Bihar polls: It's time Nitish-Lalu admitted defeat to Modi

NDA's seat-sharing process has not only been smoother but also more realistic as compared to the 'maha-gathbandhan'.

 |   Long-form |   14-09-2015
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After months of negotiations and wait, BJP president Amit Shah finally declared on September 14 the seat-sharing arrangement with the party's three NDA allies for the October-November Assembly elections in Bihar. With this, the NDA crossed the last major curve in the various twists and turns of the high voltage five-phase elections starting October 12.

As compared with its adversary in the so-called three-party secular alliance of JD(U), RJD and Congress, the NDA is in a better position to win the elections and these are the five reasons why:

1. Seat sharing

NDA's seat-sharing process has not only been a smoother affair but also a more realistic one as compared with the "maha-gathbandhan" or grand alliance (GA). In fact, the BJP has ironically dubbed the GA as a "maha-gadbadbandhan" in one instance and a "maha-thugbandhan" in another. JD(U) has suffered a major loss while accommodating its alliance partners RJD and Congress. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and Congress national general secretary CP Joshi on August 12 announced the seat-sharing formula for the 243-seat state Assembly. JD(U) and RJD would contest 100 seats each while the Congress will fight on 40 seats. The three parties will share the remaining three seats after Sharad Pawar's NCP and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP) quit the alliance sulking over the three and five seats offered to them respectively.

A close scrutiny of the seat-sharing arrangement shows that JD(U) has inflicted a loss on itself. JD(U) is contesting 15 seats less than it had won in the 2010 polls. It contested 141 seats and won 115, RJD contested 168 and won just 22, while the Congress fought on all the 243 seats and won only four. Going by this, both the RJD and Congress stand to gain at the cost of JD(U) in the new scheme of seat sharing. On the other hand, the BJP had fought on 102 seats and won 91 - a success rate of 89.22 per cent. The strike rate of the JD(U) was lower at 81.56 per cent, of RJD it was 13.09 per cent while that of the Congress the success rate was a miniscule 1.65 per cent. Even though the BJP was a larger partner, it had showed magnanimity and offered more seats to JD(U) than it actually deserved. The results proved that BJP's success rate was better than its alliance partner. But the JD(U) has ceded ground to Lalu's RJD this time around. JD(U) says it sacrificed for the sake of GA's unity and to keep the NDA away from power. But it seems a weakened Nitish could not bargain for a better deal with both RJD and Congress.

Going also by the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, of 40 seats in Bihar, the BJP won 22 of the 30 seats it contested, LJP won six of the seven seats while RLSP had won all the three seats it contested.

For this year's Assembly elections, initially Union consumer affairs minister Ramvilas Paswan's LJP was demanding a whopping 74 seats, Union minister of state for human resource development Upendra Kushwaha's RLSP was asking for 67 seats and Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) was adamant on 40 seats, leaving just 62 seats for the BJP. It goes to the credit of the BJP that being NDA's principal alliance partner, it held long negotiations well and managed to hammer out all differences. It finally came out with a seat-sharing formula which has been acceptable to all and it also did not create a mess as witnessed in the maha gathbandhan.

While the BJP will contest 160 seats - 58 more than it had fought in 2010 - LJP will fight on 40 seats, RLSP on 23 while HAM will contest 20 seats. This reflects the realistic position of all the alliance partners.

2. Alliance

The NDA is seen as a largely cohesive alliance as against the loose and constantly bickering conglomeration of the maha gathbandhan. Ever since the seat-sharing arrangement of the GA was announced on August 12, the squabbling within the alliance has not ended. First NCP walked out of it after being offered just three seats. Subsequently SP supremo expressed his displeasure over not being allotted even a single seat by skipping the August 30 Swabhiman rally in Patna. He scaled down his party's participation by sending his younger brother Shivpal Yadav instead. On September 3, SP too pulled out of the alliance. Mulayam dealt a severe blow to it and also embarrassed Lalu, a fellow Yadav and a close relative.

On September 19, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to address an election rally in Champaran. However, Lalu will not participate in it. Either Lalu has been asked to stay away from the rally as Rahul does not want to be seen sharing dais with him or the RJD chief himself has chosen not to attend it. Whatever may be the case, it exposes the chinks within the "secular alliance". In contrast, the NDA has managed to contain the internal rumblings. It has asked warring Manjhi and Paswan not to air their grievances in public after the two heaped humiliation on each other last week. It has already come out with a successful seat-sharing formula.

3. CM candidate

The BJP has yet to take a final call on declaring a chief ministerial candidate. However, it is most likely that the party will go to elections without projecting any CM candidate but will contest on the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as it did the Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections. Modi has already created a wave in Bihar by his four Parivartan rallies in Muzaffarpur, Gaya, Saharsa and Bhagalpur and two government rallies in Patna and Arrah since July 25. The party seems to have learnt a lesson from the 2015 Delhi Assembly election fiasco. This will give an advantage to the BJP and also the alliance. The chief ministerial aspirations of alliance partners like Paswan, Kushwaha and Manjhi have also been nipped in the bud.

Against this, Nitish and Lalu had a long tussle before Mulayam and Congress president Sonia Gandhi intervened to settle the matter in favour of the former. Lalu had wanted someone from his own party to lead the coalition. Lalu and Nitish have exchanged several barbs so far.

4. Modi versus all

In the Modi versus Nitish-Lalu-Congress election, the balance will weigh in favour of the NDA due to the following reasons. First, Nitish is facing a huge anti-incumbency. His breaking away with the BJP in June 2013 has not gone down well with the people who had seen a smooth-running alliance government which was doing a decent job. Second, Nitish's flip-flop on Jitan Ram Manjhi (by anointing him as CM in May 2014 and then removing him and getting on the chair himself in February this year) has incensed the Mahadalits who comprise 11 per cent of the voters. Third, the Bihar CM has only earned wrath of the non-Yadavs and non-Muslims by aligning with Lalu, who is unpopular as a fodder scam convict and under whose rule Bihar saw the least development and major spurt in crime. Fourth, The Congress hardly has any presence in Bihar now. It won just four seats in the 2010 Assembly elections and two seats each in the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party does not even have any prominent leader in the state. It has been constantly on a downward slide, particularly after its defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It would be a clear advantage for Modi when both Rahul and the prime minister campaign in Bihar.

5. Agenda, caste and religion

Modi is seen setting the agenda for the elections. In the initial two legs of the Parivartan rally, he launched personal attacks on Nitish which boomeranged. However, towards the end he seems to have realised his mistake wad was successful in bringing back the political discourse to issues of development. In contrast, Lalu has sought to take back the political discourse to regressive casteism by talking of Mandal 2. Between caste and development, a large section of the voters, particularly the youth, will opt for the latter, giving an edge to NDA.

Even in the caste combination, the NDA seems to be having an advantage as it has the support of the upper castes and a large section of the OBCs and Dalits. It has several prominent OBC leaders like Sushil Modi, Kushwaha and an army of Yadav leaders besides others. It also has an edge over GA as far as Dalits are concerned as Manjhi and Paswan are its alliance partners. On the other hand, GA has the support largely of Yadavs, Keoris and Kurmis.

The Muslim votes, which were a solid vote bank of Lalu, are on the verge of shifting away to Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM or getting splintered. Owaisi will be contesting 25 seats in the Muslim dominated Seemanchal region - north-eastern Bihar. The largest minority community comprises 16.9 per cent of the total population in the state. Their votes had got split in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections among the JD(U), RJD, Congress and NCP. In pockets, they had also voted for the BJP and Paswan's LJP. Muslims play a decisive role in roughly 50 of the 243 Assembly seats where the BJP lost all the eight Lok Sabha seats in 2014 - this despite the Modi wave and the NDA winning 31 of the 40 seats. The equation is all set to change with the entry of Owaisi who is all set to spoil the chances of the grand alliance and benefir the NDA indirectly.

Writer

Kumar Shakti Shekhar Kumar Shakti Shekhar @shaktishekhar

Delhi-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience in reporting for print, TV & digital media.

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