress had fielded candidates in all the 18 seats, winning two – as a spoiler for the JD(U)-BJP. As of now, the Congress seems willing to consider the idea of accommodating the RJD-LJP in a possible coalition in the ensuing Assembly elections in Jharkhand, while reiterating its plan to go it alone in Bihar.
Unlike the Lok Sabha elections, complete seat adjustment among the three major Left parties was not possible in these by-elections as the CPI(M) insisted on contesting even in areas with little or no organisational presence. While the CPI(ML) succeeded in retaining its votes in central Bihar and registering some increase in the northern part, the CPI and CPI(M) votes dropped quite significantly in their important constituencies in Banka and Begusarai districts. The message for the Left is clear: it must further pin down the Nitish Kumar government on each of its failed promises, especially on the questions of land reforms, rural employment, agricultural development, and relief and justice for the poor and the deprived.