NDA seat pact: JD (U) strongman Nitish emerges stronger

NDA seat pact: JD (U) strongman Nitish emerges stronger

Nitish Kumar

In July 2018, when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and BJP president Amit Shah met twice in less than 24 hours to thrash out seat-sharing in Bihar, no final decision could be arrived at.

However, the body language of Nitish said it all. “Have patience. The seat-sharing arrangement within the NDA will be announced in a few weeks,” said a smiling Nitish when queried about the ‘deal’.

Weeks passed. Months passed. Nearly six months later, when the seat pact was eventually announced by Shah on December 23, it was Nitish who had the last laugh.

The leader, whose pocket organisation JD (U), could scrape through in merely two Lok Sabha seats in Bihar during the 2014 parliamentary elections, was asked by the BJP to contest 17 seats during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP, which contested 30 Lok Sabha seats (out of 40 LS constituencies) in 2014 and won 22, made a major climbdown by agreeing to contest only 17 seats. The remaining six seats were left for the LJP. 

Since Shah had earlier committed that the BJP and JD (U) would contest ensuing Lok Sabha polls on 50:50 basis, the figure of 17:17 was reached upon. Having lost two important allies — former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, followed by RLSP president Upendra Kushwaha, the BJP could not have afforded to antagonise another important (though not equally trustworthy) ally Nitish or Ram Vilas Paswan.

Poll matrix

Much like UP, Bihar is very crucial for the BJP, where the NDA won 31 seats out of 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in 2014, thereby decimating Nitish’s JD (U), Lalu’s RJD and the Congress in the Modi wave. With around 35.8% votes (BJP: 26.4%, LJP: 6.4%, RLSP: 3%) in 2014, the BJP scored a landslide, winning 80% of the seats.

The scene reversed in 2015 when Mahagatbandhan (Grand Alliance) was formed. Despite Narendra Modi promising Rs 1.5 lakh crore (it remained more a poll promise) for Bihar’s development and the BJP pulling out all the stops to score a win, Nitish gave a crushing defeat to the Modi-led NDA and won 178 Assembly seats out of 243 constituencies.

It was Nitish’s face and Lalu’s base (vote bank), which helped the Grand Alliance reap a rich harvest and give the BJP a decisive defeat.

It is against this backdrop that Nitish’s significance counts. Even during the worst performance, the JD (U) polled 14%, while the RJD and the Congress got 20% and 8% respectively. Together, they polled more than 40% in 2015 and upset all BJP’s calculations.

“The top BJP leadership was recently made to believe that if NDA has to repeat its 2014 performance in Bihar, then it will have to give Nitish a bigger pie (read: to be treated on equal footing). The combined strength of BJP, JD (U) and LJP is around 40%. Hence the BJP agreed to accommodate JD (U) and scaled down its own number to 17 seats,” a top BJP leader, who has worked closely with Nitish as well Modi, told DH.

“The recent defeat in three states in Hindi heartland too weakened the BJP thereby losing its bargaining power,” the leader, preferring anonymity, added.   

“The 56-inch has shrunk to 36-inch. And he (Modi) has surrendered before the man who won merely two seats in 2014. Strange that the JD (U) will contest 17 seats and the BJP, which won 22 seats, will also contest 17 seats. What a pathetic state of NDA?” averred Tejashwi Yadav, former deputy chief minister of Bihar.