When I heard the news of Bihar’s electoral alliance against BJP, I remembered a private conversation a few months back in Oxford with a member of India’s parliament who also had been a minister in one state government in India. We had agreed for one-hour meeting, but the conversation became so absorbing that we spent four hours in which many insights and observations were shared but one that has particularly stayed with me is the praise from the honourable parliamentarian for Tejaswi Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) leader. What was remarkable about that high praise was that the visiting MP was not from Yadav’s party. It is uncommon if not rare for a leader of a political party anywhere, but even more so in India where the political culture of sectarianism runs very deep, to praise a leader of another party. He also praised Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party(SP) but his special admiration was for Tejaswi Yadav, and he advanced the idea that both these young Yadavs were the best hope of resisting the further rise of BJP’s Hindutva political project in India.
After the admirable electoral pact between SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in UP for which the credit needs to be equally shared between Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, the BSP leader; the anti-BJP Mahagathbandhan in Bihar is the best news to emerge regarding the 2019 general election prospects. UP and Bihar constitute the core of the north Indian Hindi speaking region known as the cow belt of India from where the BJP had in 2014 won 85% of the seats i.e. about 70% of all the seats the BJP had won all over India. BJP is unlikely to win majority in the 2019 general election if it is trounced in UP and Bihar.
Undoubtedly, it is the leadership provided by Tejaswi Yadav that has resulted in the emergence of anti-BJP alliance in Bihar even though he and his party had to make many sacrifices, and that indeed is the hallmark of good political leadership that the narrow party considerations are given less weight for a larger cause. The praise for him from the visiting parliamentarian that Tejaswi Yadav represents one of the strongest anti-BJP tendencies in Indian politics seems largely justified now even though initially I was a bit sceptical of the claim of the honourable visiting MP.
The sacrifices that the RJD has made refer to giving away in the poll agreement too many seats to the Congress Party and the smaller parties. Out of the total Bihar parliamentary pool of 40 seats, the equal 20-20 division between RJD and the non-RJD parties is patently unfair to the RJD. Congress with 9 seats out of the 20 seats quota for non-RJD parties,Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) with 5, Mukesh Sahni’s Vikasheel Insan Party (VIP) and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM) with 3 each have been able to bargain for far too many seats which are disproportionate to their electoral strength in Bihar. According to a friend who is a keen observer of Bihar’s political scene,many of these seats going to the non-RJD parties of the Mahagathbandhan maybe lost to the BJP. The generosity of RJD/ Tejaswi Yadav to build an anti-BJP alliance and the greed of Congress, RSLP, VIP and HAM to take advantage of that generosity is likely to prove costly to the Mahagathbandhan.
RJD’s further sacrifice of two seats from its 20-seat quota- one to Sharad Yadav and another to CPI(ML)- can be positively viewed. The announcement that Sharad Yadav, a former top leader of JD (U) and once convenor of NDA, will merge his Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) with RJD after the Lok Sabha elections testifies to the political clout of RJD. It appears that the seat allotted to the CPI(ML) is one that CPI(ML) is likely to be one.
One negative outcome of the Congress and other parties having unreasonably bargained for a big slice of 20 seats in the electoral pact is that the other two Left parties-CPI and CPM- did not get any seat and the most unkind cut was that Kanhaiya Kumar, the former JNU student leader, was not adjusted for supporting him as a CPI candidate from Begusarai seat which has a long history of strong Left, especially CPI, influence.
Given the national political profile of Kanhaiya Kumar, supporting his bid for the parliament should be seen even beyond adjusting CPI in the electoral pact. He and some of his fellow student leaders (whether in CPI or not) need to be viewed as representative of a new generation of young Left thinkers and activists whose political frame of reference goes beyond the traditional Left parties’ ideological template. When he acknowledged in his autobiographical memoir ‘From Bihar to Tihar’ that his move towards Marxism was influenced by me, I did not consider this merely as a matter of personal satisfaction for me. I saw in this a new genre of Left-wing thinking which is open to thoughts and paradigms beyond the traditional Left in India. I remember him coming to my lecture on eco-socialism organised by Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Delhi a few years ago. He knew that I was critical of mainstream IndianLeft which, apart from RSP in Bengal, suffers from Stalinist heritage in different degrees (e.g. CPM more than CPI) and that I had been very critical of the role of the Left parties (especially CPI and CPM) in Punjab in being allies, except for a few admirable individual members of these parties as exceptions, of state repression in Punjab during the police regime of Ribeiro and even more brutally that of KPS Gill. To openly acknowledge in a positive way the influence of someone who has been critical of one’s party is a sign of broader vision and openness to new paradigms such as eco-socialism.
It is a failure of imagination and foresight on the part of both Congress and RJD not to leave Begusarai to Kanhaiya. He would have been a powerful campaigner for all anti-BJP parties beyond his seat and even beyond Bihar. I hope that Kanhaiya still wins and if he loses, Congress and RJD will have to live with moral guilt if one can expect from Indian political formations any moral considerations.
The current anti-BJP Mahagathbandhan formation and composition is a welcome development,but it could have been better. Despite the flaws, it still promises the most powerful potential in defeating BJP in Bihar.
Professor Pritam Singh, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford, UK