Home / Elections 2019 / Assembly Elections 2019 /  What separates Bihar’s politics from UP’s

India’s two most populous states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, are often seen as close cousins in politics and governance. Yet, the nature of politics and governance in the two states has been quite different over the past two decades.

UP has seen several stints of single-party government, and even now, the ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys an absolute majority in the state assembly. Before BJP rule, the state saw majority governments ruled by the Samajwadi Party (2012) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (2007). Bihar has been ruled by coalition partners all throughout this period.

What unites the two states - caste-driven politics - also separates them. Politics is more multi-polar in Bihar than in Uttar Pradesh as party-wise caste loyalties are more fragmented. Bihar has a larger number of influential parties, each with its loyal caste and community-based votebank. And unlike in the case of its neighbouring state, the core support base of the dominant parties in Bihar remains small. The upper castes -loyal supporters of BJP- are numerically smaller in Bihar compared to Uttar Pradesh. Bihar’s Dalit icon, Ram Vilas Paswan commands far less support among Dalits in Bihar than does Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. Even at the height of his popularity, Lalu Prasad Yadav was able to garner far less support among non-Yadav OBCs (Other Backward Classes) in Bihar than Mulayam Singh Yadav in the neighbouring state.

Because of these differences in the number and nature of parties, Bihar’s polity is much more fragmented than that of Uttar Pradesh, making it necessary for political parties to form coalitions to get a stab at power.

Of the numerous parties in the fray, three have been most dominant, with similar vote-shares across election cycles: the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Janata Dal United or JD(U), and the BJP. Other parties have smaller vote-shares.

Both JD(U) and RJD are Bihar-centric regional parties, competing mainly for votes of specific OBC sub-castes in Bihar. The two smaller regional parties, Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) of Paswan and Hindustan Awam Moarch (HAM) of Jitan Ram Manjhi are trying to attract the Dalit vote. Both national parties, BJP and Congress are vying for the upper caste votes. The upper castes have formed the core support base of the BJP in recent years, and two upper backward castes - Kurmis and Koeris - have been the core supporters of JD(U). It is these caste groups that have formed the bedrock of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Bihar, comprising the JD(U), BJP, and other smaller parties. The consolidation of votes among these caste groups has only increased over time.

The opposition alliance led by the RJD and the Congress has relied largely on their support bases on Yadav and Muslim voters. While the alliance has managed to consolidate Muslim votes, RJD has lost some of its support among Yadavs even as the Congress party has seen an erosion of its traditional upper caste support base in the state.

Till 1985, the Congress was in fact the dominant party in the state. Since then, it has shrunk dramatically, and is now a junior partner to the RJD. But while the Congress has enjoyed long stints in power on its own, the RJD, even at the height of its popularity in the 1990s, was unable to win a majority of its own.

On the other side of the political fence, neither the JD(U) nor the BJP have ever been able to win a majority on their own in Bihar, even when contesting on their own. The two parties have been able to form governments only in alliance with each other, or in the case of JD(U), with parties such as RJD. Other smaller parties such as LJP, HAM, Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), Mukesh Sahani’s Vikasheel Inaaf Party (VIP) have much smaller support bases, and cannot be expected to form a government of their own.

Coalitions are therefore compulsions in Bihar’s politics. The mobilization of caste-based support groups, and the inability of any party to make significant inroads into other party’s support bases has necessitated coalitions in the state in the post-Mandal era.

Whatever the verdict in the upcoming polls later this month, Bihar will have a coalition government.

Sanjay Kumar is a professor at the Delhi-based think-tank, CSDS, and a political analyst.

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