Weak Links

The present form of Bihar’s grand alliance cannot counter the BJP

Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav—Bihar’s chief minister and deputy chief minister, respectively—on the first day of the budget session of the state assembly, in Patna, on 27 February 2023. Instead of reaching out to their traditional voters with radical policies, grand-alliance partners appear to have removed even residues of the social-justice agenda from their politics, despite the JD(U) and RJD being in power in Bihar. PTI
31 March, 2023

“We are just waiting for the Congress,” Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, said at a rally in Purnea district, on 25 February. Kumar, who represents the Janata Dal (United), was speaking at the first formal congregation of a new grand alliance of seven political parties that have come together to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar during the 2024 general election. He did not clarify why they were waiting for the Congress. But, while the alliance will field only one candidate in each constituency, crucial details—such as a seat-sharing agreement, a roadmap and a common minimum programme—remain undecided.

Organised by the JD(U), the rally was attended by representatives of all its alliance partners: the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Hindustan Awami Morcha, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). In their speeches, the representatives said that a united front was needed to stop the BJP from destroying the credibility of constitutional institutions, controlling the media, misusing investigative agencies, supporting oligarchs and causing unemployment, inflation and social disharmony. Barring the last three points, resolving these issues would appeal more to politicians than oppressed-caste voters, whose custodians most parties in the grand alliance claim to be. For instance, ordinary citizens do not have to worry about raids by central agencies as much as members of the Congress and the RJD. The speakers also did not counter the BJP’s caste hegemony or its weaponisation of the Hindu identity—problems that could hold far more weight for voters.

This is hardly the first time such an alliance has been forged. In August 2017, the former JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav appealed to 17 parties to come together on similar planks to fight the BJP and save their sanjhi virasat—shared legacy. He never clearly defined the term but called the Constitution “a mirror” to this legacy. During the 2019 general election, the RJD led a grand alliance in Bihar. Ahead of polls that year, the RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav called for extending the cap on reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes from fifty percent to ninety percent. But the RJD lost the election and conveniently forgot about this. An alliance in Uttar Pradesh of the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Samajwadi Party also failed, but it had not campaigned on any Bahujan-specific agenda.

Opposition leaders had assumed that a unified front and lofty promises—such as saving the Constitution—would make them win the general election. Except for the RJD, all other parties were highlighting issues such as unemployment and the economic crisis under the Narendra Modi government. But the BJP was easily able to counter these allegations by doubling down on its nationalist rhetoric.