The Janata Dal (United) alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar faces an acid test as the dates for the Lok Sabha and subsequent Assembly elections near. Seat sharing would indeed be a major challenge in a state where politics is an obsession. There is indeed much at stake with NDA’s total tally likely to shrink from its 2014 figure.
Politicking is in full gear and political manoeuvring is in full flow. Not only have the two parties to come to a mutually acceptable formula but the claims of Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, which are parts of the NDA also cannot be ignored. Each side is trying hard to extract its pound of flesh.
The JD (U) at its national executive meeting made it clear that in Bihar there can only be one leader of the NDA and that is Nitish Kumar. But having been mauled in recent byelections by the RJD, the JD (U) has lost some of its sheen. Yet, Nitish’s primacy is non-negotiable and the BJP knows it well.
The BJP, which had won 22 of the 40 seats from the state in the last Lok Sabha elections with its ally the LJP (Lok Janshakti Party) winning six and the RLSP (Rashtriya Lok Samata Party) three can realistically not expect to repeat the 2014 Lok Sabha performance.
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But this time around, it cannot expect to get as many seats to contest. It would have to leave a fair share for the JD (U). The deal may well be clinched with the BJP getting the edge in the Lok Sabha and the JD (U) having more to contest in the Assembly polls.
Nitish Kumar’s return to the NDA fold in 2017 after the disintegration of the Grand Alliance comprising the JD(U), RJD and the Congress has made the issue of seat-sharing among coalition partners a thorny issue.
The Congress is holding out an olive branch to the JD(U) to return to the UPA fold but its partner the RJD, now, led by jailed founder Lalu Yadav’s son Tejashwi has made known its opposition to JD(U)’s return.
All this makes for currents and cross-currents in typical Bihar style with various caste combinations and other pressure groups at work.
While the under-currents of a rift between the JD (U) and the BJP are discernible, Nitish has, while denying the rift, indicated that the two parties would have a seat-sharing arrangement only in Bihar while in four other states the JD(U) would contest on its own, pitting itself against even BJP candidates.
The JD(U) knows only too well that while association with the BJP would rob it of Muslim votes almost en bloc, there would be benefits accruing from close association with the ruling party at the Centre. Nitish has not given up on a special package for Bihar.
Meanwhile, in any revival of ‘gathbandhan’ with the RJD and the Congress, it would have to contend with internal sabotage by the RJD with Tejashwi openly antagonistic towards the BJP which it blames for his father’s incarceration.
The deciding factor would be BJP president Amit Shah’s impending meeting with Nitish at which the broad contours of the seat-sharing arrangement would evidently be worked out with hard bargaining on both sides.
It does appear that the talks would not be restricted to the Lok Sabha elections alone---the Assembly poll seat-sharing would also be thrashed out between the parties though they may not make the results public.
At the National Executive meeting, Nitish Kumar also reiterated his statement that he would never compromise on the 3Cs (crime, corruption and communalism). His message for the party was that he wants to contest the Lok Sabha polls on the development issue.
The JD(U) alliance with the BJP may well pull through with some heartburns but there could well be some anxious moments. As for the Congress, it has no organisational base in Bihar to boast of.