The idea of a “Grand Alliance” — a common platform for prominent Opposition players — was first mooted just ahead of the 2015 assembly elections in Bihar with the intent of putting up an united fight to the mighty BJP headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Such was the madness among the Opposition to defeat the rising BJP that two arch-rivals — RJD president Lalu Prasad and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar — buried their hatchets, embraced each other in public and vowed to stop the rolling juggernaut of PM Modi. Many watched this grouping formed on poll eve with a pinch of salt, but the end result was astounding.
The three-party Grand Alliance, headed by JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar, dealt a severe blow to the NDA in the 2015 elections, restricting the BJP-led alliance to only 58 seats in the 243-member Bihar assembly. This despite PM Modi himself leading the campaign from the front.
The Grand Alliance, comprising the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Janata Dal United (JD-U) and the Congress, had ultimately become a nationwide hit for its brilliant success story. It was after this success that the entire country began talking about the formation of a “Grand Alliance” at the state-level.
As of now, however, the very purpose of the Grand Alliance seems to have gone missing in Bihar. The five parties, which should have been careful in chalking out their strategy to serve a powerful challenge to the ruling NDA after putting up a disastrous performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, are rather fighting among themselves over the chief ministerial face of the alliance.
Currently, the Grand Alliance comprises the RJD, Congress, Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and the Vikashsil Insan Party (VIP). The last three are headed by former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha and Mukesh Sahni respectively.
Of them, Tejashwi Yadav, who heads the RJD in the absence of his father Lalu Prasad, Manjhi and Kushwaha are currently engaged in a bitter battle for the one-upmanship and everyone wants to be projected as opposition’s chief ministerial face. While the RJD has declared it will go to polls under the leadership of Tejashwi, Manjhi and Kushwaha have been fighting hard to lead the alliance, thus turning the once-powerful Grand Alliance into a “divided house”.
“Tejashwi has been at the forefront of the fight against the NDA and attracting masses. He has been very sharp in his attacks on the NDA, its policies, and has shown no vacillation in his stand, unlike Manjhi and Kushwaha,” says prominent political analyst Soroor Ahmed. He, however, says that the infighting in the opposition camp could make the situation difficult for them if it continued for long.
But, Manjhi and Kushwaha have different explanations. They say they have the experience to run the state and key union ministry. Manjhi is finding it hard to be tamed and the reason is not very far away to seek. As such, Manjhi served as the chief minister of Bihar for nine months after his mentor Nitish Kumar handed over his throne to him, owning responsibility for the party’s disastrous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the JD(U) was restricted to only two seats — a loss of 18 Lok Sabha seats. Now, Manjhi claims himself to be the most suitable face for the post on the ground that he has the experience to run the state.
The HAM, led by Manjhi, has even rejected the RJD’s claim of Tejashwi being the Grand Alliance’s chief ministerial face. “Tejashwi Yadav could be the leader of the RJD, but not of the Grand Alliance. Who will head the Grand Alliance is the issue to be decided by all its constituents, and not by one party,” said HAM spokesperson Danish Rizwan.
Likewise, RLSP too has projected Kushwaha as its chief ministerial face, saying he is fit enough to replace Nitish Kumar. RLSP leaders claim Kushwaha, being a former Union minister as well as a former Opposition leader in the Bihar assembly, is the perfect face to lead the opposition alliance.
Kushwaha, whose party was initially a part of the NDA, had joined the Grand Alliance in December 2018, apparently hoping that his political stature would ultimately overshadow Tejashwi, but his calculations too have gone wrong, quite like Manjhi’s. The RJD has not been giving much prominence to both these leaders, citing their poor support base, as was evident during the last Lok Sabha polls.
“The RJD has announced the name of Tejashwi Yadav as the chief ministerial candidate as he is the leader of the largest party of the Grand Alliance,” said RJD spokesperson Mrintunjay Tiwari, denying any rift in the opposition alliance. This has left both Manjhi and Kushwaha fuming.
Manjhi has been constantly trying to pressurise the RJD by announcing to walk out of the alliance, praising Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in public, or even declaring to join hands with AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi; but the RJD remains unmoved.
“The fight for being the chief ministerial candidate within the opposition is certainly not a good sign, but the way Manjhi and Kushwaha are behaving, it appears they are playing into the hands of the BJP,” comments a political expert. He says the BJP might have tried to pressurise the opposition by launching a mega digital campaign well in advance and the RJD too is very aware of this.
“Instead of falling in the BJP’s trap, RJD’s plan, perhaps, is to mount verbal attacks on the ruling alliance, rather than launching a campaign so early and face the poll fatigue while the actual contest starts later this year,” he explains, adding that the next elections would indeed see a keen contest between the rival alliances.