CPI(ML) the X-Factor in Bihar as RJD-Congress Move Away from Politics of Identity to Politics of Subsidy?

Sidharth Mishra
·5-min read

The poll results in this country, elections after elections, have always been driven by an X-factor. This X-factor largely goes unrecognised by analysts covering the campaign, which they find it convenient to define as an 'under-current' after the results.

As poll campaigns for Bihar assembly elections 2020 steam ahead, analysts in the war rooms of political parties are busy crunching numbers, especially on which caste goes whose way. The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) garners its confidence from the fact that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) is back with them.

The general refrain from the BJP ranks is that Nitish comes with his 15 per cent vote share, which is a direct loss to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance). They are also confident that Chirag Paswan walking out will not do much damage, given the Lok Janshakti Party’s performance in 2015 polls, when they had won just two seats.

There is merit in this argument as far as consolidation of the traditional NDA votes go but it would be immature to project it as a direct loss of the Gathbandhan's vote share. In this poll, the grand alliance also has Left parties as its partner. It could be pointed out, that in the past too RJD had joined hands with Left. But in 2020, RJD is coming together with Communist Party of India (Maoist-Leninist) Liberation, for the very first time.

CPI (ML) is the true inheritor of the Naxalite movement in the state. It may be recalled that even at the height of Mandal politics when class politics of CPI and CPM got subsumed into caste politics of RJD, the CPI(ML) had still managed to retain its base.

The strength and seriousness of partnership between RJD and CPI(ML) is evident from the large-heartedness which RJD boss Lalu Prasad Yadav has shown towards the junior poll partner, giving them seats mostly from their own quota. To illustrate the point further, the RJD has given the Ziradei seat in Siwan to CPI (ML).

The dynamics of Siwan is such that RJD there is synonymous with the infamous mafia don Mohammed Shahabuddin. The incarcerated former MP is accused of the killing of rising CPI(ML) star Chandrashekhar in 1997. A former president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU), Chandrashekhar had in tradition of his party founder Vinod Mishra, left a lucrative job in academics to take up activism at the grassroots.

The CPI(ML) candidate is Amarjit Kushwaha, an activist like Chandrashekhar, and generally considered to be the inheritor of his legacy. He has faced imprisonment several times following his involvement in agitation by landless farmhands, which has been interpreted by prosecution as cases of land dispute. He is pitted against sitting MLA, Ramesh Kushwaha of JD(U).

The JD(U) candidate is also a former CPI(ML) cadre, who incidentally had lodged an FIR against Shahabuddin in the Chandrashekhar murder case but had failed to record his statement in the court. He was expelled from party, joined RJD and finally landed-up in JD(U).

He won the last polls with RJD’s support defeating Amarjit by a margin of 5,000 votes. This time around, the RJD is supporting the CPI(ML).

The Ziradei model is being replicated on 19 seats, which CPI(ML) is contesting, and this would have ramifications across the state. Can the coming together of the RJD and the CPI (ML) be interpreted as end of the Mandal politics?

Looking at the poll scenario from this (end of Mandal politics) perspective, one realizes that there is just Nitish Kumar, among the famous beneficiaries of Mandal politics, who is still surviving the rough and tumble of polls. The other two – Lalu Prasad Yadav is convicted in a corruption case and is in jail, and Ram Vilas Paswan has passed away.

Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan, sons of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, may have inherited the political fortunes earned by their respective fathers practicing caste politics, but they are subtly changing gears to address the issues of post-Mandal politics like rising unemployment in the state.

Given the manifestos and poll promises of the political parties, politics of subsidy and welfare has for sure come to replace the politics of identity to a great extent. No wonder BJP manifesto has promised free inoculation for Covid-19 in the state.

This alteration has largely been impelled by the generational shift in the state politics. Mandal Commission report was implemented three decades ago, and almost half of the current voting population would not even recall its ramifications.

Similarly, Lala-Rabri’s ‘Jungle Raj’ ended 15 years ago. The first time voters in these elections would have been just three years old when JD(U)-BJP effectively emerged as the most dominant force in Bihar politics as the ruling alliance.

The continuous fusillade against Lalu Yadav by the tallest leader of BJP in Bihar, Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi betrays a negative campaign. It makes one feel that they are doing so because they may not be in the possession of much positive fuel to propel their poll propaganda. SuMo, as the Deputy Chief Minister is known, must realize that his outpourings are ending effectively as an inane blabber for a large section of voters.

A revisit of the composition of the grand alliance and the list of the candidates fielded by it, gives credence to Tejashwi Yadav’s claim of his politics not just being about M(Muslim) and Y(Yadav) but A to Z.

The Mahagathbandhan, even if inadvertently, has effectively ended up having created an image, at least on paper, of being representative of people cutting across castes and communities.

The NDA war room should worry about this permutation on paper getting replicated in the battlefield.

(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst. Views expressed are personal.)