New Delhi, Aug. 16: Nawal Kishore Yadav, an RJD MLC, earlier this week defied the party to praise BJP frontrunner Narendra Modi as the most promising leader on the political scene.
Yadav earned suspension for extolling Modi, but touched off a troubling thought for the RJD brass to mull: was the MLC merely declaring a personal preference or was it an articulation of a changing sense on the ground? Are Bihar’s politically and numerically (nearly 14 per cent) influential Yadavs re-examining options amid shifting equations in the state?
A change in the Yadav mood is nothing the RJD boss Lalu Prasad is willing to countenance even as hypothesis, but some around him now concede they sense a “disturbing restiveness” which could play out in the run-up to the 2014 polls. “Yadavs have stuck by Lalu and the RJD through the worst of times,” said a senior RJD leader. “But there are new factors intervening in the political process, things are changing fast, we need to watch our flanks.”
What worries the RJD leaders most is the prospect that Lalu might soon be convicted in the fodder scandal and plucked off the scene. Neither former chief minister Rabri Devi nor son Tejaswi has displayed the ability to fill his shoes; keeping the core flock will be a challenge without Lalu.
Especially now that the BJP, alone and aggressive in the Bihar arena, has begun to woo the backward constituency anew. It’s moot whether it will work as an electoral tug, but among the many faces of Narendra Modi that will be put out in Bihar — decisive, development-oriented, Hindu nationalist — probably the most robustly sold backstage at the hustings would be his “backward caste” (Ghanchi-Teli) identity. It may only have been a desperate long-distance bid to reach out, but it is not insignificant that Modi opened his doors today to Sadhu Yadav, defeated Congress nominee from Bettiah and discredited brother-in-law of Lalu Prasad. It did not seem to matter to Modi’s scheme that Sadhu Yadav symbolised the 15-year “jungle raj” under Lalu that the BJP vociferously fought. Bihar’s own Modi who led the campaign against “jungle raj” — former deputy chief minister Sushil — was clearly upset.
Sushil issued the Gujarat chief minister a terse advisory from Patna: “Narendra Modiji should consult the Bihar BJP unit before meeting any non-BJP leader from the state.”
BJP leaders from the state claim Modi has begun to impact the “backward (read Yadav) vote” ahead of his arrival to lead the party’s campaign in Bihar. After addressing meetings in the Yadav-dominated Danapur-Maner belt off Patna last month, senior partyman Ravi Shankar Prasad told The Telegraph: “Both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad must heed the message from the ground, the enthusiasm for Narendra Modi, especially among Bihar’s backward communities which they claim proprietorship over, is overwhelming. The turnout in these areas was to be seen to be believed.”
Leaders of the ruling JD(U) concede there might be a shift in the Yadav mood towards the BJP but feign no worry on that count. “Yadavs were never our constituency,” said one. “They blame Nitish for snatching away their ‘raj’ and would, therefore, never vote for us. The loss is going to be the RJD’s. The more Yadavs shift to the BJP, in fact, the more the minorities will consolidate behind us.”
Patna-based observer and analyst Saibal Gupta sees political logic in sections of Yadavs wanting to hitch their stars to the BJP. “They have been without power for close to a decade now, and they know they are not going to get it under Nitish. Should the BJP be able to display winnability, some of them, especially the affluent ones, will be tempted to switch loyalty. They will be tempted even more if Lalu is in jail on fodder scam charges.”
It is early days in the pre-election interplay of caste equations, but surely the push and prod has begun. The recurrence of communal tensions post the JD(U)-BJP split is part of the polarisation/realignment effort. The Muslim-Yadav compact has held fairly firm under Lalu for a quarter of a century and worked as a social safety-net against sectarianism. Should that come apart, as political and intellectual voices in Patna have begun to speculate, it will mark the most radical switching of socio-political equations. It may well defy current notions and understanding of voter behaviour in Bihar too.