By Sagarneel Sinha
For the past 15 years, barring one-odd year, JD(U) President Nitish Kumar has been Bihar’s Chief Minister mostly with the support of the BJP. For a brief period, his government had to rely on support of Congress, CPI and independents and later for two years, with the help of his foe-turned-friend RJD, which turns out to be an arch rival again. But now, Nitish’s graph is plummeting, particularly due to his flip flops — quitting the NDA in 2013 to ally with RJD in 2015 and again returning back to NDA in 2017. And if this is not enough, he has earned the ire of the migrants for initial failure to efficiently bring them back to their homes during the lockdown.
According to a recent survey done by C-Voter, 57% of the people in the State have expressed anger against the Chief Minister. This means that Nitish, for the first time, is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave. But the same survey also says that he is preferred by around 30% i.e. double than that of RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, the chief ministerial face of the Mahagatbandhan, which also includes the Congress and the three Left parties, CPI, CPI (M) and CPI (ML).
However, Nitish knows that the voter support isn’t enough for him to return back to power, plus a section that presently wants him as back as Chief Minister isn’t that fond of him. Another survey of C-Voter done earlier this year along with IANS pointed out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an approval rating of 58% in the State. This clearly shows the attractiveness of BJP here, which with Modi’s popularity has been able to penetrate among non-Yadav & non-Kurmi OBC voters, Dalit and Maha Dalit voters.
In 2015 Assembly elections, when the Mahagatbandhan (JD-U + RJD + Congress) combine won with a thumping majority banking on Yadav-Koeri-Muslim combination, BJP-led NDA had an upper hand of support among these non-forward caste social groups. This is quite significant because BJP earlier was known as party of the forward castes.
JD(U) is well aware of this ground reality. That’s why the party has had a climb down on seat-sharing with BJP and agreed to contest just one more seat i.e. 122 to that of BJP’s 121. From its share, JD(U) gave seven seats to Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awami Party (Secular), while the BJP allocated 11 seats to Mukesh Sahni-led Vikassheel Insaan Party from its own share. This means JD(U) will contest on 115 seats while BJP on 110 — a very different picture from that of 2010 Assembly elections when JD(U) contested on 141 and BJP on 102 seats.
One can easily spot the difference between the two NDA partners from the seat sharing compared to that of 2010 and 2015. JD(U) wanted to retain the old formula but finally had to climb down recognising the changing ground reality, although it is on expected lines.
Amidst all this, the big surprise that has now emerged is the walking out of the Lok Janshakti Party led by Chirag Paswan from State NDA, protesting against Nitish’s leadership. The LJP declared it would put up candidates against JD(U) but won’t contest against those of BJP. Many political analysts are terming this as a shadow alliance — designed mainly by BJP high command to marginalise Nitish’s JD(U) through LJP. The same analysts also say that this is BJP’s game plan to deny Nitish the top post after election results and to grab the Chief Minister’s kursi, a long cherished dream of the BJP.
Importantly, BJP’s strike rate has always been higher than that of JD(U) and in light of LJP contesting against JD(U), even Nitish’s party fears its tally will be lower than that of BJP. However, not to upset him, the saffron party has announced that if the NDA wins, irrespective of the outcome, Nitish would be Chief Minister from the alliance. One mustn’t forget that in 2015 Assembly polls, RJD emerged as the largest party but Nitish became Chief Minister.
True that BJP desires to fulfil its dream, but it’s also true that for now it wants Nitish to be NDA’s face, given that the saffron party is aware that despite his declining popularity, he still is ahead of others in the race. Plus, BJP’s State leadership itself is a divided house that banks primarily on Modi’s popularity.
As far as LJP is concerned, Chirag Paswan appears to be somewhat in a hurry to become Chief Minister at least in the next 2025 Assembly polls. He wants to utilise Nitish’s declining popularity plus cash in on Tejashwi Yadav’s failure to fill in the gap. The theory that BJP wants to marginalise Nitish through LJP isn’t that spot on or even if it is, it won’t materialise, barring a few seats, because LJP’s contested vote share in 2015 was 29% to that of BJP’s 38% — a gap of 9%. LJP then contested 42 seats in alliance with BJP.
Thus, despite being in an open alliance with BJP, there wasn’t a smooth transfer of BJP’s votes to LJP. That is also the main reason that BJP wasn’t keen to give 42 seats to LJP, which later climbed down to 36 seats, a demand, reported to not being agreed by BJP. In fact, LJP isn’t a pan-Bihar party. Its best performance was in February 2005 Assembly polls, when it won 29 seats. Since then, the party’s fortune has been declining, both in terms of seats and vote share. In 2015 polls, it managed to win only two seats and secured 5% vote share, that too fighting in alliance with BJP.
On the other hand, in both Assembly polls of 2010 and 2005 (October), the vote transfer between JD(U) and BJP was smooth, as both have been traditional partners. Unlike LJP, JD(U) still has a voter base of around 14-16% in the State. That’s why BJP won’t dump JD(U) for LJP, an action that shall only benefit its two arch rivals, RJD and Congress as it happened in 2015. Also JD(U) isn’t Shiv Sena, which too was stubborn to accept the changed ground reality, the rise of BJP, in Maharashtra.
But one thing is certain i.e. if NDA, which is ahead in the race as of now, wins on 10th November, there is a high probability that BJP will get more seats than JD(U), or even if it surprisingly loses, it may still get more seats than JD(U). The most likely scenario after this election is that BJP will replace JD(U) as the leader of one pole, while RJD will continue to play the lead role of the other pole in the state. So, the future road for Nitish isn’t going to be easy even if he retains the Chief Minister’s post, as his party will eventually have to depend on either BJP or RJD. – INFA