Quest for 'Third Front' in Bihar before polls an extremely tough challenge

So far, Sinha has managed to pull in former MPs and ministers who, like him, are searching for political space: Devendra Yadav, Arun Kumar, Renu Kushwaha, and Nagmani.
The uncertainty shadowing a decision on the schedule for the Bihar Assembly election — supposed to take place in October-November, according to the calendar — has not deterred politicians, strategists, and activists from their quest to form a “Third Front”, and challenge the ruling National Democratic Alliance () coalition and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress combine constituting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Between the ends of the political spectrum lie three outfits, which had aligned with the NDA and the UPA in the past: Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party. The trio has not yet declared its intent to fight independently or join an alliance. Nor has it yet coalesced as a pressure group to increase its bargaining power.

The political pastiche became more complex after Yashwant Sinha, who quit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) two years ago and is looking to resurrect his career, said he wished to “create a strong political centre” — a “platform to bring in like-minded people, leaders, and parties” in Bihar. The former finance and foreign minister claimed in course, the “platform” would “take the shape of a political party with a name”.

So far, Sinha has managed to pull in former MPs and ministers who, like him, are searching for political space: Devendra Yadav, Arun Kumar, Renu Kushwaha, and Nagmani.

A former Janata Dal (United) functionary remarked: “These are passengers on a train who might not disembark at the station Sinha wants them to.” Another JD(U) source said: “We aren’t sure which sections Sinha is addressing, the urban upper castes or the rural voters. Either way, he won’t be a natural choice.”

For a while, it seemed as though Prashant Kishor (also known as PK) — a freelance political consultant/strategist who joined the JD(U), became a close aide of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and then quit — was about to realise his electoral ambitions in the state. Kishor was also Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s consultant before the 2014 general election and derived his cachet from the successful campaign he helped conduct. Shambhu Sharan Shrivastava, a former associate of George Fernandes and ex-JD(U) general secretary, said: “PK looked at an alternative minus Tejashwi Yadav (Opposition leader in the Bihar legislature). But if that doesn’t fructify, he will steer clear of a third front. To put up another front, you require a movement because it can’t just be about getting the right caste arithmetic.”

While Kishor was unavailable for comments, a source close to him stressed he believed the time was not ripe to contest the Bihar polls. Stating that Kishor was a “political activist” and not helping anyone get elected in the state as a “strategist”, the source said his objective was not to “collect garbage from the other parties and set up one more party,” but to “work from the grassroots upward”.

The source rubbished a query on whether Kishor’s social antecedent as upper caste person was an impediment in Bihar, the cradle of the Mandal experiment and a crucible of backward castes’ empowerment. “He has run campaigns for Modi, whose caste (OBC-Teli) is not even 1 per cent in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,” the source said, adding Kishor looked at a template that “overcame caste constraints”.

The source claimed Kishor’s main worry was “if he failed, he would dash the hopes of a lot of people. He doesn’t want that to happen. The AAP (Aam Admi Party) failed outside Delhi; he doesn’t want a repetition.” The worry stemmed from a perception that “Bihari youths took a lot of pride in anyone who made a name out of Bihar because it’s a poor state,” the source said.

Intent on nurturing a constituency primarily of the young, Kishor’s opener was a website —www.baatbiharki.in — which has registered nearly 1.2 million followers since it opened last February. The introduction spells out his objective as “providing Bihar with new and strong leadership, which will bring Bihar among the top leading states in the next 10 years”. Overly ambitious but Kishor’s stated reason for quitting the JD(U) was that although Kumar “did a lot of vikas in 15 years”, Bihar still lagged on the economic, infrastructural and social indices.

Rajen Pandey, a Guwahati-based political analyst from Bihar, believed the significant difference between Kishor’s proposed venture and the AAP, with which it was compared, was that he was a “catalyst” for the JD (U)-RJD’s success in the 2015 election, but didn’t “create the success out of nowhere”. “The AAP came out of a movement. It had a large network of civil society activists, who worked on people’s issues like water and the PDS.” Pandey’s view was Kishor should similarly work with advocacy groups, “working for flood relief and the abolition of social evils” if he had to register a compelling presence in Bihar.

 


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