By Dr. Gyan Pathak
With the reshuffle of the Union Cabinet, realignment in Bihar politics has just begun. The already dominant OBC politics in Bihar is sure to undergo a change because the BJP has focused on the OBC politics in the country which is also indicated in the inclusion of a record 27 OBC ministers in the newly reshuffled Union cabinet. The most fluid SC politics is the state may also undergo further realignment, the process of which has begun with inclusion of a rebellion LJP leader into the cabinet. BJP hopes to gain from these political churning, but only time will tell which of the political parties in Bihar actually benefited.
Though the PM Narendra Modi’s reshuffle of Union cabinet have included only 2 ministers from Bihar – Ramchandra Prasad Singh and Pashupati Kumar Paras, the inclusions are politically significant. The elevation of Raj Kumar Singh from a Minister of State to Cabinet Minister is also seen as politically significant. Bihar is known for caste politics and the three MPs mentioned above are from OBC, SC, and GENERAL categories. The reshuffle is thus a political balancing in Bihar politics.
After death of Ram Vilas Paswan, the founder of Lok Janshakti Party, just before the Vidhan Sabha elections in Bihar in 2020, his son Chirag Paswan had led LJP out of the NDA fold. He had wanted more seats for his party, but JD(U) leader and the Chief Minister of the State Nitish Kumar opposed his demand. BJP did not prefer to antagonize Nitish Kumar by giving more seats to LJP. It resulted into a breaking of the alliance, and LJP contested on its own. The BJP and JD(U) contested together in which BJP emerged as the bigger partner, but not so big to be able to desert the JD(U), as was being rumoured and believed at that time as a possibility.
Despite being a junior partner Nitish Kumar again became the Chief Minister of the State, while Chirag Paswan did not lose hope from the BJP of getting into again in NDA. BJP either did not act as to dishearten the LJP leader. LJP had about 8 per cent of vote bank in the state, chiefly among the SCs, which reduced to about 5 per cent in the Vidhan Sabha election. The split in the NDA though benefited the RJD which became the single largest party in the Vidhan Sabha. The LJP won a seat, the MLA latter defected to JD(U). However, in the Lok Sabha election 2019, LJP had won six seats and got 8.2 per cent of votes chiefly from SC vote bank, which the BJP has been eyeing for a long time.
It is precisely due to this reason, the BJP have been maintaining silence regarding their relationship with the JD(U) having a large base among the OBCs and LJP having considerable base among the SCs. BJP wanted both the vote bank, but have been facing problems due to adamant attitudes of Nitish Kumar and Chirag Paswan who were not ready to revive the old BJP-JD(U)-LJP alliance. June 13, 2021 split in the LJP gave an opportunity to BJP. Five MPs from LJP revolted against Chirag Paswan and made a separate group in the Lok Sabha under the leadership of Pashupati Kumar Paras (brother of Ram Vilas Paswan), who is now made a cabinet minister in Modi’s reshuffle. BJP hopes that by doing so it may get the benefit of SC politics in the state on the strength of BJP-JD(U)-LJP (Pashupati group) alliance. However, the nature of SC politics in the country does not change overnight. SCs slowly shift their loyalties – very slow in joining or deserting political parties, sometimes take years or decades.
However, BJP’s giving importance to splinter group of LJP in the cabinet is clear disadvantage to Nitish Kumar and his party JD(U), since the political fortunes will have to be shared in the state with new entrant in the state NDA. Modi has tried his best to pacify him by inclusion of JD(U) MP an OBC leader Ramchandra Prasad Singh into the reshuffled cabinet. However, it may not really enthuse Nitish Kumar, because BJP is clearly giving importance to other leaders and parties in the state, which indirectly means belittling the importance of Nitish Kumar and his party JD(U) having considerable base among OBCs. Additionally, BJP has also focused on OBC politics in the country by including a record number of OBC ministers in the reshuffled cabinet. It is therefore almost certain that JD(U) and BJP will be trying to strengthen their OBC bases, which may lead to a certain level of rift between the two. JD(U), which has been weakening in the state for quite some time compared to the BJP, will thus find tough time ahead to keep its OBC base intact.
Modi has not only given importance to OBC and SC politics in Bihar, but also has given due weightage to the forward class politics by elevating Raj Kumar Singh, a member of the forward class, to cabinet minister. BJP could not afford to antagonize the forward class in the state because it has largest support base among them in the state compared to any other political party. BJP had won 17 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election out of 40 in the state and with 24.06 per cent of votes. JD(U) had won 16 with 22.26 per cent of votes share, but it had lost much of its ground by 2020 Vidhan Sabha election, in which it could get on 15.39 per cent of votes.
In this backdrop, a shift in OBC and SC vote bank is most likely to occur in near future in Bihar politics. BJP hopes to gain by its shuttle moves, but JD(U) may soon be enforced to protect its interest through some countermoves. It may give some opportunities to RJD which has already emerged as the largest political party in the Bihar Vidhan Sabha, winning 75 seats and increasing its vote share from 15.36 to 23.11 per cent between Lok Sabha election of 2019 and Vidhan Sabha election of 2020. Even a little shift of OBC and SC votes towards RJD could prove devastating for BJP and JD(U) amidst BJP-JD(U)-LJP (Pashupati group)’s inner struggle. There is also a possibility of Chirag Paswan led LJP’s coming closure to RJD, and if it happens, would strengthen RJD. (IPA Service)