Can Janata Dal (United) endure in the face of decline of “Brand Nitish”?

The party cannot survive in the longer run and could even splinter if his popularity continues to dip, says analyst.

The voices from the ground seeking “badlav” or change and the exit poll figures all point to the possibility of a diminished Nitish Kumar in the Bihar Assembly elections 2020. Can Janata Dal (United) endure in the face of decline of “Brand Nitish”?

“Without Nitish Kumar it has no future,” Shaibal Gupta, Founder Member-Secretary of Asian Development Research Institute in Patna says. The party cannot survive in the longer run and could even splinter if Mr. Kumar’s popularity continues to dip. “It will not happen soon, but it is not going to be easy in the longer run,” Mr. Gupta said.

In the last three Assembly elections — 2005, 2010 and 2015 — the JD(U)’s voter share has swung between nearly 23% to 17%. The 23% high was in 2010, three years after Mr. Kumar’s social engineering carving out a constituency for himself with extremely backward castes and mahadalits.

The key difference between the RJD and the JD(U) is the fact that the former has a sizeable vote bank between the Yadavs and the Muslims while the JD(U)’s vote bank is far too scattered.

So even when it was out of power for 15 years, barring the two years between 2015-2017 (as part of the mahagathbandhan it was in Nitish government) the party managed to hold on to its own.

“Nitish Kumar managed to rally around the poorer among poor. He created a political bloc out of the castes that individually do not identify with each other. They are not sizeable enough to create a narrative on their own,” political analyst Sajjan Kumar Singh said. So far, Mr. Singh said, Mr. Kumar has also got additional support of the upper castes — Yadavs in 2015 when he fought with the RJD and the forward castes in 2010 when he fought with the BJP.

Though the JD(U) and the BJP kept their marriage intact, the world knew all was not well. Both ran parallel campaigns, communication broke down between the two and the BJP was far too eager to offload the burden of anti-incumbency.

On the eve of the election results, the Lok Janshakti Party whose president Chirag Paswan had led the attack on Mr. Kumar with his campaign — “asambhavNitish” or “Nitish Impossible” is gloating. As per the party insiders, the LJP has affected the JD(U)’s and the NDA’s electoral fortunes in at least 60 seats. “For the LJP this is a fight for the same vote bank. The only space available for Mr. Paswan to expand beyond his own caste group is in Nitish Kumar’s constituency of mahadalits and extremely backward caste,” P.K. Dutta, former professor of politics at the JNU, said. It was not Mr. Kumar’s charisma but his dexterity that kept him at the helm. “He knew his way to negotiate through and flourished in the political instability in the State,” Mr. Dutta said. It is far too early to write his political obituary, though, he said. “He has not vanished just yet.”

The JD(U) is in no mood to concede. “The brand Nitish has been a phenomena in Indian politics for a long time. He stands for enriching democratic values. He stands for secularism. He is a product of the JP movement and belongs to the Karpuri Thakur brand of politics which stands for empowerment of most backward members of society. And it is this marginalised section and the women who have voted for us,” party’s national spokesperson K.C. Tyagi told The Hindu. He said there is a surprise in the offing and the exit polls numbers would be proven wrong.

In the latest “post poll’ survey, the India Ahead-CSDS Lokniti predicted that the Mahagathbandhan will get anything between 131-139 and the NDA will be limited to 92-100.

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