Leaders changing sides before an election is not an unusual scenario in India. In general, such crossovers are by politicians who miss out on securing a candidature from their respective parties. Therefore, trying to read much into such instances may not give any useful insight. But, if there are movements across parties or alliances much before the start of the candidate selection process by political parties, it can’t be construed as just an effort to ensure being in the electoral fray as a member of one or the other party. It may be much more than that, and if we try to read this carefully, it may give some indications of possible changes in the political landscape of a constituency. After all, no one understands politics better than politicians themselves.
At this point in Bihar, where dates for assembly elections have been announced, while the seat sharing discussions have not yet concluded in the two alliances, some leaders have already changed sides — from the Mahagathbandhan to the NDA or the other way around. Let’s try to see if these crossovers give some indications of the ground reality in the context of the upcoming assembly election.
The recent crossovers from the Mahagathbandhan to the NDA are those of Chandrika Rai, Jaivardhan Yadav, Faraz Fatmi, Maheshwar Prasad Yadav, Prema Chaudhary, Dr. Ashok Kumar and Uday Narayan Rai alias Bhola Rai from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U). Purnima Yadav and Sudarshan Kumar from the Congress party to the JD(U). On the other side, Shyam Rajak has moved from the JD(U) to RJD.
The majority of the leaders who have changed sides are either Yadav, Muslim or from the upper castes and/or have a high number of voters from one of these social groups in their respective assembly constituencies. Therefore, it is important to analyse whether the recent crossovers provide some indication for the three important political constituencies in Bihar — 14 per cent Yadavs, 16 per cent Muslims and 16 per cent upper castes.
Shyam Rajak has won from Phulwari Sharif (an SC reserved constituency) six out of seven times in the last 25 years. For quite some time, there was talk that he was unhappy in JD(U) but the real concern here seems to be the fact that more than 50 per cent of the electorate in Phulwari Sharif is Muslim and there is a general feeling in the state and in Phulwari Sharif that this time the Muslims may consolidate against the NDA in favour of the Mahagathbandhan. After winning the election from Phulwari Sharif for three consecutive terms as RJD candidate, he switched sides and joined the JD(U) in 2009, won the next two elections in Phulwari Sharif on the JD(U) ticket and is now back in the RJD. His switching loyalty from RJD to JD(U) and then back to RJD coincides first with Nitish Kumar’s growing connect with Muslims in the state and a possible disconnect with them in the last couple of years.
But then, there are leaders like Faraz Fatmi who have crossed over from the RJD to the JD(U). His father has been Member of Parliament for four times from Darbhanga and definitely has some influence among the Muslims in his area. His exit from the RJD was expected as his father had moved out of RJD in 2019 and is currently with JD(U). The father-son duo choosing JD(U) indicates that even though the Muslims are against the BJP and the NDA in Bihar, the JD(U) is still a distant second choice for them in the 2020 assembly election in the state.
Multiple Yadav leaders have crossed over from the RJD to the JD(U). They include Chandrika Rai, RJD MLA of Parsa. He is son of the late Daroga Prasad Rai, the first Yadav Chief Minister of Bihar, and in that capacity he has the respect of Yadavs in Bihar. Parsa has been Chandrika Rai’s family seat. Daroga Prasad Rai had been elected multiple times from this constituency in the past. After Daroga Prasad Rai’s death in 1981, Chandrika Rai got involved in electoral politics and since then he has been elected six out of eight times from Parsa. Jaivardhan Yadav, RJD MLA from Paliganj assembly constituency is the grandson of one the tallest Yadav leaders of Bihar, late Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, who was fondly called Sher-e-Bihar.
Bhola Rai was a senior RJD leader and an ex MLA from Raghopur, and was a long-time loyalist of Lalu Prasad’s family. He had vacated this seat for Lalu Prasad in 1995 and from then onwards Raghopur has been the RJD first family’s constituency and Bhola Rai, as the representative of the family, had always led the party on the ground and contributed to the victory of the family in Raghopur (except in 2010 when Rabri Devi had lost there, the RJD first family has never lost lost an election to the seat).
Maheshwar Prasad Yadav, RJD MLA of Gaighat, had been the face of RJD in the constituency from where he has been elected five out of seven times in the last 30 years.
All these leaders do not have a pan Bihar influence on Yadav voters but they have a strong influence on the Yadav voters in their own assembly constituencies. Their decision to change sides indicates that they have the confidence to retain the support of the Yadavs in their respective constituencies even without being on the side of the RJD and Lalu Prasad. This further indicates that Lalu Prasad and his party no longer has a monopoly on the Yadav voters in Bihar. Over time, multiple Yadav leaders from within the RJD and from other parties have emerged as dominant Yadav satraps in different assembly constituencies and have been successful in building a considerable support base among the local Yadavs.
Sudarshan Kumar, MLA of Barbigha is grandson of the late Rajo Singh, who was a dominant Congress party leader and had considerable influence, especially among the upper caste Bhumihars in Barbigha and adjoining areas in the Sheikhpura district. His changing sides indicates that for the 2020 assembly election, the upper castes may consolidate in favour of the NDA and may not vote even for favorable candidates of the Mahagathbandhan.
Apart from giving some indications of the possible mood of the three important constituencies — the Yadavs, Muslims and the upper castes — there is one more aspect of these crossovers. All these leaders who have left the RJD or the Congress party, have joined the JD(U) and not the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Lok Janshakti Party. This reemphasizes the fact that Nitish Kumar continues to be the only option acceptable to all sections of the society in Bihar and so is probably a safe bet for politicians and for the people of Bihar for the 2020 assembly election.
(Rahul Vatsa is a researcher. The views expressed are personal)