Bihar elections: NDA seat-sharing a challenge
The seat-sharing talks for the upcoming Bihar assembly elections – slated to be held on schedule in October and November, despite the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak – are yet to begin.
Both the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the opposition Grand Alliance (GA) appear have adopted a wait-and-watch approach even though poll preparations are in progress.
The NDA has announced that it would go to polls under the leadership of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, but recent developments show that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might have to perform a balancing act to satisfy the ego of its two allies at the Centre – the Janata Dal (U), or JD (U), and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).
The ruling JD (U) is strengthening itself by inducting several party hoppers and more are likely to join ahead of the upcoming polls.
Jitan Ram Manjhi, former Bihar CM and the chief of Hindustani Awam Morcha Secular (HAM-S) had last week quit the GA and joined the NDA.
Majhi’s inclusion in the NDA fold appears to have increased the prospects of the ruling coalition’s chances in the elections for the 243-member Bihar assembly.
But LJP president Chirag Paswan has been a thorn in CM Kumar’s flesh for quite a while now. He has been relentlessly attacking Kumar and simultaneously praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a calibrated poll strategy.
Though Paswan may not quit the NDA, he also does not want to compromise with his growing aspirations in his native state, Bihar. He is trying to stake a claim for a higher number of seats, which the JD(U) is opposed to. In 2015, when the JD (U) was not in the NDA, the LJP had contested 42 seats but could win only two.
The party wants to contest in as many seats this time around as well while citing 100% winning rate in last year’s parliamentary polls. The JD (U) has steered clear of the seat-sharing arrangement with the LJP. The JD (U) wants the BJP to handle the vexed issue as the party maintains that it does not have an alliance with the LJP in Bihar.
The BJP has been giving a measured response to the ongoing war of attrition between the JD (U) and the LJP. However, the JD (U) has frequently expressed its displeasure over Paswan’s relentless attacks.
The nomination of 12 seats to the Bihar Legislative Council from the Governor’s quota is also in limbo.
The stalemate, according to BJP and JD (U) insiders, is due to the indecision over the LJP. The sticking point has been whether to give a seat to the LJP over which there is a disagreement between the BJP and the JD (U).
In this season of pre-poll ferment, six sitting legislators of the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) have defected to the JD (U).
BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal is trying to put up a united front amid the widespread defections and party hopping. “We will work toegther on our traditional seats, as we have a strong force of committed party workers,” he said.
Most of the RJD turncoat lawmakers had won big in 2015 assembly polls.
For instance, Chandrika Rai had defeated LJP’s Chotelal Rai from Parsa assembly seat five years ago.
In 2010, Chotelal Rai was in the JD (U) and had defeated RJD’s Chandrika Rai to end his five-time consecutive winning streak.
Similarly, Dr Faraz Fatmi of the RJD had won the Keoti assembly seat in Darbhanga district after defeating his nearest BJP rival Ashok Kumar Yadav.
Now, Faraz, the son of four-time Darbhanga Member of Parliament, MAA Fatmi, has followed his father to join the JD (U). The defection has queered the pitch for the BJP candidate, who had won the seat thrice prior to 2015 after defeating the RJD candidate.
Jay Vardhan Yadav alias Bachcha Yadav, the grandson of ‘Sher-e-Bihar’ Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, had also won the Paliganj seat in 2015 defeating BJP’s Ram Janm Sharma. BJP’s Usha Vidyarthi had won the seat in 2010 and is said to be again planning to stake her claim.
Five-time MLA from Gaighat in Muzaffarpur Maheshwar Prasad has also switched to the JD (U). Last time, he had defeated BJP’s Veena Devi by a margin of 3,500 votes. Veena Devi had won the seat in 2010, while Yadav had defeated the JD (U) candidate in 2005.
The switchover of Prema Choudhary, a three-time RJD MLA from Patepur in Vaishali, to JD (U) will create a similar trouble. Choudhary had defeated BJP’s Mahendra Baitha in 2010. It has been a Baitha vs Choudhary show in Patepur since 1995.
Dr Ashok Kumar alias Kushwaha won twice on a RJD ticket from Sasaram. He had defeated the BJP candidate Jawahar Prasad in 2015. While in 2010, Prasad had defeated Kushwaha.
Sources said Bihar could witness another round of party hopping , as aspiring candidates look for winning seats and combinations. One of the names doing the rounds is that of Hilsa RJD MLA Shakti Singh Yadav. He could switch over to the JD (U).
RJD veteran Raghuvansh Peasad Singh is also upset with the party’s move to induct Rama Singh. However, his next move is still not clear.
JD (U) minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav has attributed the defections to CM Kumar’s pull as a charismatic leader in state politics.
Shaibal Gupta, member secretary of Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), said there would be some prickly issues over seat adjustments within the NDA due to recent inductions in the JD(U) on assembly constituencies traditionally fought by the BJP and LJP. “But the BJP is a disciplined party and it will try to settle these issues amicably,” he added.
NK Choudhary, former head, department of economics, Patna University (PU), said the pressure on the BJP would be to satisfy all its NDA constituents. “That is the art of politics. The JD (U) is doing its own brand of politics through growing bonhomie with Manjhi in a bid to cut the LJP to size. However, the LJP will not compromise its presence in the Union Cabinet and national politics. The LJP is indulging in pressure politics, which is quite natural. Ultimately, it will require deft handling by the BJP and JD (U) may have to make some compromises,” he added.