Can BJP Cope With Resurgent Opposition?
Leaders of various opposition parties during the oath taking ceremony of Siddaramaiah in Karnataka on May 20, 2023. (Image used for representational purpose only.) | Image courtesy: @SitaramYechury (Twitter)
The joint Opposition meeting at Patna on June 23—in which political heavyweights from across the country have confirmed their presence—is all set to be the first mega show of strength against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
The likely attendees at the meeting, hosted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar include the Congress brass Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi besides the chief ministers of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Jharkhand, Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren, respectively.
The Nationalist Congress Party, Samajwadi Party and Shiv Sena presidents Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav and Uddhav Thackeray, respectively, besides the Left parties—CPI(ML)-Liberation, CPI(M) and CPI’s general secretaries—Dipankar Bhattacharya, Sitaram Yechuri and D. Raja too have confirmed their presence at the assemblage that has been rescheduled from June 12 to June 23.
“There is an undeclared emergency in the country. People have been stripped of their right to speech and expression. The investigating agencies—Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax—are pressed [into service] against the dissenters. The Opposition meeting will go a long way in restoring democracy in India,” Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwhi Yadav and Janata Dal (United) [JD9U)] president Lalan Singh jointly told reporters at Patna.
The Opposition meeting is taking place in the background of the BJP’s debacle in the Karnataka Assembly election, followed by which, numerous Opposition parties boycotted the inauguration of the new Parliament building by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Now, at Kejriwal’s call, the Opposition is gearing up to vote against the central ordinance that has nullified the Supreme Court’s verdict that empowered the Delhi government with control over services [bureaucrats] in the National Capital Territory (NCT).
With Nitish as the pivot, Bihar has probably emerged as the strongest bastion of Opposition unity. It already has the rainbow coalition of seven parties—JD(U), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress, three Left parties and Hindustan Awam Morcha (Secular) governing since August 2022 when Nitish dumped the BJP and returned to the Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance.
Bihar’s ruling alliance is a microcosm of what the anti-BJP parties are trying to build at the national level. Given the statistics and chemistry in their favour, the Mahagathbandhan partners are in a supremely strong position to defeat the BJP in the state.
The RJD-JD(U)-Congress alliance had massively defeated the BJP in 2015 Assembly poll—the coalition had bagged 178 seats against the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s 58. The RJD, JD(U) and Congress separately had won 80, 71 and 27 seats, respectively, whereas the BJP alone was reduced to 53 seats. The alliance secured 41.8% votes against the NDA’s 34.1%. The combination of ‘magical’ Lalu Prasad Yadav and ‘methodical’ Nitish Kumar successfully built a narrative that played havoc with the Narendra Modi-led Hindutva party.
However, there is a counter-narrative to the 2015 story. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party—arguably the strongest regional parties in the heartland state of Uttar Pradesh, where the former has clout among the backward classes and the latter with the Dalit voters—struck an alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. It looked formidable on paper.
But the SP-BSP alliance failed to stop the saffron’s ‘wave’ with the BJP winning 62 of its 80 Lok Sabha seats against the Samajwadi Party’s five and the BSP’s 10. The BJP also secured 49.6% votes against the SP-BSP’s 37.2%. In the Uttar Pradesh context, it was said that the state’s electorate had voted mainly in the name of Modi in the general elections.
A close look into the demography and the political leadership in Uttar Pradesh highlights that the BJP is stronger in the most populous state with a hold among numerous castes. It has better control over the narrative in this state, as opposed to its inherent vulnerability in Bihar.
The Mahagathbandhan in Bihar has the solid backing of the Yadavs and Kurmis, constituting about 16% and 3% respectively of the state’s population. Moreover, the Mahagathbandhan enjoys the support of a large chunk of the extremely backward class (EBCs), which has about 26% of the vote share in the state. The Muslims, who, according to the 2011 Census, constitute 16% of the population of Bihar, overwhelmingly support the Mahagathbandhan. In this situation, it is well nigh impossible for the BJP to penetrate what can aptly be described as a Mahagathbandhan bastion.
On the other hand, the BJP has managed to impregnate the non-Yadav other backward classes (OBC) and the non-Jatav Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. And the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath blatantly plays the anti-Muslim and militant Hindutva cards, giving the saffron party has an edge in the most populous state which sends 80 elected leaders to the Lok Sabha every five years.
Unlike in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has failed to carve out a niche among the OBCs and Dalits in Bihar. Union Home Minister Amit Shah tried the dose of social engineering and communalism in the state but failed. Be it because of the presence of an undisputed mass leader like Lalu Prasad Yadav and ‘efficient’ on the governance score, Nitish Kumar, the BJP has failed to produce leaders who could match either.
Of course, during the AB Vajpayee and LK Advani era, the BJP had a reasonably better array of leaders with itself. Sushil Kumar Modi—the former deputy chief minister and now Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament—was a link between the party’s high command and Nitish and was quite effective in politics with the people. Sushil Modi is quite popular in Bihar as a product of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement in 1974. So are Nand Kishore Yadav and Prem Kumar, who have good control over their backward class support base in their respective areas of Patna City and Gaya.
Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have virtually annihilated the old and senior leadership of their party in Bihar, to produce ones who might be “loyal” to them. It is a situation akin to what happened in Karnataka, leading to the precipitous decline of the BJP there in the recent election. Further, in Bihar, the BJP has failed to nurture leaders who could at least come close to matching Lalu and Nitish Kumar in terms of political skill and clout.
The Modi-Shah combination has, of late, been projecting Samrat Choudhary—a Koiri leader and son of the late Shakuni Choudhary—as the party’s “face”. Choudhary was recently nominated as the state BJP president. But he is a renegade who has joined the BJP after stints in the RJD and JD(U). He has, so far, shown little promise to match what the Mahagathbandhan offers in terms of leadership.
The author is a senior journalist, media educator, and independent researcher in social anthropology. The views are personal.
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