Looking at the result of the Jokihat Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly) seat by-election held on Monday, 28 May 2018, it can’t be denied that the victory of the RJD candidate over the joint candidate of the JD(U)-BJP by 41,000 votes was clear and unequivocal. The RJD candidate received a bloc of 81,240 votes whereas, the JD(U) contestant got less than its half.
It may also be claimed that the result was a referendum on Nitish Kumar’s decision to dump Lalu’s RJD in July 2017 and continue to stay as the Chief Minister of Bihar with the support of the BJP.
However, if the magnifying glass is taken closer, it could be found that all politics was local and it was all in the family. Mohammad Taslimuddin, a long-time RJD Member of Parliament from Araria -- under which Jokihat was an assembly segment -- had nursed and built up a strong base for himself. An anchorman of Lalu in that area, Taslimuddin, together with his elder son, Sarfaraz Alam, had represented the constituency in the state assembly nine times since 1969.
In 2005, Nitish Kumar had Sarfaraz Alam defect to his side and, from then on, Sarfaraz won Jokihat for the JD(U) in 2010 and 2015. After Taslimuddin, who had won the Araria parliamentary seat in 2014 on the RJD ticket, died in August of 2017, a byelection was called for. Sarfaraz Alam deserted Nitish Kumar to join the RJD, resigned his Jokihat seat and contested against a joint candidate of the JD(U) and the BJP at the byelection held in March 2018. He won hands down to retain Araria Lok Sabha seat in his family.
Sarfaraz was a beneficiary of the sympathy the constituents of Araria had for his father Taslimuddin and the RJD was also harvesting the anger its sympathizers had against Nitish Kumar for breaking up the Mahagathbandhan. At the time Sarfaraz filed his nomination for Araria byelection, he was an expelled JD(U) MLA from the party on charges of sexual misconduct.
For the vacated assembly seat of Jokihat, the RJD picked up a member of the Taslimuddin family. This time it was Sarfaraz’s younger, Shahnawaz Alam.
On the other side, selection of a joint candidate representing the JD(U)-BJP coalition was not influenced by nepotism; however, the JD(U) candidate Murshid Alam endorsed by Nitish Kumar was said to be of soiled image. There were cases of crime and theft against him.
The JD(U)-BJP ruling front in Bihar should read the writings on the wall. There’s definitely a “Nitish fatigue” factor or anti-incumbency sentiment that could easily be aroused by a combined opposition in 2020. On the other hand, Tejashwi is representing the image of a new generation.
In byelections, it's usually seen that if the majority status of the ruling coalition isn't threatened, the parties in power don't dedicate their full energy to winning the election. Voters on their part usually give the ruling coalition a message that they could be thrown out by the people if they didn’t perform. It’s not clear how wholeheartedly the JD(U)-BJP combine put in the effort.
Before Jokihat, three by-polls were held in the month of March that were supposed to give indication of the popularity of the revived JD(U)-BJP coalition government. Besides Araria Lok Sabha constituency, Jehanabad assembly constituency was also retained by the RJD. The Bhabhua assembly seat, the third spot for which the by-poll took place, was retained by the BJP.
Take a look at how the political parties nominated their candidates and how the voters in Bihar responded. To repeat, Araria and Jokihat byelections were held because of the death of Taslimuddin: two of his sons were offered party tickets by the RJD and they won. Likewise, the Jehanabad assembly by-poll was necessitated because of the death of a sitting RJD MLA, Mundrika Yadav. His son, Suday Yadav, was offered party ticket and he also came out victorious against Abhiram Sharma of the JD(U) by 35,036 votes.
It was now the turn of the BJP, a national party: Its Bhabhua assembly seat underwent a byelection because the BJP MLA, Anand Bhushan Pandey had died at a premature age of 48. His widow, Rinky, was offered a party ticket by the BJP. Riding on the sympathy wave, Rinki won the election by a respectable margin of 15,490 votes.
In the absence of recruitment of dedicated-talented men and women from the younger pool; by aborting a competitive, democratic leadership structure, ideologies or programs, the political parties, across the board, fell for shortcuts and took in members of the families whose loyalties were tested. General public had no say at all in the selection of candidates.
The leaders of the parties had, thus, ensured that the castes in Bihar continued to play the decisive role not only in elections but in all aspects of life.
From that angle, the strength of the MY (Muslim-Yadav) unity was in play. The voting pattern in Jehanabad indicated that not only the faction of Muslims loyal to Nitish Kumar had broken in favor of the RJD, but even the Bhumihars had not voted en bloc for a JD(U) Bhumihar candidate. There’s a faction of the politically powerful caste, Rajput already on the side of the RJD. Add to that the paralysis within the state unit of the BJP in Bihar and the picture didn’t seem to be pretty for the JD(U)-BJP alliance.
In the meantime, Tejashwi Yadav, who’s considered as a future CM of Bihar, is trumpeting the victories of the RJD as a triumph of ‘Laluwaad’ against ‘Avsarwaad,’ [Lalu(ism) vs Opportunism].
The citizens of Bihar needed to be educated in what “the victory of Lalu's ideology" meant.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.