New Delhi : In Bihar, even before the first vote has been cast for the three phase Assembly elections that will start a month from now, a most interesting battle is being fought within the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
The filing of nominations for the first phase of Bihar Assembly polls begins Thursday, and with it all alliances are set to announce their respective seat sharing arrangements with an eye on the post poll situation.
The NDA comprises Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).
The JD (U) and BJP are both keen to emerge the single largest party in the Bihar assembly.
For the BJP, it would mean that it could, when it feels the time is ripe, repeat Maharashtra, where it was once a junior partner to the Shiv Sena, but started dictating terms after the 2014 Assembly polls in the state.
The JD (U) knows how the BJP has treated its allies, and there is only one example, that of Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal, who severed ties with the BJP in Odisha in 2009 when the latter started getting overbearing.
However, the JD (U) is much weaker now. Until the 2010 Assembly polls, the JD (U) was the senior partner in the alliance, contesting 143 of the 243 Assembly seats, while the BJP contested the rest 100.
The JD (U) itself changed the rules of the game when it allied with the Rashtriya Janata Dal in the 2015 Assembly polls. The JD (U) and RJD contested 101-seats each while their ally Congress contested the rest of 41-seats.
When JD (U) returned to the NDA fold, it had to follow this principle for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The JD (U) and BJP contested a matching 17-seats each in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, with the LJP contesting the rest six of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. The alliance swept 39 of the 40-seats, with the JD (U) winning 16, BJP 17 and LJP six.
In the run up to the seat sharing talks, LJP’s Paswan threatened that his party will contest on 143 seats, including fielding candidates against JD (U). The threat was seen to have been raised at the behest of the BJP’s seat sharing tussle with the JD (U).
Kumar responded by getting former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who leads the Hindustani Awami Morcha (HAM), to split from the Mahagatbandhan of RJD and Congress.
Now the understanding is that the JD (U) and BJP will contest 120-seats each, but with the BJP giving at least 20-odd seats to LJP from its share and JD (U) giving seats to HAM from its share.
For the present, the BJP has announced that Kumar will continue to lead the alliance and will be the chief minister. However, BJP leaders like Sanjay Paswan have consistently demanded that the chief minister should belong to the BJP, pointing to such leaders as Nityanand Rai as possible replacements.
This is where the post-poll scenario becomes interesting. Kumar faces a 15-year anti-incumbency, and his government has performed poorly in managing the migrants’ crisis during the Covid-19 lockdown, and also in its aftermath.
While it is expected that the BJP will continue to retain its upper caste support base, and improve its strike rate since Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains popular, the JD (U) might suffer.
Will its seats tally give the BJP the opportunity to experiment in Bihar, to get legislators from smaller parties to join the BJP after the polls and let JD (U) know that it is redundant?
Similarly, there are interesting developments in the opposition alliance. With Lalu Prasad in a Ranchi jail, there is resistance from the party’s allies in accepting his son and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav as their chief ministerial candidate. The RJD has consistently lost vote share since the February 2005 elections, and polled just a little over 15 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress has demanded as many as 80 to 90-seats. It had contested only 41 in 2015, and won 27. The three Left parties have also demanded nearly 25-seats, and Mukesh Saini’s Vikassheel Insan Party too is bargaining for over 10-seats.
The RJD is keen to contest at least 143-seats, and give rest of the seats to its allies. However, most are convinced that Tejashwi Yadav lacks the popularity to challenge Kumar.
Not only is the RJD now only a party of Yadavs and Muslims, who comprise 30 per cent of the electorate, but has lost significant Yadav support base to the BJP in recent elections. The BJP has Yadav leaders like Nityanand Rai and state cabinet minister Nand Kishore Yadav in its ranks. The elections come even as a case is being heard in Mathura to claim ‘Krishna Janmabhoomi’.
The RJD also faces a challenge in its stronghold of Seemanchal. Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM and former union minister Devendra Prasad Yadav have floated the United Democratic Secular Alliance.
Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party has announced a Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA), along with some smaller
Along with some smaller parties.
Rashtriya Loktantrik Samata Party (RLSP), which has walked out of the Mahagatbandhan, has struck an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party.
While most of these smaller parties would be unable to win seats, their vote share could hurt the chances of some of the bigger parties. On the face of it, these parties could potentially hurt the RJD more than the JD (U).
An interesting post-poll scenario awaits Bihar.