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
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
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
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.
is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)