Will the movie-like suspense dogging Bihar polls blur the verdict too?  

Chirag Paswan’s move to marginalise the JD(U) and benefit the BJP, may see voting patterns change for Nitish Kumar in the upcoming Bihar Assembly polls

Attacking the JD(U), LJP leader Chirag Paswan said giving votes to the Nitish Kumar-led party will push Bihar back.. Photo: PTI

‘Miley Na Miley Hum’ roughly translates to we may or may not come together. Significantly, this was the title given to a 2011 Bollywood flick starring Chirag Paswan opposite as highly acclaimed an actress as Kangna Ranaut.

This was before Chirag became a more or less would-be politico. But today, the four-word Hindi title for the nearly forgotten film has strangely come like a throwback to haunt Bihar as the state is set to elect a new Assembly; and this is so, courtesy the lone film that its hero has to his credit till this day.

The movie ended up registering little success at the box office and, thus, Chirag branched out though to an equally or may be even more uncertain field of politics. His father Ram Vilas Paswan, who died a little over a week ago, was a Central Minister for long. He saw to it that his son became an MP from Bihar.

Twice elected to the Lok Sabha since 2014, Chirag lately thought that his father’s party should dump the side roles it had opted to play in politics in the past for whatsoever reasons and seize the centre-stage in Bihar.

This is how the 38-year-old scion of LJP, or Lok Janshakti Party, has taken a plunge into the choppy waters of the politics of his impoverished state. The tussle for power in Bihar right up to the top levels has always been as cutthroat as tough is the daily grind and struggle for survival for its people.

An overwhelming majority of them have for long been strapped with abysmal levels of poverty and deprivation. It is amid such trying circumstances that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been at the helm of the state for past 15 years. So much so that both his rivals and contemporaries from the Opposition as well as alliances forged and led by him have thus far failed to upstage and force him out from the coveted post.

Related news: My father instigated me to go alone in Bihar polls: Chirag Paswan

Chirag’s father and his party, LJP, have been in the latter category, or among Nitish’s peers rather than being a rival in the real sense of the word. Yet, with the announcement of Assembly polls, this time Chirag decided to go solo and face the electorate in Bihar on the strength of the LJP alone.

The party has thus far been part of the NDA, or National Democratic Alliance, which despite the participation of the Centre’s ruling party, or the BJP, is headed by Nitish Kumar in the state. The give-and-take that the BJP could ensure saw to it that LJP supports Nitish’s party JD(U), or Janata Dal (United), at the state level while Paswan’s party takes its share in power at the Centre.

Thus, the senior Paswan was a minister till death in the Narendra Modi Cabinet under the NDA’s scheme of things even though the BJP had enough numbers to sail through the Lok Sabha elections and without the help of any of its NDA allies.

But towards the last days of Ram Vilas Paswan’s life, Chirag decided to confine the deal under the NDA to the Centre alone; and as per him, he got a nod via the silence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda. This, according to Chirag, has been so when he told Shah about his intention to call off the alliance with JD(U) once reached under the NDA, so that the LJP can take on Nitish and his JD(U) in Bihar.

Singling out the JD(U)

Soon the BJP and JD (U) announced their seat sharing arrangement for Bihar polls, leaving no space for LJP in the next polls. This turned out to be so since out of a total of 243 Assembly seats 122 have been marked for JD (U) and 121 for the BJP.

Add a rider to this, as the two parties are to accommodate a few candidates of smaller parties by sparing a few odd seats for them from their allotted quota of Assembly constituencies. These smaller parties are those like Hindustani Awami Morcha (HAM) led by former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP).

This arrangement made sure to leave no Assembly seats for LJP. Yet, Chirag unilaterally announced that no LJP candidate would confront that of the BJP in any of the constituencies as his party will put candidates mainly against those contesting on JD(U) ticket besides other non-BJP parties like Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties. These parties have formed a rival or Opposition alliance to challenge the NDA.

Related news: The Paswan factor will play a big role in Bihar elections

This unusual step in the history of the NDA that came into existence in the times of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee is being interpreted to have originated from Chirag’s desire to benefit the BJP and marginalise JD(U). The BJP rules out any chief ministerial ambitions for Bihar on its part and asserts that Nitish Kumar remains NDA’s lone bet for the state’s top post.

Will Chirag’s move spell trouble for Nitish?

Despite such assurances Chirag’s move has brought quite a bit of suspense to the Bihar conundrum. This has been deepened further as some of the BJP ticket-hopefuls rushed to the LJP for their candidature after being disappointed by the BJP. Some of these candidates have also been obliged by Chirag’s party.

This is going to minimise the possible loss of votes for the BJP at the hands of those who could have otherwise become rebel candidates to cut in some of the votes of the official nominees of the saffron party.

Again, the BJP on its part hastened to clarify that as many as nine such BJP ticket seekers have been expelled from the party after their joining LJP for the sake of tickets. Yet, the question is that can these assurances howsoever solemnly made let Nitish Kumar sit in comfort?

Chirag has openly said and is consistently saying that he would like Nitish to go out of power. The LJP leader has given the slogan ‘Bihar first and Bihari first’. This clearly addresses the Centre to prioritise Bihar over all the other states, given Bihar’s urgent need for a preferential treatment. And to realise this LJP support is reserved for the BJP candidates by avoiding direct contest whereas Chirag believes in fighting against Nitish to the extent of preempting his return to power once again.

Yet, both JD(U) and BJP need each other’s votes to win back a majority for the NDA which has mainly been reduced to a two-party alliance in Bihar. Whether it will survive amid the spanner thrown by Chirag and LJP is a moot question which can only be decided post-election, or after the results are out on November 10. If BJP improves its tally to reach near or surpass that of the JD(U) with or without the numbers gained by Chirag’s party, then Nitish can well be in trouble.

A similar kind of situation had arisen last year after the polls in Maharashtra where Shiv Sena could not reconcile to continue as a junior partner of the BJP after the results of the Assembly polls were out. The differences between the two pre-poll NDA allies in Maharashtra took their toll upon the alliance.

Related news: Paswan’s ‘Chirag’ set to light up Bihar poll scene

In the case of Bihar, Nitish is not a junior but a senior state-level NDA partner, with the BJP being the other partner. And like the Shiv Sena, the Bihar Chief Minister is unlikely to open his cards before the conclusion of polls and declaration of results.

Yet, a significant difference between Shiv Sena and JD(U) is that unlike Uddhav Thackeray who rode to power for the first time only after last year’s polls with the support of his new allies, Nitish already holds the post of Chief Minister for long.

Although his fate will depend on the numbers he and the BJP get, in case the Bihar applecart gets upset, he may either look for a new alliance or may put conditions that may help him to pass on the stewardship of the state to a person or a party of his choice.

Cards Nitish may be hiding

In the past, Nitish had once relinquished the post of Chief Minister on his own initiative to favour Jitan Ram Manjhi who now heads HAM. Although the two eventually fell out, Nitish’s idea behind offering Manjhi the top job in the state was to don a poor-savvy image since Manjhi belonged to the poorest segment among Dalit communities. He remained in the post of Chief Minister for nine months through 2014-15. Even today, Chirag’s grouse against Nitish is his attempt to divide Dalits and Mahadalits in order to make a dent in LJP’s votes.

So far, only Chirag and, maybe via him, BJP have opened their cards making Nitiish squirm. This has led, or rather forced, the BJP to offer assurances to him.

How far this is going to affect the outcome of polls is not known. But once the results are out and in case the electorate’s verdict turns out to be a bit hazy or hung, then nobody can be too sure about the course that not only Nitish may take but also about the moves to be made by any of the two-and-half NDA constituents — the half in the NDA bandwagon is because of Chirag only.

So the impression that the highly vexed politics of Bihar and its effects for Nitish and NDA could have been blown over by the sentiments whipped up after the mysterious death of as promising a Bollywood star from the state as Sushant Singh Rajput tells only half the story.

The rest, or may be quite a bit, is yet to unfold. It is more so since the tussle between Bihar and Maharashtra over the poor film star’s death in June this year and the emotions built ever since in its wake are no longer an issue in the polls.

(The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi. He can be reached via twitter @abidshahjourno)

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