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Bihar polls: Why Tejashwi Yadav should take Chirag Pawan, Owaisi, Left more seriously

Tejashwi Yadav 
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
The Bihar assembly results are out. They have proved that those who tried to influence the polls before or after through their 'exit' strategies had egg on their face. The journalists and experts who claim to be 'grounded' were divided into pro- and anti-factions of Narendra Modi. If over 80% them were giving NDA a chance, the rest of 20% were certain that the Mahagathbandhan would take over.
Most of them, however, felt that Chirag Paswan won't be able to do anything, though he would ‘succeed' in denting Nitish Kumar, who is playing his last innings. They didn’t think much of the Asaduddin Owaisi’s All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM)
There are, however, a few things that these results do show. While BJP's Ram Mandir and Kashmir did not work, Tejashwi Yadav should have been careful. His image was sought to be 'constructed' by the upper caste savarna 'coterie' in a particular way. He seemed less keen on highlighting 'social justice'. To him 'economic justice' was important. What his advisers failed to tell him is – social justice will remain the most important issue in India as long as our feudal structure does not change.
If there is any lesson from Bihar's election, it is this: that in India, oppressed castes still remain unrepresented in the power structure. After the demise of Ram Vilas Paswan, who appeared as a Bahujan face of Bihar, ‘secular’ parties further tried to undermine all that he stood for. Even earlier, both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav had their problems with Paswan, probably because of his caste.
In these elections, Chirag Paswan proved that, even when he was unable to win much, he could damage others’ prospects. If Chirag had gone with Nitish Kumar or Tejashwi Yadav, either of them would have secured majority, and wouldn’t have needed BJP or Congress.
Tejashwi decided to ally with Congress, which has done nothing in Bihar during the last five years. While Priyanka Gandhi has been touring Uttar Pradesh and focussing on issues, there was no one in Bihar to do this. Perhaps, if Tejashwi had given more seats to CPI-ML, his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) would have had better results.
But these all these are ifs and buts. Tejashwi would do well to to strengthen his social justice alliance, including with the Left parties, if he wants to take on BJP. After all, Congress has a limited base, and it has not been able to spread it either. Blaming Asaduddin Owaisi for its failures wouldn’t help. While Congress, RJD and their allies tried to focus on development, they appeared to pretend as if ‘caste' has been 'annihilated' in Bihar. At no point of time, we saw an assurance from their leaders to the most powerless groups by speaking about them.
The biggest surprise in Bihar has come from AIMIM, which has won five seats. Its leader Owaisi focused on the Seemanchal area of Bihar, and his gambit has paid off. He made alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP). AIMIM appears to have got Dalit-OBC votes. However, it is an alliance which emerged just before the polls, hence it is doubtful it will form an ideological front. It may face the same fate as that ofOwaisi’s alliance with Prakash Ambedkar in Maharashtra.
Nitish Kumar failed miserably because his caste does not have enough presence in the state. He was always a leader needed by the savarnas to counter the so-called jungle raj of Lalu Prasad Yadav. This time, as is being reported, Chirag's savarna candidates were responsible for the decimation of Nitish Kumar's party.
BJP's rise has made it abundantly clear that savarnas have shifted their allegiance. This will not change till social justice issues are taken up by other parties. If the latter think that a savarna narrative will attract savarna votes, they are mistaken. Only when they take up social justice issues in their constituencies, focusing on the Bahujan narrative and work with the most marginalised sections, would they succeed. BSP can attract Valmikis, Kols, Kushwahas, Kurmis, Rajbhars etc. if it nurtures them, unlike Brahmins, who will only vote to a winning candidate.
BJP consolidating savarna votes and dividing others is its well-established and proven strategy. It is for other parties to learn a lesson. Congress will not gain unless BJP is weakened, because both the parties have the same leadership structure. At the moment, the savarnas cannot think of dividing them into two groups, as they know, such a division will only help the Bahujans or avarnas, into power.
Congress, unfortunately, has not learned its lesson, because learning this lesson and implementing it, would mean Congress returning to its Mandal politics. But this will not happen as long as the party adheres to the Brahmanical narrative and does not provide enough space to the Bahujan communities, including minorities.
Another factor of these elections is a wake up call for secular parties. All these years secular parties took Muslims for granted and never raised their issues. During the last six years, the Muslim community faced so much of demonisation, yet none of them, who are now blaming Owaisi for cutting into their votes, spoke for them. These parties are feeling that raising issues of Muslims would 'polarise' voters and BJP would gain.
Nitish Kumar as chief minister will be at the mercy of BJP. His party has little future. His savarna votes are now with BJP, while its OBC votes in the coming days will shift to RJD
Meanwhile, BJP has continued to demonise Muslims, which is what it did during Bihar elections, too. It should be understood: Muslims feel that secular parties in India have betrayed them because they don’t raise their issues or provide them with enough community leaders to raise their grievances. Muslims do know, putting their faith in secular parties during the past 70 years has failed to get them fair representation or resolution to their issues.
The view is strong: When every caste is consolidating itself, why shouldn’t the Muslims do the same under a political party which fights political battle for them. During a Facebook live discussion, Ali Anwar – journalist, social activist and politician, who fights discrimination against lower-caste and Dalit Muslims – agreed, for political parties Muslim issues do not matter, only their votes do.
Asaduddin Owaisi, Chirag Paswan
Most of the candidates of AIMIM won handsomely and it will strengthen Owaisi's resolve to take the battle to Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. He is a capable leader who has spoken powerfully on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register for Citizens (NRC), which secular parties have failed to do. The result is Muslims have begun trusting him. You cannot disenfranchise a community in democracy by denying it political space. Communities will fight and weave their own network, and this is what is happening in Bihar. 
As for the performance of Left parties in Bihar, particularly CPI-ML, which has a strong network and cadre base in Bihar and Jharkhand, they have been successful because of their hard work to raise people's issues, even as providing representation to diverse communities. They do not have money and media support, but their commitment to social justice is deep. The Mahagathbandhan would have done well to give them more seats. In Bihar and Jharkhand, CPI-ML is all set to play a more decisive role. Tejashwi Yadav and RJD must develop better coordination with them. It can work wonders.
As for Tejashwi Yadav, he has proved that he can deliver. He worked hard and did try to stitch alliances at the local level. He is much more powerful now. Right now, Bihar will not have a stable government. Nitish Kumar as chief minister will be at the mercy of BJP. His party has little future. His savarna votes are now with BJP, while its OBC votes in the coming days will shift to RJD, unless BJP plays a Mandal politics.
BJP could not become the largest party in Bihar but it will build its narrative for West Bengal. The Left parties need to stitch their alliance in West Bengal by focusing on how to take on BJP. West Bengal is going to have CAA and NRC as important issues. Owaisi is going to contest in there. He will try to attract not just Muslim votes but also Dalit votes. Meanwhile, BJP is jumping on Dalit issues and is trying to reach out to the Namsudra community, compelling Mamata Banerjee to declare some specific measures for the community.
Bihar elections prove that India cannot be governed by one community or party. India will always need ‘Mahagathbandhans’ of communities. If one keeps in view the need for a long-term solution to India's political crisis, one needs coalitions to govern the country. These coalition will only function when they are based on concrete common minimum programmes and do not emerge just on the eve of elections. Secular parties need to spread their social base and build cadres and leaders from diverse communities. Bihar's elections prove that smaller parties, which take up community issues, may look small and may not demand much, but they can damage the established political parties.
---
*Human rights defender

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