The Bihar imbroglio has come up at the wrong time for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is keeping its fingers crossed over the electoral prospects in New Delhi where exit polls predict triumph of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the assembly polls.
It makes it all the more difficult for the BJP top brass to concentrate on the Bihar affair and decide whether it should go with chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s recommendation to dissolve the Bihar House or help him make a bid for power with its 87 legislators.
The 243-member Bihar legislative assembly has 233 members as nine members have been disqualified and one member of the BJP died recently. Of the 233 MLAs, the ruling Janata Dal (United) has 111, BJP 87, RJD 24, Congress five, CPI one and five are independents.
BJP insiders accept that a defeat in the Delhi polls would make it difficult for the party to rush into another election too soon.
Should it somehow capture power in the national capital, the buoyancy would make it possible for the BJP to eye another electoral sweep in Bihar in its attempt to consolidate nationally.
In that case, backing Manjhi would make sense, or even go with dissolution, followed by a suspended animation for some time, and then followed by the elections under Manjhi as the caretaker. So many options also make for a more difficult choice, a fact accepted freely by BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi. He said, “All options are open. But a decision, either way, would take time. Opposition leader Nand Kishore Yadav, however, openly favoured dissolution.
While a defeat in Delhi could make the BJP wary of taking charge of Manjhi’s future, the call to keep its slate clean for the Bihar polls, than to get into an imbroglio, would go louder.
Also, BJP leaders in Bihar realise, that a defeat in Delhi would harden the stance of potential dissidents in JD(U) ranks and make it difficult for them to shift support to Manjhi.
Should the AAP succeed in forming the government, the fact that it was backed indirectly by the JD(U), Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) would not be lost on Bihar parties, leading to their further consolidation. That is a major BJP worry.
However, a majority in the BJP also do not want to see JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar back in charge and are in favour of backing Manjhi, should the latter be able to muster support of 31+ dissidents of his own party and others from outside. This is why, JD(U) leader KC Tyagi could openly charge Manjhi, as the BJP cat’s paw.
The BJP realises that Nitish Kumar in power would add to the strength of the JD(U) and the Lalu Prasad-led RJD, and vest them with administrative control, which it can do without.
However, BJP’s major concern remains that if it is seen as backing the wrong horse that cannot win a floor fight, it could suffer an electoral discredit which the combined opposition led by RJD-JD(U) would not spare.
Should Manjhi muster support at the confidence vote, likely on February 20, the BJP support would surely bolster him, a fact hinted to by Manjhi even in New Delhi on Sunday.
Manjhi said: “I will take all support from all quarters and say thank you and if necessary even appoint two deputy chief ministers”.
However, failure on the floor with the BJP's support could make the situation much more adverse for the saffron party, which suffered serious reverses, winning just four of the 10 by-poll seats against a combined JD(U)-RJD-Congress onslaught, soon after it had swept the Lok Sabha elections in May last year.
Plus, the BJP is also seized with the exercise of sealing its debut in governance in Jammu and Kashmir, where it would have to conclude negotiations sooner, lest the possible Delhi electoral failure soften its bargaining power.
This factor too could delay a decision on Bihar, even though a BJP win in Delhi could prolong the Bihar crisis longer for reasons like the BJP having to getting involved in a long government forming exercise and getting no time to deal with Patna.
There is the realisation, though, that there is one big advantage electorally militating in favour of a pact with Manjhi, who is now a discernible and strong pole of Mahadalit politics in the state.
With Ram Vilas Paswan, already in NDA, the addition of Manjhi could make for a Dalit vote sweep, which is now so vital to the BJP, again courtesy the poor by-poll results.
A consolidation of the Dalit, EBC, upper caste, OBC vote together, would make it difficult for the JD(U) and the RJD to stage a comeback easily and also ensure that the BJP could take on the Bihar assembly elections much more confidently at a time of its own choosing.
This could happen even if Manjhi abdicates for lack of strength. For, the Bihar chief minister and his group, which is now a pariah in the JD(U) has nowhere to go but to the BJP, which gives some advantage to it in the caste splintered welter of Bihar politics.