Lalu Prasad's political career depends on the number of seats the Rashtriya Janata Dal wins in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The RJD boss has stressed in most of his rallies that the country could disintegrate if Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party is banking on Modi and his wave, and the party hopes to win more seats than it did the last time to get the mandate to form the next government at the Centre. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) seems to be waging a lonely battle in the state after walking out of National Democratic Alliance.
Prabhat P Ghosh, director of the Asian Development Research Institute, a think-tank in Patna, speaks to Business Standard’s Shantanu Bhattacharji over telephone about Bihar's highly polarised politics and the winds of change in the state, and simplifies the Modi phenomenon.
Do you think governance is the biggest casualty in the highly polarised polls in Bihar?
For the time being, it might have become marginalised in the state. However, it will certainly come back with a bang when Bihar goes for the Assembly polls next year. Good governance will be the JD(U)’s principal plank in the assembly elections. At present, national issues are dominating the election scene in Bihar. Moreover, the entire Lok Sabha battle is centred on the Narendra Modi factor.
Is there a Modi wave in Bihar?
No, not all. In fact, some of the latest indications suggest that the RJD-Congress alliance is doing extremely well in the state. There is a total rejection of the so-called Modi wave in the state.
Can you decode the current political trend in the state?
The RJD-Congress coalition has picked up momentum of late. The JD (U)'s performance seems a notch below average. In simple terms, as the JD (U) is doing rather poor people might think that governance has receded ,which might be a fact, but it is not completely true ... it is a temporary phenomenon. Development issues will be on top of agenda once Bihar gets ready for state elections in 2015. The Modi factor won’t help the BJP much in Bihar in these elections.
So, what helped Lalu Prasad bounce back as a major contender in Bihar?
The main agenda of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls is Narendra Modi. People wanted to reject Modi or have already rejected him in Bihar. They are left with two alternatives: Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad. And, Lalu Prasad is an obvious choice because he has shown his dabangg (tough) persona to take on Modi.
Do you feel Bihar is bucking the national trend by rejecting Narendra Modi?
The story that Narendra Modi stands for development is a misnomer, not a convincing story. The reason is that many people know development in Gujarat is not a new phenomenon. It was there even before Modi so he has not made any great contribution to it. Gujarat growth is approximately 8-9% currently, and was the same earlier as well.
But why would people reject Narendra Modi?
There are three obvious reasons. Firstly, I told you just now that Gujarat was prosperous even before Modi. It is unfair to give all credit to Narendra Modi for Gujarat’s prosperity.
Secondly, there is a huge question mark over Modi’s secular credentials. For instance, for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP has distributed few tickets to Muslim aspirants. The saffron party has disregarded almost 12% of India’s population.
Thirdly, Modi is an authoritarian leader. The problem with an authoritarian leader is that once he gains power, he starts denigrating established institutions that were built up over the last so many years. As an autocratic leader, Modi can’t digest any dissension, and in a democratic set up we need a leader who is acceptable to all. Moreover, Modi does not command a majority in his party.
Several veterans such as L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and others have mellowed down a lot and accepted Modi as their leader...
I don't know what other people think about this issue. I think it does make sense to assume that senior leaders are backing him rather reluctantly. Can you imagine that the services of people like L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and others have been completely forgotten by the party? In addition, the party’s latest slogan ‘ab ki baar, Modi sarkaar’ is an obvious authoritarian stamp on the party.
Will the Bihar electorate be comparing the state's economic growth with that of Gujarat?
These two models are not comparable at all. A friend of mine said that in the case of Gujarat it is as if a well-fed man, whose sole desire is to have muscular body, went to a doctor. The doctor prescribes muscle-building and body-building supplements. In the case of Bihar, Nitish Kumar is like a physician who revived a state that was on the deathbed.
In terms of some economic indicators, Gujarat is better, but then, it was better even before. However, some of the social indicators in Gujarat are not at all impressive. On the contrary, what Bihar has done in the last 10 years despite its financial constraints is quite commendable.
Do you feel a special package for Bihar is a genuine demand?
I do agree that a special package might not be justified. But you must remember that Bihar’s growth problem cannot be solved with the state’s internal resources. We need external help and one of the ways is to give Bihar special category status. Nevertheless, that is not the only way.
What about technical glitches in granting Bihar special category status?
Keep aside the technical problems for the time being, the Centre can provide additional help in many other ways, such as heavy investment in infrastructure projects.
Do you think top industrialists are ready to invest in Bihar?
No. They are not. Why should they come? There is a huge infrastructure deficiency in Bihar. No one will be interested in investing in the state unless the deficiency is removed. Whatever could be done with its internal resources has already been done. Previously, external help had been denied on the ground that internal resources had not been fully utilised. But that is not the case now. It is high time the Centre should looked into the matter earnestly.
Is there a disconnect between the JD(U) and electorates? Why did it fail to showcase its good works?
Basically, the JD(U) was heading a coalition in which there were all kinds of people from the privileged class, the middle class and the deprived class. The departure of the BJP meant that the privileged people were no longer part of the JD(U). They have all gone to the BJP. When they left the party, there was a repercussion on the cooperation of bureaucracy, other professionals and the Press and so on. The media used to support Nitish Kumar. As these people have left and joined the BJP, the JD(U) was left all alone.
What attracted the people to join the BJP?
The BJP’s propaganda is that if Bihar is back on track or has shown encouraging growth during the past 8-9 years, it is because of the saffron party was teh JD(U)'s alliance partner. Now, that the BJP is not with the JD(U), Nitish Kumar's party won’t be able to perform.
Are the Bihar 2014 Lok Sabha polls any different from earlier elections?
Yes, they are. Almost in every election, apart from the party, the most crucial factor is the social base of the ruling party. The social base gives the ruling party its strength. Lalu Prasad’s social base is different from that of Nitish Kumar. In the good old days of the Congress, the party depended on another kind of social base. Every time there is an election, a new kind of coalition of social bases emerges as a ruling social base. At this stage, it is still unclear what sort of new coalition is coming up. As I said earlier, the RJD is doing well, it gives an indication that the social base Lalu Prasad has is now reorganising itself and trying to capture power. Every time there is an election, the choice is not about parties but about which coalition is the strongest. In other words, it is about which coalition has expanded its social base during the last five years.
Has Lalu Prasad revived the famous MY (Muslim-Yadav) alliance?
Yes, to some extent. Of course, he is banking on MY combination. There are other people as well, but MY combination is the core of the coalition.