The BJP announced a seat-sharing pact with allies for the Bihar polls on Monday following last-minute tweaks to keep Mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi happy as it got ready to take on a grand alliance in the crucial October-November elections.
The BJP will contest 160 of the 243 assembly seats and increased Manjhi’s share by five seats after his hard-nosed bargaining frustrated negotiators and delayed the arrangement by nearly a week.
Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP will contest 40 seats, Union minister Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) 23, and Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) will fight 20 seats. A few other HAM members may contest on the saffron party’s symbol.
“We have not decided how many of them (HAM leaders) would contest polls on BJP symbol. We have left it to Manjhi to take a call,” BJP chief Amit Shah said.
The arrangement ensures Manjhi – who demanded a share equal to that of Paswan – gets “some” extra seats. But if they win, these legislators will be guided by instructions from the BJP leadership in the assembly, and not the former chief minister.
The 70-year-old Manjhi had demanded seats equal to the LJP’s share, citing his supposed higher stature among the Mahadalits, an extremely backward group of castes that comprises 10% of the state’s population and may swing a close election.
“It was not a question of ‘my happiness’. The larger issue is to prevent Bihar from slipping into ‘jungle raj’,” Manjhi told HT.
The BJP-led alliance is facing a stiff challenge from the grand coalition -- also known as the Mahagathbandhan -- comprising the Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress and others.
The saffron coalition is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal appeal and a development-oriented campaign while the grand alliance has leaned on traditional caste arithmetic and secularism.
“We have agreed to the number of seats each party will contest and we all will now sit down to finalise the seats that will go to the BJP and its allies,” Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi told HT.
The BJP central election committee will meet in the Capital on Tuesday to discuss candidates for the first phase of polling on October 12.
The grand alliance is having last-minute jitters of its own as parties are deadlocked over the choice of seats. Though the RJD and JD(U) have decided to contest 100 seats each, leaving 40 to the Congress, leaders continue to squabble over at least 40 contentious constituencies, over which all three parties have staked claim.
(With agency inputs)