Nitish Kumar may finally have to bank on BJP's hard Hindutva in 2019 Lok Sabha polls
'Sushasan Babu' who swears by the three 'C's of fighting crime, corruption and communalism, would have to go back to the drawing board.
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Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently said that his party is still to take a decision regarding seat sharing with allies for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as JD(U) is yet to get a final offer from the BJP.
The JD(U) has increasingly shown signs of discontent with alliance partner BJP, with several senior leaders from both the parties getting into a war of words with each other.
Speaking at the party's National Executive in Delhi on July 8, the JD(U) chief warned that all efforts to "eliminate and isolate our party will end up in isolation of those forces trying to do so", a party leader said.
The Bihar CM also slammed senior BJP leader Giriraj Singh for recently meeting with some riot accused, calling this "unacceptable".
The JD(U) has increasingly shown signs of discontent with alliance partner BJP. [Photo: Indiatoday.in]
Giriraj Singh, BJP MP from Nawada, on July 8, had met families of Bajrang Dal and VHP activists arrested last week on charges of inciting communal tension during Ram Navami. Singh questioned the Bihar government on whether "suppressing Hindus is secularism".
Nitish, who swears by the three 'C's of fighting crime, corruption and communalism, has had no qualms in the past over aligning with the RJD, whose boss Lalu Prasad Yadav was recently convicted in the fodder scam, or over later dumping the Mahagathbandhan to join hands with the BJP, whose leaders his party now accuses of communalism.
The Bihar CM has also recently opened another front with the ruling BJP by renewing a long-standing demand of special status for Bihar.
Coming in the wake of the TDP walking out of the NDA over the demand of special status to Andhra Pradesh, the move was seen by political observers as Nitish's back-up plan in case he decides to exit the NDA for greener pastures.
Increasing political stature of Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav could put a spanner in the reuniting of the JD(U) and the RJD. [Photo: PTI]
The Centre has maintained that the provision for the grant of special status has ceased to exist after the 14th Finance Commission recommendations came into force, and special packages would be provided to all states that need help.
But the JD(U) general secretary RCP Singh called the Centre's decision a gross injustice, and questioned the BJP's commitment to the people of Bihar.
The party has also said that it will fight upcoming assembly elections on its own. "We aren't helping or supporting or opposing the BJP. The Janata Dal United will fight elections in four states on its own," senior party leader KC Tyagi said. "We fought in Gujarat, in Nagaland, in Karnataka on limited seats... We carry the political agenda of our party," he added.
The JD(U) chief, while deciding to go it alone in the upcoming assembly elections, is trying to put pressure on the BJP and bring it back to the negotiating table.
Seat sharing for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has become a major cause of heartburn between the NDA allies.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won 22 (29 per cent vote share) of the 40 seats and its allies, the Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP and Upendra Kushwaha-led RLSP, had six and three seats respectively. The JD(U) had won only two seats, but still retained 15.8 per cent vote share.
That Nitish Kumar desperately needs the BJP to shore up his party's tally is something that has not escaped Modi. [Photo: PTI]
One Lok Sabha seat has got roughly 6-odd assembly seats.
In the 2015 Assembly elections, while the JD(U) won 70 seats and the BJP could manage 53, the RJD emerged as the single largest party with 81 seats, while its ally, the Congress, could only manage 27 seats.
Currently, the JD(U) wants to showcase its performance in the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls, where it performed much better than the BJP — the party believes these results should be considered in the allotment of seats for the upcoming Lok Sabha election.
The party fears it has already lost substantial political ground in Bihar after joining hands with the BJP, with some of its vote base, comprising EBCs and minorities, already shifting loyalties to RJD and the Congress. This was visible in the results of the recently concluded by-polls — in May this year, the RJD won the Jokihat seat by defeating the JD(U) candidate with a handsome margin of 41,000 votes, and the previous by-polls in March 2018 saw the party lose out to the RJD in Araria and Jehanabad seats.
The recent spate of attacks on minorities and Dalits has added to this sense of alienation.
Fearing the worst, Kumar has made several attempts to retain his Muslim Votebank. Recently the Bihar government released Rs 2.13 lakh to repair a mosque and madarsa damaged during the recent communal violence in the state and also paying the compensation to the victims of communal violence despite objections from the BJP.
The JDU chief, quite popular among women voters in the state, has also launched a series of schemes to woo this constituency. The recent one being the state government's announcement to slash fees for female candidates applying for government jobs in Bihar. Even last year, the Nitish Kumar government had granted 35 per cent reservation to women in allotment of public distribution system (PDS) shops.
But, the Bihar CM fears all this could be too little too late.
Unlike Uttar Pradesh, where religious polarisation is a sureshot way to victory for political parties, caste remains integral to the political discourse and electoral positioning in Bihar.
The state's caste make-up comprises: OBC/EBC — 51 per cent(including Yadavs 14 per cent, Kurmis 4 per cent, Kushwaha (Koeri) 8 per cent, EBCs 26 per cent), Mahadalits + Dalits (SCs) — 16 per cent (includes Chamar 5 per cent, Dusadh 5 per cent, Musahar 2.8 per cent), Muslims — 16.9 per cent, Upper Castes — 15 per cent (including Bhumihar 6 per cent, Brahmin 5 per cent, Rajput 3 per cent, Kayasth 1 per cent) and Adivasis (STs) — 1.3 per cent.
While Nitish can still count on Kurmi votes, along with some EBCs and Pasmanda Muslims, the party knows it has lost out on the OBC, Muslim and Dalits along with some EBCs to the RJD and Congress alliance. Something that could prove disastrous for the party in the upcoming Lok Sabha and the next Assembly elections.
The Bihar CM has also tried to play down speculation that his party may dump newfound ally BJP and go back to the Mahaganbandhan by reiterating that his party won't compromise on corruption, in an apparent jibe at his erstwhile ally, the RJD.
Alongside, another issue that could put a spanner in the reuniting of the JD(U) and the RJD is the increasing political stature of Lalu Yadav's son and former Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, who has already made his bones by ensuring the ruling combine's defeat in the recent by-polls. The Bihar CM knows it would now be very difficult to convince the RJD to play second fiddle to his party, something he was able to successfully do earlier, inspite of winning fewer seats than the RJD in 2015.
Nitish, who counts Kurmis, EBCs, and minorities among his vote bank, is increasingly losing ground to the RJD and Congress combine. It desperately needs the BJP to shore up its tally, something that has not escaped Modi and Amit Shah, who are more than happy to prolong the stalemate, in the hope that seat sharing works out to their advantage.
The Bihar CM will focus on MBCs and Mahadalits for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. As chief minister of Bihar, Kumar created a quota in civic bodies for MBCs, implemented health schemes for them and allotted land to Mahadalits for free — like he has been doing in the previous elections, while using BJP votes to take on the united opposition.
The Bihar CM knows his party needs the higher caste votes of the BJP to make up for the shortfall in his own vote bank. A combined 34 per cent vote (Dalits and Muslims), not counting the Yadavs — who have stuck with the RJD despite Lalu Yadav's jail sentence and the mantle being passed to his son Tejashwi — has sent alarm bells ringing in the JD(U).
The opposition RJD-Congress combine can sense the JD(U) boss's desperation and have made it clear he is not welcome back in the opposition.
With Lok Sabha elections barely months away, Nitish Kumar, considered one of the most astute politicians in the country, seems to be weighing his party's options very carefully, fully aware that his party's fortunes would depend on his negotiating skills and how he finally decides to play his cards.
With his three Cs gone for a toss, if he wishes to return to power soon, "Sushasan Babu" would have to finally bank on the BJP's hard Hindutva, ironically something he used to walk out of his alliance with the NDA, citing the BJP's choice of Modi as its PM candidate.