Recently, Janata Dal United Chief Nitish Kumar pulled off a masterstroke of a strategy to remain Chief Minister of Bihar. How? Much of the talk has focussed on his ideological flexibility and clever timing. But, behind his remarkable success as a survivor is a brain that has carried out experiments in social repackaging and political messaging that is possibly unmatched in the history of Indian politics.
Nitish has focussed his strategies on three social groups — SCs, BCs and Women — and they have over time come to constitute a social base that makes him indispensable to the BJP and RJD in their attempts to form a government in Bihar. And, Nitish has used this king-making leverage to remain king himself.
SCs: His focus on gaining in the late 1990s was to win Ram Vilas Paswan as a partner firmly won him about 5 per cent of the state’s population through Dalit communities such as the Ravidas and Musahars, who did not have a political figure to back them. Through this, he sought to target the remaining 12-13 percent of dalits who were mostly supporting Lalu Prasad then. Later, in 2007, he came up with the idea of Mahadalit and set up a Commission for them. For the last 15 years, Mahadalits have stood firmly behind him.
BCs: The Extreme Backward Classes (EBCs), made up of around 130 castes, constitutes an estimated 28-30 percent of Bihar’s population. But, they are scattered all over the state and are potential vote-swingers. In 2014, EBCs were mainly responsible for Modi’s election as PM given how it benefited NDA. So, Nitish gave EBCs care and benefits. There were scholarships for EBC students, and 20 per cent reservation for both Hindu and Muslim EBCs in panchayats and local bodies. Along with Mahadalits, EBCs are considered a solid vote bank for Nitish’s JD(U).
Women: Though women are a neutral and tough vote bank for politicians to usually crack. Support from women powered him to chief ministership in November 2015, and it was in response to the demand from that constituency that he imposed prohibition in Bihar the following year. He introduced a game-changing 50 per cent reservation for women in panchayats, and last year reserved 33 per cent seats in medical and engineering colleges for women. The Bihar government has also given a 33 percent quota to women in government jobs, 35 per cent in police jobs, and 50 per cent in primary teaching jobs at the panchayat level. Even in his party, Nitish has announced one-third reservation for women in organisational posts.
Recent Jolt & Aftermath for BJP
All these have worked in his favour. But, his recent jolt in submitting his resignation as CM to Bihar Governor and breaking off the alliance with BJP made waves across the country.Nitish acted fast and strategically and made the first move by snapping ties with BJP. He teamed up with RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav and other opposition parties and termed it as “Mahagathbandhan” aka Grand Alliance. Nitish Kumar is going to take oath as the CM today, and 32-year-old Tejashwi Yadav will be sworn in as the Deputy CM.
With such swift strategy, Nitish has not just pitched himself as a leader who reinvents political strategy with time but also as someone who plays cleverly by not allowing even a Goliath like BJP to intimidate him in his own territory. AP’s political leaders have a lot to learn from Nitish, who has indirectly pitched himself as the Grand Alliance face against the BJP, across the country.
We will have to wait and watch how regional parties will react and change their equations with the BJP. But, this made Nitish again the kingmaker in his own state and sent a warning message to the BJP.