Bihar by-poll battle: All eyes riveted on Nitish-Lalu bonhomie

Of all the by-elections in different states, slated to be held on August 21, the most keenly watched by-poll will be in Bihar, where 10 Assembly constituencies go to poll. The reasons for this curiosity are one too many. 

First, this will for the first time in the last 20 years that arch-rivals Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, who recently buried hatchet, will be going to polls after forging a grand alliance in which the Congress too is a marginal player.

But the moot point is: Will the people of Bihar accept the “rank political opportunism”, as alleged by the BJP, of the two erstwhile Janata parivar leaders, who parted ways in 1994, but were forced to sink their differences in June this year after their common foe Narendra Modi made them bite dust in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
 Secondly, will Nitish Kumar, who is never tired of talking about principles, be able to convince the electorate about his ‘principled stand’ of joining hands with the man whom he uprooted in the name of Jungle Raj. 

Thirdly, it will be interesting to watch how will the voters, who gave Nitish a brute majority (4/5th seats; 208 seats in a 243-member Assembly) in 2010, react after knowing that he is unwilling to re-join hands with the BJP but has no qualms in stitching an alliance with the leader (read: Lalu-Rabri) whom the public voted out lock, stock and ‘apparel’.

But there is a flip side to the entire political drama. More than principles and ideology, it’s a matter of survival for the two regional chieftains - Lalu and Nitish - who face rout in their fiefdom if they contest separately. One will have to take into account the figures of the last Lok Sabha polls to understand why poll arithmetic is more important than electoral chemistry. 

The BJP, during the parliamentary polls, got 22 per cent of the votes and bagged 22 seats out of 40 Lok Sabha constituencies. Together, in alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and a lesser mortal – Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) headed by Upendra Kushwaha, the BJP-led alliance fetched 36 per cent votes and bagged 31 out of 40 seats (LJP got six and RLSP three seats).

Secular votes

On the other hand, Lalu’s RJD+ (which included Congress and NCP) got 29 per cent votes as against 15.8 of Nitish’s JD (U). Combined together, the ‘secular camp’ got nearly 45 per cent votes, but since they contested separately, all of them were virtually routed in the Modi wave. From 20, the JD (U)’s strength in Lok Sabha was reduced to 2, while Congress and RJD managed to retain their previous strength by bagging two and four Lok Sabha seats respectively. Tariq Anwar was the sole NCP winner in the State.

It was precisely the split of secular votes that has forced all the like-minded parties, which are inimical to the BJP, to sink their differences and make common cause to pip their common foe Narendra Modi. But apart from political compulsion, this arrangement suits both the protégés of late Jaya Prakash Narayan. “Nitish has nothing to lose. 

A shrewd politician that he is, he knows for sure that till there is ban on Lalu from contesting elections following his conviction in the fodder scam (unless and until Supreme Court annuls the CBI court order), there is no real threat to him from the RJD camp so far as his leadership is concerned. Lalu too knows that after Rabri’s three successive defeats (two Assembly polls and one Lok Sabha election), he has to nurture new breed within his family. And this could be in the form of his eldest daughter Misa Bharti, who, though lost a closely-fought battle from Pataliputra, has shown her leadership acumen.

And she could easily ride piggyback on Nitish, rather than anyone else, if the trailer of newly-forged alliance succeeds,” averred a veteran political commentator Ajay Kumar. 

And this also suits the third player – the Congress – in this game of survival. Ever since it was ousted from power in March 1990, it has been struggling to get a toehold – not foothold! - in this caste-ridden state. Already it has a loyal ally in the form of Lalu (it still doubts Nitish on loyalty-quotient as the man who can dump BJP after using it for 17 years can mete out the same treatment to Congress too), but it has no inhibitions in joining hand with Nitish as enemy’s (NaMo) enemy is always a friend.

The BJP, however, pooh-poohs such alliance and asserts that these leaders will be left with eggs on their face once the by-election result is declared on August 25. “This is a clear display of desperation, opportunism and lack of principles. If Lalu-Rabri era was Jungle Raj-I, this is jungle Raj-II. The politically conscious people of Bihar have given a befitting reply to Nitish in May. But he failed to read the writing on the wall. 

In desperation (and also out of personal ego), he is committing one political hara-kiri after another. He is perhaps taking the voters for granted. He has apparently forgotten that two wrongs cannot make a right,” said former deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, advising Nitish not to fool all the people all the time.

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