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Bihar Opposition faces in-house inability to tap JDU-BJP anti-incumbency


New Delhi: The Opposition alliance for the Bihar assembly elections is facing a mismatch between theory and practice of electoral politics and social chemistry on the ground. The RJD-led front has several issues to challenge the Nitish Kumar regime.

Adding to the incumbency burden are problems inflicted on the administration by the pandemic in healthcare and rehabilitation of migrant workers, which has added to public disgruntlement. Besides, the deepening national economic crisis, loss of jobs following the lockdown and wide-spread agrarian issues have limited the Centre’s capacity to flash a poll-time diversion to camouflage incumbency issues. The Bihar assembly polls will also coincide with the national Opposition’s attempts to rally farmers and workers against the new farm and labour laws.

All these factors should have enthused the Opposition in the normal circumstances but public posturing notwithstanding, something is evidently amiss in the front. Not many senior Opposition leaders from the state have exuded confidence privately, as the poll campaign began. They find two major handicaps in effectively tapping incumbency issues.

The coalition primarily lacks an inspiring leadership — be it RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav or CongressRahul Gandhi — to galvanise the rank and file on the battlefield. The fact that jailed Lalu Prasad cannot campaign adds to the leadership crisis. “Even if he evoked hostility and counter-rallying for the JDU-BJP, Laluji’s electoral presence electrified our rank and file. Tejashwi and Rahul Gandhi simply don’t have natural skills to unite leaders and galvanise the electorate,” said a Bihar opposition leader.

Secondly, the opposition’s traditional and still predominant M-Y combination is less effective with Prime Minister Narendra Modi showcasing a ‘development plank’ under a ‘Hindutva nationalist’. The PM and the BJP’s electoral machinery are expected to bank on the twin planks to tide over the incumbency burdens of the state regime.

This would mean that instead of expanding its base, RJD may have to guard against desertion of the Yadav community, while the social base of the Bihar Congress remains notional as its organisational presence. The other likely allies, CPI-ML and CPI, have very limited pockets of influence.

“On our own (Opposition alliance) we have not done enough to tap the popular anger and disappointment with the performance of the central and the state governments. We can only hope to be a default gainer in case people look for the only alternative before them,” said an MP from Bihar, summing up the Opposition mood.

The alliance’s failure to find credible parties to fill the void created after JDU’s 2017 exit remains, with the likes of HAM and RLSP turning out to be paper tigers who made exaggerated claims. It prompted the RJD to make them ‘take-it-or-leave’ offers and ask another party, VIP, to field most candidates under the RJD symbol.

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