In a year that left the world in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bihar pulled off a mammoth electoral exercise which saw the NDA retain power but a reinvigorated opposition snapping at its heels. The state was relatively less affected by the deadly coronavirus, accounting for under five per cent of the total cases in the country, and an even smaller percentage of fatalities, despite being home to almost one-tenth of its population.
Nonetheless, it bore the brunt of a massive migrant crisis triggered by the pandemic-induced nationwide lockdown that rendered millions of people homeless and jobless, forcing them to undertake arduous treks to their native villages hundreds of miles away from their places of work.
Bihar also remained in news for the dramatic turn of events following Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide in Mumbai. The FIR lodged against actress Rhea Chakraborty by the actor’s Patna-based father, and alleged attempts by Mumbai police to hinder the investigation prompted the Nitish Kumar government to recommend a CBI probe into the matter, a request quickly accepted by the Centre. The Shiv Sena, which heads the ruling coalition in Maharashtra, smelt a rat and alleged that the Bihar chief minister was acting with his eyes on ”electoral gains”.
Although the CBI investigation opened a can of worms in the film industry over alleged bias against outsiders and consumption of drugs, it is yet to find any incriminating evidence against Chakraborty, an ex-girlfriend of Rajput, linking her to his suicide. She hit back with a counter-complaint against the deceased actor’s sisters, accusing them of giving statements in the media aimed at misleading the probe.
The emotive issue, however, disappeared from public discourse as the assembly elections drew nearer and matters pertaining to governance took centre stage. The state’s outspoken police chief Gupteshwar Pandey, who hogged media limelight during the row between Bihar and Maharashtra police over Rajput’s suicide probe, took VRS and joined the chief minister’s JD(U) hoping to make a splash in the elections, could not secure a ticket and was left cooling his heels on the sideline.
While the NDA emerged victorious, its composition underwent a change with the entry of smaller players like Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM and Mukesh Sahni’s VIP. More importantly, the BJP emerged as the stronger partner, returning with a tally far greater than that of the JD(U), a development that is expected to alter power equations in the times to come.
The JD(U) blamed the slump in its tally on the brinkmanship of LJP leader Chirag Paswan, who pulled out of the NDA and fielded candidates against many of Nitish Kumar’s nominees. He also levelled a litany of allegations over governance and claimed Kumar misbehaved with his late father and Lok Janshakti Party founder Ram Vilas Paswan. In the opposition camp, Lalu Prasad’s younger son and heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav came of age, steering the RJD to an impressive performance in the assembly polls, though the Grand Alliance helmed by his party fell short of getting a majority.
Quite expectedly, accusatory fingers were pointed towards the Congress which seemed to have pulled the five- party coalition down, contesting 70 seats but winning only 19. In contrast, the moribund Left performed beyond expectations, with the CPI, CPI(M) and the CPI(ML) together winning 20 out of the 29 seats the three parties contested.
Yadav, however, maintained that the NDA owed its victory to alleged manipulations by pliant district-level officials. His party is hopeful of a major upset in political equations in the not-so-distant future, with an aggressive BJP flexing its muscles and a weakened Nitish Kumar worried about a possible diminution in his clout.
The NDA enjoys a slender majority with 125 seats in the 243-strong assembly. The Grand Alliance has a tally of 110. In a surprise development, Sushil Kumar Modi, the most visible face of the BJP in Bihar since the 1990s, was relieved of his duties as the deputy chief minister, with some analysts citing his failure to assert himself before Nitish Kumar as the reason.
The saffron party’s Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi were sworn in as Kumar’s new deputies. Modi was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha from the seat that had fallen vacant after Paswan’s death. There is talk of his possible induction into the Modi government.
The JD(U) chief is, meanwhile, working towards regaining lost ground. To this end, he is understood to have been giving a thought to mending fences with allies-turned- adversaries such as Upendra Kushwaha, whose RLSP drew a blank in the assembly polls. RLSP’s poll ally AIMIM, headed by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, however, got lucky. It won five seats, notwithstanding accusations by the Grand Alliance that its entry into Bihar was aimed at helping the BJP-led NDA by communally polarising voters, especially in the Seemanchal region which has a large Muslim population.
Although Bihar has not witnessed protests by farmers organisations against the three contentious agriculture marketing laws on a scale comparable to northern states, political parties outside the NDA have supported the agitation. The state saw many demonstrations against the CAA- NPR-NRC before COVID-19 struck and large public gatherings were banned.
CPI’s rising star Kanhaiya Kumar undertook a spirited statewide tour against the CAA while fellow JNUite Sharjeel Imam, who has been booked for sedition, was arrested in his home town Jehanabad for his alleged inflammatory speeches on the issue. Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) ended up supporting the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament and ousted dissidents like Pavan Varma and Prashant Kishor, who said the move could cost the JD(U) its following among Muslims.
The chief minister, however, attempted a damage control and a resolution opposing a country-wide NRC was unanimously passed by the assembly with more than 50 BJP MLAs supporting it.
First Published: IST