Bihar Assembly Election 2020: ‘Mahagathbandhan’ seat sharing talks hit roadblock
Losing friends fast, the opposition ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar is facing strong headwinds weeks ahead of the assembly elections with new allies hard to come by and the old seeking a greater share of the electoral pie, virtually blocking seat-sharing talks among its constituents.
The grand alliance spearhead, the RJD, which had emerged as the single largest party in the last elections with 81 seats, it finding it tough to convince its recalcitrant partners of its pre-eminence in the coalition and allow it to contest 150 odd seats of the 243-member assembly.
The Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has already deserted the coalition and returned to the ruling NDA.
Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) of former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha looks set to follow suit, with the party having already said “all is not well” in the ‘Mahagathbandhan’, which its leader Lalu Prasad and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar had cobbled together to humble the BJP in the 2015 assembly polls.
Apart from RJD’s 81, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) had won 70 seats and Congress 27. A cornered BJP had managed toclinch just 53 seats.
The RJD is fighting its first state polls in the absence of Lalu Prasad, who is serving time in a Jharkhand prison after conviction in multiple fodder scam cases.
Prasad’s son and heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav has already been declared the RJD’s chief ministerial candidate, something that has not gone down well with some alliance partners.
Sources in the coalition said the RJD, the main anti- NDA force in the state, is not ready to settle for anything less than 150 seats.
The Congress, which happily played a second fiddle to the RJD for many years, has been insisting on at least 75 seats, a demand lalu Prasad’s party is not prepared to concede.
“We have given the Congress a proposal to contest 58 assembly seats and the Valmikinagar Lok Sabha constituency which will have bypoll soon,” RJD spokesman Mrityunjay Tiwari told PTI.
Another RJD spokesman Shakti Singh Yadav also confirmed the numbers and said “one or two seats can be adjusted here and there.” Bihar Congress spokesman Rajesh Rathor refused to go public about the number of seats the party wants to contest, but maintained it has definitely sought a larger share than what was being offered.
“In the 2015 election under the grand alliance, the JD(U) and the RJD had contested 101 seats each and the Congress 41. Now that JD(U) has ditched the Mahagathbandhan and joined hands with the BJP, the seat distribution arithmetic is needed only for the 101 seats Nitish Kumar’s party had fought then.
“Out of that we expect proportionate distribution of seats to us,” Rathor told PTI.
RJD’s Tiwari, however, is unconvinced. He said the Congress being a national party has the scope to contest elections in many states but Bihar is the only strong turf for the state’s main opposition party.
RLSP chief Upendra Prasad Kushwaha is already camping in New Delhi where he is believed to have met top BJP leaders to finalise the modalities for his return to the NDA.
Kushwaha, according to sources in the NDA circles, wants to contest the Valmikinagar Lok Sabha byelection, which has been necessitated following the death of sitting JD(U) MP Baidyanath Mahto.
Sources in the Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP) of Bollywood set designer Mukesh Sahni said with the number of alliance partners shrinking, the party wants to contest a respectable number of seats. As a Mahagathbandhan ally, it fielded candidates in three places in the Lok Sabha polls but had drawn a blank.
Even RJD’s Jharkhand partner JMM has expressed keenness to be a part of the grand alliance and field candidates on some seats.
Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren had recently met Lalu Prasad in Ranchi and the two were learnt to have discussed the issue.
The RJD also hopes to bring on board the three Left Parties- the CPI-ML, CPI, and CPI-M.
Of these, CPI-ML alone has pockets of influence and three MLAs in the outgoing assembly.
However, it is peved at the ‘nakaratmak’ (negative) approach of the RJD in taking along opposition parties, including the prospective allies like the Left.
“The CPI-ML has been contesting around 100 seats on its own. But for the sake of unity among anti-NDA forces, we first scaled down our demand to 50 seats and finally to 25.
“But the RJD has a negative approach as it does not want us to contest from constituencies like Paliganj, Sandesh and Obra that are out traditional seats,” CPI-ML Secretary Kunal said.
“The RJD’s logic about our traditional seats is that it had fielded candidates there in the 2015 election and hence can’t leave them for others. But it should understand that in 2015 they fought elections to make Nitish Kumar the chief minister while now they want to throw him out of power,” he told PTI.
Kunal said his party may decide to go to the hustings alone if the RJD remains intransigent and refuses to accomodate the ultra-Left party’s demand.
Leave alone taking forward the seat-sharing talks with the existing and probable allies, the Mahagathbandhan remains an amorphous entity weeks before the first phase of polling on October 28, a situation that will make the rival NDA camp, which in any case looks sitting pretty, all the more happier.
The three-phase polls in Bihar will be held on October 28, November 3 and 7. The votes will be counted on November 10.