Who will have the last laugh in the Bihar assembly polls, dates of which were announced by the Election Commission on Friday (September 25)?
The million dollar question is being hotly debated in the political circles with two main alliances — the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the main opposition Grand Alliance caught in a peculiar internal crisis over seat sharing and high political ambitions.
The NDA comprises the Janata Dal United (JD-U), Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) whereas the Grand Alliance consists of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and the Vikashsil Insan Party (VIP).
Of the two alliances, the prestige of NDA appears much at stake in this election. Within the NDA, the political status of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is at risk, given the recent political developments.
In the past five years since November 2015, PM Modi has not won many states, except Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, despite his aggressive full-throated campaigns.
The BJP lost states after states, such as Bihar (2015), Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal (2016), Punjab (2017), Karnataka, Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh (2018), Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand (2019) and as recently as Delhi where the elections were held in February this year.
The party lost the Delhi elections despite having a number of politically significant issues in hand such as the scrapping of Article 370 granting special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, CAA, NRC, Ram temple judgement and the ban on Triple Talaq.
Experts now say the PM wants to win Bihar at any cost to boost his morale. In 2015 polls, Modi himself had led the poll campaign and addressed 26 election rallies, setting a record of addressing most number of rallies for state elections by a prime minister. Yet, the BJP-led NDA managed to win only 58 seats in the 243-member assembly.
Meanwhile, Nitish is facing similar pressures to win the elections with the anti-incumbency factor being very strong after an uninterrupted 15 years in power and his frequent moves to switch sides destroying his credibility considerably.
Political experts say in the last polls, Nitish was able to return to power due to the strong support base of Lalu Prasad’s RJD with which he had entered into alliance. Congress was also a part of the alliance. However, after two years in power, Nitish broke the alliance with RJD and formed his new government with the support of BJP, against which he had got the mandate.
Nitish’s frequent flip-flops have done a lot of harm to his credibility and it will be interesting to see how the masses respond this time.
But before that, NDA has found itself in more troubles with the LJP, led by Chirag Paswan, son of Dalit politician Ram Vilas Paswan, almost on exit door over the issue of seats. LJP has been reportedly demanding to contest at least 43 seats citing the fact that it has seven members in the Parliament (six in Lok Sabha and one in Rajya Sabha). But it is being offered a maximum of 25 — lesser than 42 it was offered last assembly polls.
What is more embarrassing, the JD(U) has announced it has no alliance with the LJP. An irked LJP leadership has now threatened to contest elections on 143 seats, including the seats to be contested by the JD(U).
Related news: Nitish gets Modi’s endorsement ahead of Bihar elections
The continuing war of words between the two NDA allies at this crucial time has obviously left the ruling alliance in trouble and if the situation is not handled deftly, they could have to pay the price ultimately. LJP may be a small partner but it has been polling around six per cent votes in every election. So it may be possible the LJP may not win as many seats but it could surely damage the NDA’s poll prospects if it contests elections on 143 seats.
The RJD, which heads the Grand Alliance, faces similar trouble. The party which was forced to sit in the opposition despite winning the last assembly polls with a huge majority had the golden opportunity to cash in upon NDA’s anti-incumbency factor and its alleged “anti-poor” stance. Keeping this in mind, the party formed a mega alliance comprising former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM and the VIP to take on the NDA. Just ahead of polls, however, the Grand Alliance appears to be disintegrating like a house of cards.
While Manjhi has already walked out of the Grand Alliance to join the NDA, Kushwaha has severed ties with the RJD and is on way to quit the opposition alliance. VIP too is looking for an opportunity to follow suit. The main cause of this problem is that just everyone wants to become the chief minister or contest elections on as many seats, ignoring its strength. While the RJD has unilaterally declared party leader Tejashwi Yadav, son of RJD president Lalu Prasad, as the opposition’s chief ministerial candidate, both Manjhi and Kushwaha too wanted themselves to be projected as the CM face. The VIP president, on the other hand, wants to become deputy CM should the opposition alliance returns.
Kushwaha has now gone on record saying Tejashwi doesn’t have the “capability” to take on Nitish Kumar but if the RJD replaces its CM candidate with some other, it may stay with the Grand Alliance. The RJD has taken no note of Kushwaha’s grievances. At presently, both the alliances are in deep trouble and it will be really interesting to see which alliance manages to get the blessing of the voters.
Voting for Bihar assembly elections will be held in three phases — October 28, November 3 and November 7 — and the results will be declared on November 10.