Bihar bypolls: CM Nitish Kumar faces first electoral test after Grand Alliance break-up

Bypolls will be held in Araria Lok Sabha and Bhabua and Jehanabad assembly seats on Sunday.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2018 10:21 IST
Vijay Swaroop
Vijay Swaroop
Hindustan Times, Patna
Nitish Kumar,JD(U),RJD
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was initially reluctant to field his JD(U) candidate in the upcoming bypolls for Araria Lok Sabha and Bhabua and Jehanabad assembly seats. (Arvind Yadav/HT File Photo)

Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in Bihar will face its first major electoral test, after it severed ties with the grand alliance (GA) last year, in the bypolls for Araria Lok Sabha and Bhabua and Jehanabad assembly seats slated for Sunday.

Kumar’s JD (U) is contesting the Jehanabad assembly seat, leaving Araria and Bhabua to its ally, the BJP.

Kumar was reluctant to field his party candidate in the by elections, but later yielded to pressure from the BJP.

With JD(U) also in the fray now, the electoral battle has turned into a prestige fight for both the NDA and the UPA, comprising the RJD and the Congress.

The RJD, the major constituent in the UPA in the state, gave room for the Congress to field its nominee for Bhabua assembly seat, while it has put up candidates for the other two seats.

This is the first election after the political realignment in the state.

The JD (U), which had snapped ties with the BJP in July 2013, returned to the NDA fold in July 2017.

Kumar’s decision to walk out of the GA over corruption issues has reportedly not gone down well with Muslims and few backward communities, who voted for the alliance in the 2015 assembly polls.

Even senior leaders in the JD (U), including former party president Sharad Yadav openly opposed the decision, which led to a split in the party.

The polls will now test Kumar’s influence among these communities.

A win in all the three seats will be perceived as an approval of the voters to his decision of joining hands with the BJP, dumping the GA, and will also cement his position as the undisputed leader of the NDA in the state.

“Victory will definitely be an approval from the voters to his decision of rejoining the BJP-led NDA,” said a JD (U) leader.

“The results will show whether the people are subscribing to the reasons Kumar cited for walking away from the grand alliance,” said Shivanand Tiwary, the RJD leader.

During the previous NDA regimes headed by Kumar, the BJP won Araria in both 2004 and 2009. In 2014, after Kumar formed the GA, RJD’s Taslimuddin wrested the seat from the saffron party. The Lok Sabha constituency falls in Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region

“Undoubtedly, it will be a crucial test of Kumar’s popularity, who swept to power in Bihar in 2015. A NDA win will further demoralise opposition parties who are fighting to keep their flock together in the absence of RJD chief Lalu Prasad,” said a JD (U) leader.

Prasad is serving a jail term after being convicted in a fodder-scam case.

A defeat, political observers say, will weaken Kumar’s position and that could trigger a demand for a leadership change within the NDA in Bihar.

JD (U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan, however, rejected any such possibility.

“The alliance had fared badly during 2009 bypolls when we lost 50% of the 18 seats for which elections were held. But the alliance soon bounced back with a thumping win and Kumar firmed up his position.”

Araria has six Assembly segments. Raniganj, Forbesganj and Sikti are represented by BJP in the assembly. The Congress holds the Araria assembly seat and the RJD represents Narpatganj and Jokihat.

The 41% Muslim and 10% Yadav voters are spread over the six segments.

The bypolls are also equally important for the UPA as it will give the alliance an opportunity to weigh their options before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

“Whether we win or lose doesn’t matter,” a senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader said, adding, “We are just trying to assess the support base as well as mood of the people ahead of the general elections.”

First Published: Mar 09, 2018 16:27 IST