Abraham Lincoln used to say “elections belong to the people”, but in the electoral landscape of Bihar the reality is elections belong to the political parties. The state which is slated to go for assembly polls scheduled in October-November is seeing a tussle among the alliance partners and it’s very much possible that we see a totally different alliance composition going to the assembly elections. In both National Democratic Alliance led by Nitish Kumar and United Progressive alliance led by RJD there is a huge discomfort among the smaller players which in all likelihood would change the electoral arithmetic in Bihar. Before the 2019 parliamentary polls, Upendra Kushwaha’s led RLSP switched sides and joined UPA but his strategy proved to be a political and electoral blunder in that election. Due to coronavirus pandemic there are doubts about the scheduled elections, but considering the election commission announcement that Bihar would go to polls on time, we have three different alliance dilema and uncertainties in Bihar elections.
The NDA Dilimma and LJP’s Future
In the NDA led by Nitish Kumar in Bihar, LJP is showing signs of discomfort. In recent times, the president of Lok Janshakti Party and member of parliament Chirag Paswan took multiple potshots on Bihar government and alliance partner Nitish Kumar on the issue of development, which in contrary is considered to be the high point of Nitish Kumar’s 15 years rule. This created discomfort within the NDA with JDU defending the Nitish Kumar’s governance model. This has led to Nitish Kumar reanalysing the utility of LJP in the assembly elections.
When Nitish Kumar took oath as CM in 2017,after breaking away with Lalu’s RJD, he accomodated LJP’s Pasupati Kumar Paras as minister, even nominating him as member of Bihar Legislative Council. At that time, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP and Jitanram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awami Morcha was the part of NDA, but Nitish Kumar didn’t accommodated them. Even it is considered by some political experts that JDU pushed the case of LJP for parliamentary seats in 2019 in front of BJP. But recent approach of Chirag Paswan which is aimed at hard bargain for assembly seats has unsettled JDU and it looks that Nitish Kumar is not willing to consider the seat sharing demands of LJP.
JDU knows well that in 2010 and 2015 assembly polls, LJP performance was very low and it looked vulnerable among the alliance partners. In 2010, when LJP was in alliance with RJD, it fought on 75 assembly seats out of 243, winning 3 seats (4% strike rate), in 2015 LJP was with NDA comprising of BJP, RLSP, HAM it fought on 42 seats winning 2 seats(4 % strike rate). In both elections the other senior alliance partner of LJP performed quite better,in its comparison,for example in 2010 RJD won 22 seats out of 150 seats(14 %) and in 2015 BJP won 53 seats out of 150 it contested (33 %) . These figures are certainly with Nitish Kumar as he might not be looking to consider any bargain by LJP and in place wanting to set the rules and decision of seat sharing as per his choice in the upcoming assembly elections.
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Many media reports suggests that JDU is not willing to give more than 23 seats to LJP. Now the approach of BJP is going to decide the faith of the ruling Bihar alliance and LJP’s role. Before the assembly elections,12 seats of governor’s quota of legislative council would be filled also, and the approach of JDU would gave us the idea of Nitish Kumar’s and LJP’s political puzzle. It is also considered that Jitanram Manjhi would join NDA or might even merge in JDU, this looks to be the Nitish Kumar’s style of dealing with pressure Politics of LJP and any potential threat by even BJP. In these circumstances, who knows we see a different NDA going into the assembly polls with old smaller partners leaving and new once joining.
Opposition waiting for an oportunity
It is also true that the opposition in Bihar looks weak after it was decimated in the parliamentary elections with NDA winning 39 out of 40 seats and now many pollsters predicting that Bengal in 2021 is the election to look upon and Bihar is not that much interesting. It is true that the social and political base of NDA with Nitish Kumar leading it is such that opposition might have a very uphill task of putting an equal fight. Moreover the 15 years rule of Lalu Yadav comes to haunt the opposition whenever it targets Nitish Kumar on lawlessness and misgovernance in Bihar, as good number of electorally significant population consider that 15 years rule of RJD was epitome of misgovernance. If any division among the NDA happens, the opposition under RJD-Congress would certainly try to grab upon that opportunity. JDU- LJP tussle is keenly watched by the opposition, but even in the UPA alliance the tussle is going on with Jitanram Manjhi almost out of the alliance. Manjhi is perhaps not a major factor in the alliance but after all he was the single dalit Chief minister of Bihar after many decades,so JDU and BJP would also like to rope in Manjhi in the NDA.
Nitish kumar in 2020 and Beyond
The Oxford trained editor of India Today and expert on elections Ajit Kumar Jha famously called, Nitish Kumar “the political genius because with hardly any own caste vote he is CM for approx 15 years of a state which is considered to be the symbol of caste politics”. The question now many commentators asking is the political genius who once considered to be the challenger to Modi would exploit any option or be comfortable to remain under NDA.
After the 2019 elections, JDU didn’t joined the NDA government in Delhi, resulting into a massive debate about Nitish Kumar’s future in the NDA. Going into history, Nitish Kumar has done alliance with parties who are considered extreme left wing parties in 1994 like CPI(ML) to BJP now . The Nitish Kumar of 2014 and 2020 is different as he had left the major upper caste vote bank to the BJP and consolidated his extremely backward castes (EBCs) and mahadalit votes.
In the 2014 elections Nitish fully realized that BJP is the natural choice of majority of upper castes and JDU is not. Thats why in 2019 out of 17 seats JDU contested, it gave only two tickets to upper castes and moreover gave 13 tickets to EBCs and Mahadalits of which all of them won the elections. The major opposition party in Bihar, the RJD is at an all time low, so Muslims might shift their loyalty is case of any other alliance challenging BJP. Nitish Kumar was considered as the national alternative in front of Modi before 2017, with Ramchandra Guha famously arguing “Congress is the party without a leader and Nitish Kumar is the leader without a party”. Nationally, Congress perhaps is also at all time low, and other regional leaders are not in the position to challenge the Modi-Shah juggernaut. Many experts considers it’s the time for a leader to emerge as the challenger. So,who can predict the future?? . With any major political realignment happening, before Bengal, Bihar would hopefully be THE ELECTIONS TO WATCH OUT FOR as any humdrum elections in a politically vibrant state like Bihar didn’t do good to India’s democracy.