One Friday, the Day the Cynic in Me Died, Just Briefly!


My Education Predisposes Me to See the Worst – Howard Jacobson, The Dog’s Last Walk (and other pieces)

Dear Reader,

One of the things I regularly get accused of is being overly pessimistic and cynical about most things in life. Well, I guess that is the way I am.

If you had grown up in erstwhile Bihar governed (for the lack of a better word, given that I don’t like using the world ruled) by Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi, where one power cut lasted for more than two weeks in the month of May, nearly dropped out of an MBA, dropped out of a PhD programme and finally ended up working in journalism for seven years, you would have probably also turned out the same way as I have.

But we have no way of figuring out that counterfactual.

My mind, the way it has evolved predisposes me to be cynical about most things around me. Having said that, the other day I saw something which really killed the cynic in me, however briefly.

So, it was Friday night and I was trying to figure out what to cook. (Well, all you men out there who read my pieces, of course, you have no idea about how this works. But when you have been cooking regularly for 15 years, as I have, believe me it does become a chore after a point of time, and a very boring one that too. So, hats off to all the women who have been cooking for their families every day for years at end). I had run out of onions and tomatoes and given the quick cooking I believe in, onions and tomatoes are the most necessary ingredients in anything and everything I cook.

So, I stepped out to buy vegetables for a change, Big Basket be dammed, given that they don’t deliver at short notice and the waiting time over the weekend can even be greater than 48 hours at times.

Close to where I live there is a Sports Club and a ground attached to it. Typically, as is common in Mumbai, the ground is used more for weddings and religious functions, rather than sporting activities. But I guess that is the way things are in a city which really lacks space. Free spaces need to be shared by everybody for different kind of activities and that is what happens.

The ground had a bunch of vegetable and fruit sellers who did not look like the regular vegetable and fruit sellers, from the vegetable market situated just next to it. This caught my curiosity and I went in. It turned out that the vegetable and fruit sellers were basically a bunch of farmers who had driven down from in and around Nashik.

This was a weekly market which was open from 4PM to 9PM on every Friday, I was told. Apparently, the market had been running for close to three months, but I only just came to know of it. So, I went around buying all the vegetables and fruits that I did need and that I did not need as well.

The vegetables and fruits were very fresh and the price very competitive to the nearby market. I bought grapes for Rs 50 a kg, something I have never done in the nearly 12 years that I have lived in Mumbai. I also bought red capsicum that fancy vegetable which stores like Nature’s Basket sell for as high as Rs 300 a kg, at Rs 40 a kg.

Also, farmers selling the vegetables and fruits claimed that the fruits had not been aged using chemicals. I am no expert on this, but what I can tell you is that the grapes and the mangoes that I bought at the market were simply out of this world.

I spoke to a few farmers at the market and they were very happy in being able to sell to the public directly. There were multiple reasons for the same. First, they got a better price for their produce with the middle men out of the way. Second, they got their money immediately instead of when they sold their produce to an agent at a mandi, up until last year. Third, lesser amount of vegetables and fruits were wasted given that what was produced was sold almost immediately.

This is an impact of a decision that the Maharashtra government took in June last year. It basically allowed farmers to sell their produce in the open market. Up until then the farmers could only sell their produce to traders licensed by the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees(APMCs).

This essentially meant that the farmers were not in a position to determine the price of what they had produced and had to take what was offered. How can any entrepreneur, which is what farmers are, not have a role in determining the price of what he produces, is something beyond my understanding? This again comes from the socialistic attitude of government knows best, something that we haven’t been able to get rid-off in a long time.

As is well known APMCs across the state of Maharashtra have traditionally been controlled by those belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

The dismantling of compulsory selling to APMC traders has led to the creation of markets like the one I went to last Friday. Newsreports suggest that there are a few hundred of these markets across the state of Maharashtra. This is also an excellent example of how any government can enable citizens to carry out their work honestly, by getting rid of provisions which hamper the ease of doing business.

The returns on farming as an economic activity have been falling over the years. This comes from the simple fact that over the generations, farms have been divided and the average size of a farm in India is now very small, at close to 1.2 hectare. Hence, more and more people need to be moved away from farming towards other economic activities.

But given that is not happening any time soon and may take many decades (if at all), something needs to be done in the intermediate period as well. Helping the farmers get closer to the consumer is one such thing. It helps the farmer get better prices for his produce. It also helps consumers buy vegetables and fruits at a lower price. The only person who loses out is the middleman affiliated to a political party.

This is something that needs to happen throughout the length and the breadth of the country. Farmer markets need to bloom. Nevertheless, as a report in the Mint points out, only “15 states allowed the delisting of fruits and vegetables from APMCs, making it possible for farmers to sell these outside regulated markets.” This tells us that other states are still bowing to the pressure from the trader lobbies.

Also, the states are hesitating in opening up totally on this front. As the Mint points out: “Many states have amended their marketing acts but are yet to notify rules. Maharashtra, for instance, delisted fruits and vegetables a year back but did not notify rules following pressure from the powerful traders’ lobby.”

And this is why the cynic in me died on one Friday, but only briefly.

The column originally appeared on May 2, 2017, on Equitymaster.



Bihar elections: Why TV channels declared that Nitish Kumar had lost

In Friday’s edition of The Daily Reckoning
I had mentioned that on Monday I will be discussing the recently launched sovereign gold bonds. Nevertheless, there is something else that I wanted to share today, in the aftermath of the Bihar election results.

Given this, the column dealing with the sovereign gold bonds will now appear tomorrow (November 10). Today I want to discuss the Bihar election results. Or to put it more specifically, the analysis that happened on TV and the social media after the counting started and the first trends (and not results) started to come in.

The counting started at 8AM and within a period of 30 minutes the first trends stared to come in. Over the next hour and a half, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was way ahead of the Nitish Kumar led Grand Alliance (comprising of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(United), Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) and the Congress Party).

Experts on a whole host of TV channels and social media started offering reasons for this trend. Some experts and TV anchors more or less declared a BJP victory. One senior journalist surmised on an English news channel that Nitish Kumar’s arrogance during the second term had cost him this election. He also said that Nitish had misread the youth.

On a Hindi channel an expert said that the “annihilation of caste had started in Bihar,” as Dr Ambedkar and Dr Lohiya had predicted. A senior Muslim BJP politician belonging to Bihar also said the same thing: “humne jatiya ganit ko toda hai (we have broken the caste arithmetic).”

Within the Grand Alliance, initially Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), was leading in many more seats, in comparison to Lalu’s RJD. An expert on a Hindi news channel explained this in a very interesting way, which sounded quite convincing at that point of time.

He said all of Lalu’s voters (i.e. primarily the Muslims and the Yadavs) had voted for Nitish (in constituencies where a JD(U) candidate had been put up by the Grand Alliance), but the vice versa has not happened (i.e the Kurmis and the Extremely Backward Classes, who are supposed to the supporters of Nitish, hadn’t voted for the RJD in constituencies where the RJD candidate had been put up).

An Indian American who is known to be a Modi bhakt (though in the recent past he has been very unhappy with the economic policies of the Modi government) tweeted saying: “Please don’t feel bad, JDU+RJD. At least you won the exit polls.”

After 10 AM the trend started to change and the Grand Alliance started to move ahead and ultimately overtook the NDA by a huge margin. The Hindi news channels caught on to this very quickly. The English channels took some time. And that’s how it stayed till the end. The NDA was washed out. The Grand Alliance got 178 seats and the NDA ended up with just 58 seats.

The RJD emerged as the largest party with 80 seats. The JD(U) came in second at 71 seats. And the BJP was third at 53 seats.

So that is the background to the issue I want to write about today.

Analysing on TV and the social media forces people to come up with instant analysis. There is no scope for nuance or words like possibly and maybe. The experts can’t wait either.

The instant analysis can be shaky given that many times it’s based on very small sample sizes. This leads to analysts and experts on TV and the social media, becoming victims of the law of small numbers. And this is precisely what happened in the first two hours after the counting of votes started yesterday.

As Leonard Mlodinow writes in The Drunkard’s Walk—How Randomness Rules Our Lives: “
The misconception—or the mistaken intuition—that a small sample accurately reflects underlying probabilities is so widespread that [Daniel] Kahneman and [Amos] Tversky gave it a name: the law of small numbers. The law of small number is not really a law. It is a sarcastic name describing the misguided attempt to apply the law of large numbers when the numbers aren’t large.”

And what is the law of large numbers? As Mlowdinow writes, the law of law large numbers essentially states that “a large enough sample will almost certainly reflect the underlying makeup of the population being sampled.”

How does this apply in the context of the Bihar elections? When the first trends started to come in, only a few votes had been counted. Hence, this sample of votes was a small portion of the total votes that had been polled. And it showed that the NDA was well ahead. Nevertheless, it did not reflect the underlying reality. As Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow: “Large samples are more precise than small samples. Small samples yield extreme results more often than large samples do.”

The extreme result yielded in this case was that the NDA was ahead in many constituencies. This led analysts and TV anchors to declare an NDA win. But the votes that had been counted initially (the small sample) were not a correct representation of how the public had actually voted (the overall population).

A few hours after the counting started, when a large number of votes had been counted (a large sample), the Nitish led Grand Alliance emerged clearly ahead.

And all the analysts on TV and the social media predicting an NDA win, ended up with eggs on their faces.

In any election analysis, the experts need to wait till a decent number of votes have been counted, so that these votes are a good representation the way the overall voting has happened. But in the days of instant analysis on TV and the social media, waiting is simply not possible.

To conclude, as Kahneman puts it: “We pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify. Jumping to conclusions is a safer sport in the world of our imagination than our reality.”

In fact, the NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar summarised the situation the best when he said: “pal pal badalti khabron par, pal pal badalta vishleshan. Hum log chalak log hain (As the news changes second by second, so does our analysis. We are smart people).”

The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on November 9, 2015

Switch off the TV tomorrow and don’t waste time on Bihar election results

A cottage industry has emerged these days around trying to predict which way the Bihar election will go. I don’t want to add to it. And this is not a column explaining who will win the Bihar elections and why. Enough of that has been written and discussed in the media.

The irony in all this is that people sitting in television studios and writing editorials in newspapers, who have never visited Bihar, are perhaps the most confident on which way the election will go. Don’t ask me how.

Nevertheless, there is some logic to it. Dan Gardner explains this in Future Babble—Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe Them Anyway: “There is a “confidence heuristic”. If someone’s confidence is high, we believe they are probably right: if they are less certain, we feel they are less reliable, this means we deem those who are dead certain the best forecasters.”

As Gardner further writes: “Another problem with the confidence heuristic is that people may look and sound more confident than they really are. Con men do this deliberately. We all do, to some degree. Of course most of us don’t do it brazenly as con men – one hopes – but we all sense intuitively that confidence is convincing. And so, when we are face to face with people we want to convince, we downplay our doubts, or bury them entirely.”

So being confident and forceful about what you say makes for good television and great reading. And that explains why people sitting in studios in Delhi and Mumbai are making the most confident forecasts about who will win in Bihar.

Research also shows that when there is a competition to make forecasts, the forecasts people make get more and more confident. as we go along.

What does this mean during election time? When every political analyst is busy making forecast, if someone wants to standout then he has to make clear and confident forecasts. And that is precisely what has been playing out in television studios up until now.

You are likely to see more of that once election results start coming in and by 10AM tomorrow morning, it will be more or less clear who is likely to form the next government in Bihar—the Nitish Kumar led Grand Alliance—or the Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Once the results are out political analysts will offer us explanations on why the results happened to turn out the way they have. If Narendra Modi led NDA wins, then we will hear stuff like the Modi magic is still at work, people have taken Modi’s promise of a separate Rs 1.25 lakh crore development package for Bihar seriously and so on. Some cheeky analyst might also suggest that all the statements made by the “so-called” fringe elements in the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), also helped bring in the votes.

If the Nitish Kumar led Grand Alliance wins, you will hear analysts stay stuff like there was no anti-incumbency at work. The development carried out by Nitish Kumar has worked. The women have come out in full force to vote for him given all the development projects targeted towards women Kumar carried out. And voters in state elections have once again shown that development gets you votes.

Given that it is Bihar election results that the analysts will be analysing, there is bound to be some analysis along caste lines. You are likely to hear stuff like the Muslims plus Yadavs, the base on which Lalu Prasad Yadav ruled Bihar for a long time, voted for the Grand Alliance en masse. Hence, all the statements made by the so-called fringe elements in BJP did not work.

So if the BJP wins we will be told that the statements by fringe elements may have added the icing on the cake. If it loses, we will be told it didn’t work.
Long-story short, we will be told a lot of stories explaining why things happened the way they did. As Gardner writes: “People love stories, both the listening and the telling. It’s a central part of human existence, found in every culture, in every place, in every time…For explanation-sharing to work, however, a story cannot conclude with “I don’t know” or “The answer isn’t clear.”” The narrative should be complete. Incomplete stories do not work.

Hence, there will be no shortage of explanations and stories on why things happened the way they did in Bihar. Political analysts will come up with extremely coherent reasons on why things happened the way they did. You won’t hear phrases like “I don’t know” or words like “maybe” or “possibly”. In fact, some analysts will even say stuff like “as I have been saying all along”. In case of television channels the “I” will become “we”.

Even those who get their forecast wrong (and believe me there will a lot of them) will revise their forecasts. As Jason Zweig writes in The Devil’s Financial Dictionary: “Once you learn what did happen, your mind tricks you into believing that you always knew it would happen. Contrary to the popular cliché, hindsight is not 20/20; it is barely better than legally blind.”

This tendency is referred to as hindsight bias.

Hindsight bias is also referred to as “I knew it all along effect”. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in Fooled by Randomness: “Our minds are not quite designed to understand how the world works, but, rather, to get out of trouble rapidly and have progeny…Psychologists call this overestimation of what one knew at the time of the event due to subsequent information…the “I knew it all along” effect.

The Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about this phenomenon in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, in the context of the financial crisis which broke out in late 2008.

As he writes: “I have heard of too many people who “knew well before it happened that the 2008 financial crisis was inevitable.” This sentence contains a highly objectionable word, which should be removed from our vocabulary in discussions of major events. This word is, of course, knew. Some people thought well in advance that there would be a crisis, but they did not know it. They now say they knew it because the crisis did in fact happen.”

Something similar will play after the Bihar election results as well. Depending on the result, people will adjust their analysis and say “I knew this will happen”.

So if Nitish wins they will say, I knew this will happen, even if they had been predicting a Modi win earlier. And vice versa.

This is not a good thing. As Kahneman writes: “What is perverse about the use of know in this context is not that some individuals get credit for prescience that they do not deserve. It is that the language implies that the world is more knowable than it is. It helps perpetuate a pernicious illusion. The core of the illusion is that we believe we understand the past, which implies that the future also should be knowable, but in fact we understand the past less than we believe we do.”

Given this, it’s best not to waste time watching all the analysis that will pour in on Bihar elections, all through the day tomorrow and on Monday.

Switch off the television.

Take your kids out for a spin.

Buy some gold for your Mother. And your wife. Or your girl-friend (It’s Dhanteras after all).

Or just pick up a good book and read.

Happy Diwali!
The column originally appeared on The 5 minute Wrap Up on Equitymaster on Nov 7, 2015

Why Lalu Yadav had a change of heart towards Nitish Kumar


Lalu Prasad Yadav has gulped “poison” but is still alive. As he told reporters yesterday: “I want to assure the secular forces and the people of India that in this battle of Bihar, I am ready to gulp everything. I am ready to consume all types of poison. I am determined to crush the hood of this snake, this cobra of communalism.”

The p-word is essentially a metaphor for Lalu accepting that Nitish Kumar, the current chief minister of Bihar, be projected as the chief ministerial candidate in the assembly elections scheduled in the state later this year. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader had resisted Nitish being projected as the chief ministerial candidate until now.

But with Nitish declaring on June 7 that he no longer wanted an alliance with the RJD for the forthcoming polls, Lalu had no other option but to agree to Nitish being projected as the chief-ministerial candidate.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, the president-designate of the proposed new Janata Party, welcomed this decision of Lalu and said: “I am very happy about the unity of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. Kumar will be the chief ministerial candidate for Bihar. Laluji has proposed Nitish Kumar’s name for the chief ministership. Laluji said he will campaign.”

Lalu may want us to believe that he drank the poison to crush the cobra of communalism, but that is not really the truth. If Lalu had to continue to stay relevant in the years to come he needed to ally with Nitish. He had no other option.

The electoral numbers of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls give us the answer. Data from the election commission shows that the combine of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) got 36.36 per cent (BJP = 29.86 per cent + LJP = 6.5 per cent) of the valid votes polled during the Lok Sabha elections last year.

The RJD and the Congress Party which fought the elections together got 20.46 per cent and 8.56 per cent of the valid votes respectively. Nitish’s Janata Dal(United)(JD(U)) which fought the elections separately got 16.04 per cent of the valid votes. Hence, the vote percentage of JD(U) + RJD at 36.5 per cent was slightly more than that of the BJP + LJP at 36.36 per cent. Further, RJD+JD(U)+Congress got more votes than BJP + LJP. Nevertheless, since RJD + Congress and JD(U) were not in alliance, these votes did not translate into Lok Sabha seats.

The RJD won only four seats in the state and its alliance partner the Congress party, won two seats. The JD(U) also won only two seats. The BJP on the other hand won 22 seats whereas its partner LJP won six seats.

As is obvious from the data, the LJP won six seats with 6.5 per cent of the votes polled, whereas the RJD won four seats with 20.46 per cent of the votes polled. This was simply because the LJP got its alliance right.

Obviously Lalu understands this electoral math well enough. And given this, he is ready to let Nitish be projected as the chief-ministerial candidate, his initial reluctance notwithstanding.

Interestingly, in the by-elections that happened for 10 assembly seats in August 2014, the JD(U) came together with the RJD+Congress and took on BJP+LJP. The data from the election commission shows that the RJD+Congress+JD(U) got 45.6 per cent of the total votes polled. The BJP+LJP got 37.9 per cent of the votes polled.

Given that, JD(U) was not fighting the elections separately, the votes polled translated into assembly seats as well, unlike the Lok Sabha polls. The RJD+Congress+JD(U) got six out of the ten Assembly seats. Hence, there is some evidence of the alliance working.

Lalu and Nitish have had an “edgy” relationship for the over four decades that they have known each other. Nitish became the chief minister of Bihar in 2005, after managing to dislodge Lalu, who had ruled directly as well as through proxy (through his wife Rabri) for a period of 15 years and brought the state to the point of an economic collapse.

Ironically, for the first half of his political career, Nitish propped up Lalu, even though he knew that Lalu wasn’t fit to govern. Journalist Sankarshan Thakur put this question to Nitish in his book Single Man: “Why did you promote Lalu Yadav so actively in your early years?” he asked.

And surprisingly, Nitish gave an honest answer. As Thakur writes “‘But where was there ever even the question of promoting Laloo Yadav?’ he mumbled…’We always knew what quality of man he was, utterly unfit to govern, totally lacking vision or focus.'” Given this, what Nitish thinks of Lalu is totally on record.

So why then did Nitish decide to support him? “‘There wasn’t any other choice at that time,’ Nitish countered…’We came from a certain kind of politics. Backward communities had to be given prime space and Laloo belonged to the most powerful section of backwards, politically and numerically.'”

It is now Lalu’s turn to return the favour to Nitish. Also, Lalu knows that with the alliance of three parties, his party will have as many seats in the Bihar assembly as Nitish’s JD(U) or probably even more. This will allow him to extract his pound of flesh on the pretext of allowing the alliance to survive. And that is what he is interested in. Hence, what Lalu has drank is an ‘elixir’ and not poison, as he would like us to believe.

The column originally appeared on DailyO on June 9,2015 

The new Janata Party will be a challenge for Modi in Bihar

Vivek Kaul

The year was 1977. The emergency had just ended. The opposition leaders who had been imprisoned during the course of the emergency had just released. They were holding a massive rally at the Ram Lila maidan.
It was a rainy day in Delhi and well past 9.30pm by the time Atal Bihari Vajpayee rose to speak. He was the star speaker for the evening and the people who had turned up at the rally had stayed back just to hear him.
To the shouts of “
Indira Gandhi murdabad, Atal Bihari zindabad,” Vajpayee started his speech with a couplet:
Baad muddat ke mile hain deewane,
Kehne sunne ko bahut hain afsane,
Khuli hawa mein zara saans to le lein,
kab tak rahegi aazadi kaun jaane.”

(It has been an age since we whom they call mad have had the courage to meet,
There are tales to tell and tales to hear,
But first let us breathe deeply of the free air,
For we know not how long our freedom will last). (Source: Tavleen Singh’s

In the time to come all the major opposition parties came together and formed the Janata Party. This was the only way they could take on Indira Gandhi by ensuring that their votes did not split. The party won 295 seats in the Lok Sabha elections that followed and thus came to power. The largest number of 93 MPs were of the Jana Sangha (now the Bhartiya Janata Party) origin. Forty four MPs came from the Congress (O) party. Seventy one MPs came from Charan Singh’s Bhartiya Lok Dal. Jagjivan Ram’s Congress for Democracy brought in 28 MPs.
A large number of the Lok Sabha seats that the party won was limited to North India, given that the southern part of the country hadn’t really felt the ill-effects of the emergency implemented by Indira Gandhi as much as the north India had. Given this, Indira Gandhi’s Congress still managed to win 154 seats though they were wiped out in Uttar Pradesh with both Indira and her son Sanjay losing elections.
If one leaves out the Jana Sangha from this, the other parties were what we would call socialists, in the Indian sense of the term.
Nearly four decades later some of these socialists who were a part of the Janata Party have decided to come together again. This time to take on Narendra Modi. The parties which are merging together are Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(United) Indian National Lok Dal of Om Prakash Chauthala, Janata Dal(Secular) of HD Deve Gowda and Kamal Morarka’s Samajwadi Janata Party.
Mulayam Singh Yadav has been announced as the head of the party in Parliament, though its name and symbol haven’t been decided as yet. The Times of India reports that the party is likely to be called Samajwadi Janata Dal with the cycle as its symbol (which is the current symbol of the Samajwadi party).
So how strong a challenge is this new party going to be to Narendra Modi? Will it be as strong as the Janata Party was to Indira Gandhi? The first thing we need to understand is that the party has been formed when the next Lok Sabha election is still four years away.
After the merger, the party will have 15 members in the Lok Sabha, which is minuscule to the 295 members that the Janata Party had. In the Rajya Sabha the party will have 30 members. In that sense, the party will provide very little challenge to Narendra Modi.
Further, the support of all the parties which are coming together is heavily localized. Samajwadi Party is strong in Uttar Pradesh. The Indian National Lok Dal is strong in Haryana and Dev Gowda’s Janata Dal(Secular) is strong in parts of Karanatka. Hence, to that extent no consolidation of votes can be expected against Narendra Modi.
The only exception to this is Bihar. In Bihar, both Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) and Nitish’s Janata Dal (United)(JD(U)) are on a strong wicket. Data from the election commission shows that the combine of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party(LJP) got 35.8% of the votes polled during the Lok Sabha elections last year.
The RJD and the Congress Party which fought the elections together got 20.1% and 8.4% of the votes respectively. The Janata Dal(United) which fought the elections separately got 15.8% of the votes. Hence, the vote percentage of JD(U) + RJD matches that of the BJP + LJP. Further, RJD+JD(U)+Congress got more votes than BJP + LJP. Nevertheless, since RJD+ Congress and JD(U) were not in alliance, these votes did not translate into Lok Sabha seats.
Things changed in the by-elections to 10 assembly seats that happened in August 2014. In these elections the JD(U) came together with the RJD+Congress and took on BJP+LJP. The data from the election commission shows that the RJD+Congress+JD(U) got 45.6% of the total votes polled. The BJP+LJP got 37.9% of the votes polled. Given that, this time JD(U) was not fighting the elections separately, the votes polled translated into assembly seats as well, unlike the Lok Sabha polls. The RJD+ Congress+ JD(U) got six out of the ten assembly seats.
Hence, in Bihar, given the way the caste combinations work, the new Janata Party can be a potent force to take on Modi. The trouble is that Lalu and Nitish, despite the claims that they make in public these days, do not get along with each other.
Nitish became the Chief Minister of Bihar in 2005, more than three decades after he entered politics in the early 1970s. And for the first half of his political career, he propped up Lalu Prasad Yadav even though he knew that Lalu wasn’t fit to govern. Journalist Sankarshan Thakur puts this question to Nitish in his book Single Man: “Why did you promote Laloo Yadav so actively in your early years?” he asked.
And surprisingly, Nitish gave an honest answer. As Thakur writes “’But where was there ever even the question of promoting Laloo Yadav?’ he mumbled…’We always knew what quality of man he was, utterly unfit to govern, totally lacking vision or focus.”
So why then did Nitish decide to support him? “There wasn’t any other choice at that time,’ Nitish countered…’We came from a certain kind of politics. Backward communities had to be given prime space and Laloo belonged to the most powerful section of Backwards, politically and numerically.”
And this logic still continues to remain valid. The next assembly elections in Bihar are scheduled for later this year is in November 2015. And the chief minister’s post will be a bone of contention between Lalu and Nitish. It remains to be seen whether the new party will be able to survive this.
In other states the new party may be able to cause some damage to Modi only if it comes together with the Congress. To conclude, the biggest challenge for the party will be to survive till the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

The article originally appeared on Firstpost on April 16, 2015