Bihar assembly election 2020: Ruling, Opposition alliances locked in tough seat-sharing parleys
The ruling and Opposition alliances in Bihar are locked in hard negotiations on seat sharing for the October-November assembly elections, the first major election in India during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), and its partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are in seat-to-seat talks to decide which partner will contest how many seats and which in the 243-member assembly.
Voting will be conducted in three phases beginning on October 28. The results will be declared on November 10.
“Discussion on seat-to-seat basis is taking place. Announcements would be made by the end of this month,” said a senior leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Their main rival, the Grand Alliance comprising the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and smaller parties, are yet to finalise their deal as well. A senior Congress leader said on condition of anonymity that the party was unwilling to accept anything less than 70 seats.
The Congress is driving a hard bargain with state screening committee chairman Avinash Pande saying on Sunday that the party might be forced to tie up with other parties if its demand was not met -- a statement other party leaders described as a pressure tactic to convince the RJD to part with more seats.
In the NDA, Bihar BJP in-charge and Rajya Sabha MP Bhupendra Yadav has had talks on seat-sharing with JD (U) MPs Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh and RCP Singh.
One of the key reasons for a delay in stitching up the seat-sharing agreement, people familiar with the development said, is the division of 51 seats between the BJP and the JD (U) which both parties contested against each other in the 2015 assembly polls when the JD (U) was part of the grand alliance with the RJD and Congress.
“The JD (U) had won 28 seats and the BJP 23. Both are staking claims by virtue of vote share, traditional seats and other logic,” said the NDA leader cited above.
Having fought the 2015 elections with the RJD and the Congress in 2015, Nitish Kumar returned to the NDA fold in 2017 after differences with his former partners.
Another reason why seat-sharing has become complicated or the ruling dispensation is that seven RJD legislators joined the JD (U) recently. All seven had won seats contested by the BJP or the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in 2015. The constituencies they represent are Patepur, Gaighat, Parsa, Keoti, Sasaram, Teghra and Paliganj.
“Under these circumstances, the 2010 results are most likely to become the basis of contesting the 2020 polls. Some of these seats will go to JD (U) and JD (U) will forgo some,” said a NDA leader.
With the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) led by.Jitan Ram Manjhi joining the ruling alliance and amid speculation that former union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) may also join it, the partners have a challenge on their hands in trying to accommodate so many interests.
“There is no confusion in NDA with regards to seat sharing. As far as RLSP is concerned, there have been no talks with them so far,” clarified BJP state president Dr Sanjay Jaiswal on Sunday.
People in the BJP familiar with the developments said party leaders have been put under pressure by MPs from the state who have urged it to negotiate an equal number of seats as are allotted to the the JD(U). Of the 40 Lok Sabha in Bihar, both JD (U) and the BJP had contested on 17 seats each, leaving six for the LJP. The BJP and the LJP won all its seat while the JD (U) lost one.
“The BJP was gracious enough to part with 13 of the seats it had contested in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to accommodate the JD(U) in the 2019 elections. Now it is the turn of the JD (U) to reciprocate the gesture,” said a senior BJP leader, requesting anonymity.
The JD (U) contested 101 assembly seats in 2015 and won 71 when it was part of the alliance with the RJD and Congres. The BJP won t 53 seats and the Chirag Paswan-led LJP two seats. In the 2010 assembly polls, the JD (U) contested on 141 seats and won 115; the BJP contested 102 and won 91.
GRAND ALLIANCE TALKS
Negotiations between the RJD and Congress have deadlocked over the past couple of days with the latter refusing to budge from its demand of 70 seats, said the senior Congress leader quoted above.
“The RJD is unwilling to give more than 60 out of 243 seats, which is not anyway a reasonable share in keeping with a national status of the party,” he said, asking for anonymity.
Pande -- who is not involved in seat sharing negotiations and was in Patna to receive applications for tickets from party workers -- said on Saturday and Sunday that the party was ready for any eventuality if the RJD refused to offer a “reasonable and honourable” share of seats.
His statement followed a two-day marathon meeting with senior leaders of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) at the party office on Sunday on candidate selection.
A second Congress leader said Pande’s statement was aimed at giving a strong message to the RJD and added that both parties needed each other to unseat the ruling coalition. “In 2015 assembly polls, Congress won 27 out 41 seats allotted under the GA with 66% success rate. The RJD had won 80 out of 101 and won 79% seats,” added the leader.
Congress general secretary and former Union minister Tariq Anwar on Friday clarified that the party wanted 101 seats -- the same number contested by the JD (U) in 2015 as an erstwhile partner of the Grand Alliance.
“Being a big partner, RJD has every right to claim the chief ministerial candidate. But the Congress expect a respectable that seat sharing deal with the RJD,” said Anwar, adding that the party might compromise on some seats to accommodate allies.
Bihar Congress spokesman Harkhu Jha said Pande was given the mandate to identify potential seats and candidates. “So far as the alliance is concerned, only the party high command and in-charge [Shaktisinh Gohil ] are authorised to decide on it,” said Jha, adding that the seat-sharing exercise would be complete in the next few days.
People aware of developments said the RJD is keen to allot 20-25 seats to Left parties comprising including the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninish (Liberation), the Communist Party of India, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist); the Vikassheel Insaan Party ( VIP) led by Mukesh Sahni would be allotted eight to ten seats.
“ Once the screening committee submits its report on eligible candidates after holding discussions with state leaders to the Congress top leadership, a final decision on seat sharing would be taken by the party president Sonia Gandhi,’ said a third senior Congress leader, wishing not to be identified.