NDA in trouble in Bihar as Modi-Nitish friendship not working on the ground

Political experts say the unpopularity of Nitish Kumar and the anti-incumbency wave of Modi in Bihar makes it improbable for the NDA to come back to power in Bihar

The BJP leadership must have realised by now that it has committed a major blunder by succumbing to the pressures of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and conceding too many seats—five of them being its sitting seats, to his party, the ruling Janata Dal United (JD-U).

The JD-U has currently only two members in the Lok Sabha yet the BJP has treated it as its equal partner, deciding to contest on equal number of 17 LS seats each but the idea doesn’t seem to be working on the surface.

In the last 2014 LS polls, the BJP which had gone to polls in alliance with the two smaller allies—Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) headed by Ram Vilas Pawasn and Upendra Kushwaha respectively—had alone won 22 seats out of 30 it had contested. The LJP and the RLSP, on the other hand, were able to win nine out of 10 seats they were allotted under the seat-sharing deal. In all, the NDA made a clean sweep in Bihar, bagging 31 seats out of state’s total 40 LS seats.

The JD-U was not a part of the NDA last time and had gone it alone, winning just two out of 40 seats it had contested. However, the party of Nitish Kumar was able to corner 16 percent votes. It was with the eyes on “16%” votes that the BJP displayed rare haste in allying with the JD-U at the cost of former union minister Kushwaha’s RLSP. It is here that the BJP leadership has erred. They have failed to understand that “16 percent” people who voted for the JD-U in the last elections were the kind of persons who were not impressed with the ideologies of either the BJP or the RJD. They were obviously not the “loyal” JD-U supporters.

Nemesis to friends

The result is for everyone to see now. Although the top BJP leadership has joined hands with its arch-rival Kumar who once advocated for creating “Sangh-mukt Bharat” (make India free from the RSS which is ideological mentor of the BJP), with the prime objective to gain rich electoral dividends yet the coordination between the BJP and the JD-U workers are totally missing on the ground. In clear words, the BJP cadres are reported taking little or to no interest in joining the JD-U poll campaigns and ensuring victory of the JD-U candidates.

This can very well be underlined from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used his recent two visits to the state to campaign for either JD-U or LJP candidates, and not his party nominees—indicating the trouble in the NDA. The Prime Minister came to address election rallies in Bihar for the first time on April 2 during which he sought votes for JD-U candidate Vijay Manjhi in Gaya and LJP candidate Chirag Paswan who is again contesting from Jamui. Then the PM visited Bihar April 11 and this time again, he addressed an election rally in favour of JD-U candidate from Bhagalpur Ajay Mandal. As such, Bhagalpur has been traditional seat of the BJP from where former minister Shahnawaz Hussain had been contesting elections for the past three terms but this time it has gone to the JD-U’s share under the seat-sharing arrangement, which has reportedly annoyed the BJP cadres. Angry BJP cadres, reports said, have now stayed away from JD-U poll campaign despite Modi’s appeals.

During the NDA rally which was addressed by PM Modi in Patna in March this year too, the general BJP workers and leaders had stayed away from the rally venue, making it a big flop. Observers say just about 40 percent of the historic Gandhi Maidan could be filled up despite the NDA pumping in all energy and booking 17 trains, 8,000 luxury buses and around 15,000 luxury cars to fetch the villagers to the rally venue. It was mainly the JD-U flags which were visible at the rally ground but the BJP workers didn’t show enthusiasm, as per the report.

A mismatch

The coordination is still missing between the two leading parties even as the electioneering has picked up momentum and the first phase of polling has already been held. This was amply visible in Hajipur town this weekend when the leaders form the BJP and the JD-U clashed publicly over the contentious issues of Ram temple, Article 370 and Article 35A. As such, they had gathered to chalk out strategy for the victory of local LJP candidate Pashupati Kumar Paras, brother of Union minister Paswan, when the JD-U workers opposed the BJP’s move to make Ram temple the core campaign issue.

Within no time, both sides came to blows with the BJP people banging tables and throwing chairs leaving many injured. The LJP candidate had to work hard to calm down tension but the incident had already shown cracks in the NDA.

Yet another issue that is damaging the NDA is the revelation that the chief minister had tried to return to the opposition Grand Alliance barely six months after returning to the BJP camp. RJD chief Lalu Prasad in his recently published book has revealed Nitish Kumar had sent his emissary Prashant Kishor to him no less than five times with the proposal to join the Grand Alliance which he rejected for his unpredictable nature.

“Kishor seemed to indicate that if I were to assure in writing my party’s support to the JD-U, the latter would pull out of the BJP alliance and rejoin the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance),” claims Lalu’s book titles “Gopalganj to Raisina: My Political Journey”.

Hardly had the dust settled, Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi too made another revelation claiming the chief minister had come with the offer to hand over his throne for her son Tejashwi Yadav should the RJD projected Kumar as the Prime Ministerial candidate. “Nitish offered Tejashwi to be named CM candidate in 2020 state Assembly polls and wanted himself to named as PM candidate for 2019 general elections,” Rabri Devi has claimed.

Although it’s not known what’s the truth behind these stories, the revelations have certainly not gone down well among the voters as this makes it clear the chief minister is not happy even in the company of the BJP and may switch side again. Political experts too say such revelations could be damaging for the NDA given the fact that the chief minister himself has not spoke a word over it and has maintained stony silence so far.