LJP’s clout set to rise in Bihar NDA after Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP exits
The exit of Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar has raised the stock of Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshankati Party (LJP) in the coalition, giving it an opportunity to bargain for more seats. The LJP has currently has six MPs in the Lok Sabha, four more than the JD(U), which is the lead partner in the NDA in Bihar.
Paswan’s party now holds key to NDA’s unity and strength in the state, where the opposition is strongly aligning under the Grand Alliance (GA) umbrella to oust the Nitish government from Bihar and pose a challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Both BJP and JD (U) leaders are treading cautiously around LJP’s demands these days and also paying heed to their suggestions on policy issues. Both the bigger NDA allies are in agreement that RLSP’s exit is going to affect a certain segment of their voters, and if LJP also breaks away from the alliance, the challenge of taking on a revitalised GA would become extremely tough in both the 2019 parliamentary and 2020 assembly polls.
Publicly, however, BJP leaders play down the RLSP’s exit as a non-issue. “RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha has no mandate of his own. Someone who has miserably failed to hold his flock together and keep his party intact had no relevance for the NDA. The LJP, however, remains our key ally and it would stay put with us as we are natural partners,” said BJP legislator Manoj Kumar.
LJP leader and party’s parliamentary board president Chirag Paswan has maintained that his party shall remain with the NDA come what may, but he did give moments of anxiety to the NDA leaders, demanding an ‘honourable’ deal in the seat sharing without quoting a figure.
The LJP had contested seven seats in the 2014 polls and won six of them. Early this year, when the NDA was united with five coalition partners in its fold—Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awami Morcha (HAM) and Kushwaha’s RLSP have defected now – the younger Paswan had claimed his party would not sacrifice any of those seven seats in the next polls.
“Our party’s stand is clear. We want a respectable share. We haven’t quoted any number yet. Let the NDA leaders sit and decide. We are in a better position since 2014 and hence we should be treated respectably, if not at par,” said LJP spokesperson Ashraf Ansari.
During a preliminary discussion last month in Delhi, BJP and JD (U) presidents had announced they would contest on equal number of seats, but did not disclose the numbers. There was speculation that both the parties would contest 17 seats each, leaving five for LJP and one for RLSP.
The equations have since changed after RLSP’s exit and BJP’s defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Both LJP and JD (U) are now trying to prevail upon the saffron party, sounding caution on issues like Ram Mandir that they feel would harm them as well if the BJP sticks to it in its 2019 agenda.
The two regional parties have also advised BJP to stop making personal attacks on Congress President Rahul Gandhi saying this was one reason why the BJP lost assembly elections in the Hindi heartland.
Unlike the GA grouping where caste-based voters are strong and loyal, in the NDA, barring LJP, neither BJP nor the JD (U) commands a mandate of any particular voters’ segment. Though JD (U) is considered a party of OBCs, especially Kurmis, its legislators are drawn from various castes. So is the case with BJP.
The LJP, however, has a strong backing of the 17.3 % SC/ ST population of Bihar and its voters remained loyal to the party in all the elections.