Battle lines drawn, but bumpy road ahead for Nitish and BJP

Battle lines drawn, but bumpy road ahead for Nitish and BJP

Dateline

With a reluctant Lalu Prasad eventually agreeing to project Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial nominee of the secular alliance, battle lines are clearly drawn for the Bihar polls slated for October this year.

The much-touted Assembly election, which is likely to be held before its term expires on November 24, will be the first litmus test of Modi’s popularity after the BJP’s rout in Delhi earlier this year.

After many years, it is going to be a straight contest between the two major alliances – one led by the BJP, which includes its existing ally – the Ram Vilas Paswan headed-LJP and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) headed by Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha. And the other group of the Janata Parivar outfits including the JD(U) and the RJD, besides, the Congress and the NCP.

While the BJP would like to join hands with small outfits like HAM (Hindustan Awam Morcha) floated by former chief minister and expelled JD (U) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi, Nitish would make efforts to rope in the CPI, CPM and the CPI-ML to prevent division of secular votes.

It was this split of ‘secular votes’ in 2014 which helped the BJP (and its alliance partners) romp home in 31 out of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies. Contesting separately, the RJD got 20.4 per cent votes while the JD (U) polled 16 per cent votes.

The Congress, which was in alliance with the RJD, managed to get 8.56 per cent votes. Had the three parties contested together, it would have added up to 45 per cent votes, more than the combined BJP alliance (BJP+LJP+RLSP), which secured 36.48 per cent votes and won 31 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats.

“But in politics, two plus two is not always four,” says former JD(U) MP Shivanand Tiwary, who is not convinced that by merely joining hands, the RJD would be able to transfer its votes to the JD(U) and vice-versa.

At ground level, the animosity between the two regional parties is too deeply ingrained to overcome their two-decade-old hostility. “It’s beyond my comprehension why Yadavs (who constitute nearly 14 per cent of the electorate) would vote for a numerically weaker Kurmis (Nitish castemen constitute merely 2 per cent). Lalu’s fellow brethren are fully aware that it was because of Nitish and his aides (read PK Sahi and Lallan Singh, the pleader and the petitioner respectively in fodder scam) because of which Lalu was sent to jail and today can’t even contest a poll,” said former Bihar Congress President Ram Jatan Sinha.

The Congress leader’s apprehension that Yadavs may not vote for Nitish, was echoed by a former JD (U) minister, now in Manjhi camp.

 Disgruntled elements

“When Yadavs know that they have nothing to gain, why would they rally around Nitish and make the JD(U) strongman further strong. In my area particularly, Yadavs may back those who can defeat Nitish’s candidate (as they had done during Lok Sabha polls),” said the ex-minister from North Bihar, dwelling at length how the BJP had been giving due weightage to the Yadav leaders of late.

To buttress his point, he cited the elevation of BJP MP from Pataliputra, Ram Kripal Yadav (who was earlier a key Lalu aide) as Union minister, appointment of Nand Kishore Yadav as Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, and Bhupendra Yadav being made the BJP-in-charge of Bihar affairs.

It’s not only the Yadavs who are angry with Nitish. The Mahadalits, who constitute 16 per cent votes, too are believed to be equally unhappy with the ruling dispensation, particularly after the unceremonious removal of Manjhi from the chief minister’s post.

“The homeguard jawans are angry with Nitish. The contract teachers are miffed with Nitish. And so are other sections of the society, particularly the middle class, who are yet to make out how and why Nitish joined hands with Lalu whose 15 years of misrule had made their lives miserable,” averred a former Rajya Sabha member.

Apart from disgruntled elements, Nitish’s most difficult task ahead is deciding the number of seats each party would contest. The RJD and the Congress, after their unconditional support to the Bihar CM, would like to have their pound of flesh.

But it’s not the Nitish camp which will be bogged down by seat adjustment. The BJP, which contested 101 seats out of 243 constituencies in 2010 polls (and won 91), will face an upheaval task in earmarking seats for its allies.

Having made an ambitious target of winning 185 seats, it has little room for other allies including LJP, RLSP, HAM and even Pappu Yadav’s little known Jantantrik Morcha.

The BJP has another problem to grapple with. With Narendra Modi’s popularity relatively on the wane, its problem has been compounded due to internal bickerings within the state unit which is not keen on Sushil Modi’s projection as the chief ministerial candidate.
Taking a leaf out of the Delhi book, where its experiment of imposing a rank outsider like Kiran Bedi backfired, the BJP may desist from projecting any candidate for the state’s top post and keep all the warring factions in good humour.

But going to the Assembly polls with a faceless leadership, at a time when its rival group has not only united but projected a credible face like Nitish (whose administrative acumen is admired by even his opponents), will put the BJP at disadvantage.

The top leadership will be hoping against hope that some cracks may eventually develop within the Janata Parivar later during polls, as a scattered Opposition could only bolster its winning prospects. Otherwise, everyone within the BJP knows that Sushil Modi is no Narendra Modi.

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