The BJP leadership has deftly staved off a major crisis among its allies that had threatened the party’s efforts to broaden its caste base and take on the grand alliance in the Bihar assembly election starting October.
After days of hard-nosed bargaining, the BP managed to reconcile two key Dalit leaders -- Ram Vilas Paswan and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi -- through a mutually agreeable seat-sharing formula without denting its own winning position.
While the BJP keeps 160 of 243 Bihar assembly seats to retain a realistic chance of acquiring a simple majority of 122, it nipped a potential war between Dalit leaders by giving Paswan twice as many seats as Manjhi and accommodating five Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) candidates to quell Manjhi’s demand for more.
“Manjhi was not the problem, Chirag was,” said a top BJP leader referring to Paswan’s son, who drove a hard bargain.
Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) did not want any Manjhi candidate who had won on its ticket in 2010 but recently defected to HAM, to be fielded from Jamui, Chirag’s parliamentary constituency.
The LJP fear was that HAM leader Narendra Singh and his two sons, who won from Jamui assembly segments, would be a threat to Chirag.
With the BJP agreeing to field Singh's sons on its own ticket, besides accommodating three more Manjhi men, the LJP and HAM were silenced.
By appropriating the loyalty of the borrowed HAM candidates, the BJP has also limited HAM numbers from threatening its allies in future.
All three – the LJP, RLSP and HAM -- are crucial to the BJP winning Bihar. Manjhi can command a substantial portion of the 16% Dalit votes and help the NDA acquire parity with a potential 45% vote share of the Lalu-Nitish grand alliance. While Manjhi’s numbers will provide parity, Paswan’s Dusadh community and EBC-OBC votes via Kushwaha will help edge past the opposition.
“The BJP has to look beyond splitting Yadavs. It’s given that grand alliance can command up to 33% votes,” a Union minister told HT. The NDA has to look seriously at the rest 67% votes to win. That, the seat sharing arrangement assures”.
Full Coverage:Battle for Bihar