Ayodhya verdict has complicated Bihar poll scene (Comment)

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS
Saturday, October 9, 2010

Since Bihar is the first state which will go to the polls in the aftermath of the Ayodhya verdict, the impact of the controversial judgment is bound to be seen in the results. Intriguingly, the expectations of the two ruling allies - the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - from the voters will not only be different but also contradictory to one another.

The BJP, for instance, will hope for a resurgence of Brahmin and upper caste support for it in view of the judicial acceptance of the legitimacy of at least a portion of the disputed site in Ayodhya as Lord Ram’s birthplace. Since it vindicates the party’s two-decade-long campaign to build a temple at the spot, the BJP would like to make much of the judgment in its election rallies.

However, such are the complexities of Indian politics that its partner in power, the secular JD-U, will frown on any such attempt since it will scare away the Muslims and also other minorities, such as the Christians, from the ruling alliance. The BJP, therefore, will have to tread carefully when it talks about the verdict.

How the JD-U deals with the subject at its own meetings will be interesting to see since it must be extremely nervous about the Muslims turning away from it just when everything seemed to be going in its favour. Till the judgment was delivered, the JD-U was banking mainly on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s widely applauded developmental efforts, which have been in marked contrast to his predecessor Lalu Prasad’s dismal record in this field during his 15 years in office.

Nitish Kumar was also hoping to gain from the improvement in the law and order situation after years of kidnappings, extortions and Maoist depredations when Lalu Prasad was in power. The chief minister has also been carefully putting together a non-Yadav combination of extreme backward castes (EBCs), who are expected to be his main base of support along with the Muslims.

The increase in his popularity can be seen from the rise in the JD-U’s voting percentage from 20.4 percent in the assembly elections of 2005 to 24 percent in last year’s parliamentary polls. The BJP, on the other hand, suffered a decline in the same period, with its vote share falling from 15.6 percent in 2005 to 13.9 percent in 2009. As is obvious, the voters evidently place greater faith in Nitish Kumar than on his partner.

The judgment, therefore, could not have come at a worse time for him. Even before it was delivered, he was bending over backwards to keep the Muslims in good humour by his patently discourteous treatment of the BJP when the latter made the mistake of displaying a poster showing Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi clasping hands.

Given Modi’s demonic reputation among the Muslims, Nitish Kumar announced his displeasure by boycotting a dinner hosted by the BJP on the occasion of its conclave in Patna. The chief minister has also been insisting for quite some time that neither Modi nor the other fiery Muslim-baiter, Varun Gandhi, should campaign in the state.

Now, all these efforts may prove to be in vain. Considering that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the more militant of the Sangh Parivar organisations, has rejected the three-way division of the site suggested by the high court between Hindus, Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara, one of the litigants, the unease among the minorities about the saffron brotherhood’s real intentions is unlikely to subside in the near future.

The BJP’s L.K. Advani, too, has said that he will not rest content unless the temple is built. Before Narendra Modi emerged on the scene, Advani was the bete noire of the Muslims because of his Somnath-to-Ayodhya rath yatra in 1990 - also known as the riot yatra - which prepared the ground for the demolition of the Babri Masjid two years later by a frenzied Hindu mob.

It is difficult to say who will gain from the new complications introduced in the electoral scene by the judgment, but there is little doubt that Lalu Prasad and his junior partner, Ramvilas Paswan, will approach the polls in a much more confident frame of mind than before.

After all, the vote share of Lalu Prasad’s party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), is not inconsiderable. It was 23.4 percent in 2005 - the highest among all the parties. Although the percentage fell steeply to 19.3 in 2009, the RJD was still second only to the JD-U. If Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party (LJP) can retain the 6.5 percent votes, which it received in 2009, the RJD-LJP combination can give Nitish Kumar a run for his money, especially if sizable sections of Muslims turn away from him.

The Congress is the dark horse in this race between the JD-U and the BJP on one side and RJD-LJP on the other. Although the Congress is still very much the outsider with a vote share as low as 10.2 percent in 2009 - up from six percent in 2005 - it is possible that Rahul Gandhi’s aggressive campaigning, evident from his comparison of the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with the fundamentalist Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), will influence the Muslim electorate.

Clearly, the last word is a long way from being said in Bihar.

(09.10.2010-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

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