After dumping his "Mahagathbandhan" with Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janta Dal to ally with Bhartiya Janta Party in an overnight swift manoeuvre last year, "Maverick" Nitish Kumar has pulled off another surprise. Ending months of speculation, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners in Bihar, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and Janta Dal United (JDU) finally announced to continue their marriage in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Everyone knows that BJP National President Amit Shah is a tough nut to crack when it comes to seat sharing with allies. But it seems that the newfound "bonhomie" between the Bihar chief minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi helped him get better of Shah and he agreed to the formula suggested by JDU that both parties contest on an equal number of seats. A man of few words, Nitish Kumar had been saying for months that he expects a "respectable" number of seats from the BJP and that JDU should be treated as the "big brother" in Bihar. This was based on the premise that in 2009 polls when JDU contested as part of NDA, it got the lions share of 25 seats while BJP contested on the rest of the 15 seats.
This led to a tiff between the two alliance partners to the extent that their "marriage of convenience" came under a cloud. Following back to back crushing defeats in Uttar Pradesh by polls – more particularly after Kairana loss – the NDA partners had made their grievances public and pointed fingers at the "Modi-Shah" BJP for treating them in "big brotherly" way. As part of the alliance outreach, Amit Shah flew to Mumbai to placate jilted Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and later met Badals of the Shiromani Akali Dal. But he skipped the NDA dinner in Patna. While deputy chief minister, Sushil Modi tried to firefight, JDU was certainly not amused.
It took a lot of behind the curtain meetings between the two parties before Shah finally flew down to Patna and met Nitish Kumar. The sweetened relationship resulted in JDU MP Harivansh Narayan Singh becoming deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha and JDU softening its stand on "Special Status" for Bihar. Since then, both Nitish and Shah met regularly trying to iron out the differences. While announcing the decision to contest on an equal number of seats, Shah made it clear that BJP was sacrificing its sitting MPs to accommodate the all-important ally. BJP has 22 MPs in Lok Sabha and it may have to part with at least five to six seats for allies. So what led to this big change of heart? Is the "mighty" BJP in a compromise mode?
(Photo: PTI)Well, the BJP top leadership seems to have realised that 2019 will not be the same as 2014. The Modi wave in 2014 which helped NDA sweep 32 out of 40 seats has lost intensity. Also, after the exit of ally Chandrababu Naidu from NDA and the alliance with PDP falling apart in J&K, BJP certainly cannot afford to lose another major ally that too in the Hindi belt.
UP and Bihar together constitute 120 seats in Lok Sabha and with SP-BSP alliance emerging, fight for 2019 has become tougher for Modi-Shah duo. Losing an important ally like JDU at the cost of a few seats in Bihar was certainly not game. Also, BJP finds JDU’s OBC and MBC vote bank can be an asset worth investing in and could help it on some seats in East UP as well.
Last but not the least, Nitish Kumar-Narendra Modi relations have come a long way since the former broke off from NDA following the latter’s elevation as PM candidate in 2013. In Nitish, Prime Minister Modi has found a bankable ally with mass appeal in the Hindi belt. Both leaders met and discussed the seat-sharing formula for over an hour on Friday which resulted in a final announcement later in the evening. This is enough indication of a blooming understanding of realpolitik between the two leaders.