Cloud of uncertainty over Bihar poll matrix

Union minister and RLSP president Upendra Kushwaha holds a bow and arrow during the celebration of the 143rd birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel at Rabindra Bhawan in Patna. PTI

“I will not speak to Amit Shah any more. If any parleys are to be held, I will speak to Prime Minister Narendra Modi only,” said union minister Upendra Kushwaha recently in Patna.

The junior minister in the Human Resource Development (HRD) department appeared quite audacious after he was rebuffed by the BJP chief who refused to give him an audience to discuss the seat-sharing pact among the NDA constituents in Bihar. It has, in all probability, closed the doors for him in the alliance where he is currently enjoying the perks and power of a union minister.

By saying he would speak only with Modi, and not Shah, Kushwaha may have adopted a ‘divide & rule’ policy to create a chasm between the two top BJP leaders. The NDA has paid him back in the same coin. It has split the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), the pocket organisation Kushwaha heads. The two RLSP MLAs are all set to join Nitish’s bandwagon. While one is likely to become a minister in his cabinet, the other will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Of the two RLSP MPs, one has already expressed his desire to stay with NDA.

That leaves Kushwaha, an over-ambitious leader, to plough a lonely furrow for himself as and when he leaves NDA. “The sooner he leaves, the better. It will be good riddance,” Bihar BJP president Nityanand Rai told DH, sharing his frustration over Kushwaha’s never-ending tantrums.

Once Kushwaha leaves, the NDA will announce the seat-sharing pact, which will have BJP and JD(U) contesting on 50:50 ratio on a majority of the seats, leaving the rest for the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) headed by another union minister, Ram Vilas Paswan. “The BJP and JD (U) may contest 17 seats each, leaving six seats for Paswan,” said a top BJP source. Bihar sends 40 members to the Lok Sabha.

Eyebrows have already been raised over how Nitish extracted his pound of flesh from the dominant Modi-Shah combine. It is worth mentioning here that the JD(U) had won merely two seats during the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. On the other hand, the BJP contested 30 seats (out of 40 constituencies) in 2014 and won 22.

“Scaling down from 30 to 17 means a nearly 50% reduction in the number of seats to be contested. But the party high command was made to believe that in this part of the cow-belt, if the BJP has to perform well, it will have to ride piggyback on Nitish. The top leadership was made to believe that “Nitish’s face and BJP’s (vote) base” could do wonders for the NDA in this caste-ridden state,” the senior parliamentarian from the saffron camp told this correspondent.

No cakewalk for GA

While the NDA may be busy re-doing the math after it found out about Kushwaha’s new chemistry with the RJD, the Grand Alliance (GA) is not going to have a cakewalk, either, in terms of seat adjustments.

The RJD has made it clear to the Congress and other allies that given its mass base and vote share, it would have the lion’s share out of 40 LS seats. The Congress has vaguely suggested to the RJD leadership that it could enter into a 20:20 pact in the Grand Alliance. As per this arrangement, the RJD would contest 20 Lok Sabha seats while Congress would get the other 20.

“From its quota of 20 seats, the Congress can leave a few seats for Jitan Ram Manjhi-led HAM, Sharad Yadav’s Loktantrik Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, CPI, CPM and CPI-ML. It may also leave a couple of seats for Kushwaha’s RLSP if he eventually dumps the NDA,” said Bihar Congress working president Kaukab Quadri.

With Tariq Anwar’s re-entry into the Congress, the moribund party in the state has got a new lease of life. “The Congress may field Tariq Anwar from Katihar, former Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar (Aurangabad), Meira Kumar from Sasaram, suspended BJP MP and former cricketer Kirti Azad from Darbhanga and former union minister Shakeel Ahmad from Madhubani,” said a Congress source.

However, Madhubani could be the bone of contention between the Congress and the CPI, which has also staked its claim on the district bordering Nepal. The last time the CPI nominee won in Madhubani was in 1996 when Chaturanan Mishra emerged triumphant and became union agriculture minister in the short-lived Deve Gowda-headed United Front government.

Though there is still a cloud of uncertainty over seat-sharing in the Grand Alliance, the Congress has in principle agreed to leave Madhepura to Sharad Yadav, Begusarai for CPI’s Kanhaiya Kumar, the firebrand ex-JNU student leader, Jhanjharpur for Samajwadi Party’s Devendra Yadav, Gaya for Jitan Ram Manjhi and Ara for CPI-ML.

“All we want is a formidable alliance of all such forces that are inimical to the BJP. Only a one-to-one fight between the Grand Alliance and the NDA will stop Narendra Modi in his tracks,” said the Congress leader, dwelling at length how the NDA won 31 out of 40 seats during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Bihar when the opposition here had remained divided. Of the remaining nine seats, RJD had bagged four, Congress and JD(U) two each and the NCP one (Tariq Anwar).

The RJD has not responded very positively to the Congress’ 20:20 proposal. Nor has the party shot it down outright. It will wait for the December 11 results of assembly elections in five states, touted to be the semi-final before the 2019 parliamentary polls. “If the Congress performs well in these states, particularly the Hindi-belt states, it could drive a hard bargain with the regional satraps who have been under-rating the grand old party,” said the senior Congress leader.

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