The 2020 state election in Bihar is probably the last election where the three socialist leaders around whom politics of Bihar has revolved in last 3 decades – late Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar – are having direct or indirect influence.
With demise of Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar getting aged, the 2025 election in the state may be a new start in the electoral politics of Bihar presenting a fresh and fair opportunity to every party - large or small – in the state. The political parties and their leaders in Bihar understand this, and hence while they are contesting the 2020 state election now, they do have 2025 in mind, and whatever strategies they have devised in 2020 seems to be aligned to their plans beyond 2020.
In Mahagathbandhan, in spite of the fact that the exit of RLSP, HAM and VIP would impact the overall vote percentage of the alliance in the 2020 state election, Tejaswi Yadav pushed these parties to a corner to such extent that they were left with no option but to exit. In order to compensate this to some extent, he brought in the Communist parties who are having influence only in small number of assembly constituencies. In RJD, any leader who criticized or challenged him, had to leave the party. In the family, he ensured that he be declared the political heir of his father Lalu Prasad. All these efforts of Tejaswi Yadav seems to serve two purposes for him in the long term - no challenge to his leadership in his family, party and Mahagathbandhan and elimination or marginalization of the smaller (backward) caste based parties in the state. Having fixed these two issues in 2020, Tejaswi Yadav and his party RJD may look to re-establish themselves once again as the champion of backward politics in Bihar with probably the BJP as the other pole in the backward centric politics of Bihar.
The RLSP chief, Upendra Kushwaha has chief ministerial ambitions and he has never hided it, and probably that’s one reason for which he had to leave the Mahagathbandhan. This is also true that till now he has not yet been able to prove himself indispensable for any political alliance in Bihar. In 2020, it’s high time for him, if he has to create space for himself in the politics of Bihar, he will have to build loyal political constituency – off course among the numerically significant Kushwahas but also among other EBC castes, majority of whom have been with Nitish Kumar for long time now. In 2020, Upendra Kushwaha can neither be king nor probably even a king maker, but in this election he can definitely start establishing himself and showcase his capabilities and make him indispensable for one or the other political alliance in future.
The LJP, from the time of its inception, has been constantly maintaining the limited but loyal caste based support of the Paswan caste and with this support, it has often managed to be on the winning side andhas got to share the power. After staying contained with this limited support base for a long time, the LJP, under the leadership of Chirag Paswan is aiming to go beyond its traditional support base and be able to play bigger role in the politics of Bihar. Chirag has got it right that he can’t grow in the politics of Bihar as a 3rd number party in the NDA and his exit from the NDA seems to be in line with his plans for future. The politics in Bihar at large is bi-polar, and at this time, there is not much space for a third pole. Understanding this fact, he has positioned his party LJP as against the Mahagathbandhan and the JDU but not against the BJP. If this strategy works even to a little extent in 2020, in future the LJP may pitch itself as a replacement of the JDU to the BJP in the NDA as a junior partner, and that will be a more than welcome offer to the BJP, which has always aspired to have a BJP led government and NDA in Bihar.
The BJP which was once a larger party than the JDU (then the Samata Party) in Bihar, has been having no choice but to settle playing second fiddle to the JDU to stay in power. In the 2015 state election, when it was not having the JD (U) on its side, it had lost miserably. Since then, the BJP has increased its support base in Bihar, but is still wary of its results in 2015, therefore it is contesting the 2020 state election with the JD (U) as the symbolic senior partner in the NDA and Nitish Kumar as its leader. But, the BJP has very clearly shown that it is not going to contest this election in the shadow of Nitish Kumar.
It’s very clear that the BJP is preparing itself to capture larger political space in Bihar and would pitch for a BJP led government in 2025 or may be before that. And if it gets help of a third party in achieving its goal, it may not mind returning the favor, if not directly then indirectly at local level in certain assembly seats in the 2020 election.
It is evident that while contesting the 2020 state election, every political party in Bihar is also preparing and positioning itself for the future politics in the state.Therefore, the 2020 Bihar election will not only decide who will form the next government in Bihar, but will also set the stage for the future politics in Bihar.
*(Rahul Vatsa is a researcher. The views expressed are personal)