Bihar's muddied political landscape has got muddied further with Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) deciding to go solo. So instead of the two alliances that we thought would be fighting Bihar assembly elections 2020, we have another party throwing the gauntlet at the ruling alliance, though still being part of the NDA at the Center.
Nitish Kumar, who is leading the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar, despite looking rather very strong on paper has its own woes. He and his party both seem to be suffering from dented image. Images displayed across television channels and banner headlines during Covid-19 lockdown showing desperate people being denied entry into the state are still fresh in people’s minds. How Nitish Kumar didn’t allow kids from Kota who were suffering from sudden lockdown announced by the Central government and were being denied food and water is a classic example of misgovernance. How the health facilities crumbled across the state in the face of spiraling Covid-19 cases and how harried patients and their family members were given a short shrift by a grossly negligent and slipshod management is still fresh and cannot be forgotten so easily. Chief Minister was out of sight for almost four months during the pandemic and during these four months the state faced the worst crisis that dissipated any sign of governance in the state.
On 12th October, while addressing his first virtual rally after the announcement of seat-sharing formula by the NDA, Nitish Kumar talked of development. He tried to caution voters against those out to create ill-will and practising family politics, and asked them to judge him by his work over the last 15 years. During the rally the JDU chief focused on 12 constituencies of the state. Numerous similar rallies are lined up in the next three weeks.
However, BJP cadres and leaders in many parts of the states are unhappy with the alliance arrangement between the saffron party and its alliance partner, Janta Dal (U). They are feeling cheated as they think their party that must be in the driver’s seat has been forced to ride piggyback behind JDU’s Nitish Kumar who doesn’t have a voter base of his own and always benefits from his alliances that he shrewdly stitches. In the last assembly election held five years ago, he was able to win 71 assembly seats when he contested the election in alliance with the Rashtriya Janta Dal and the Congress Party.
RJD and the Congress alliance or Mahagathbandhan that performed rather very poorly in the last year’s parliamentary election is also facing numerous challenges of its own. This will be another election when the absence of a charismatic leader like Lalu Prasad Yadav will be badly felt. Congress party doesn’t has any presence on the ground and the RJD, led by a rather very young Tejashwi Yadav, will be tested by fire to perform.
Soroor Ahmed, a Patna based political analyst tells me that despite being in a very strong position due to the strong anti-incumbency factor against the ruling NDA government in the state, things look difficult for the Mahagathbandhan. “The absence of Lalu Yadav, incarcerated in Ranchi, is going to play an important role. His sons are still young. Tejashwi is still just about 30 year old and despite being very mature for his age, he has still a long way to go. However, everything doesn’t seem to be good between brothers”. His elder brother, Tej Pratap Yadav, had done huge damage during the Lok sabha elections when he put up rebel candidates of his own against his party’s official candidates. It might have caused the party several precious seats when the party drew a blank. Tejaswi’s differences with Misa Bharti, Lalu Yadav’s eldest daughter are also not a secret any longer. Lalu’s family seems a divided house. But the only silver lining is the fact that Tej Pratap hasn’t revolted openly as he did in the past.
Besides, there is Lok Janshakti Party, a part of NDA at the Center, but going solo in the state. Chirag Paswan, the son of late Ram Vilas Paswan, a stalwart known as a weatherman of the Indian politics, is fighting on all the seats where the JDU is fighting. However, the party may face the saffron party in the two seats that it won the last time. Govindganj and Lalganj constituencies have gone to the BJP and the two parties may well have to fight it out there. Under the intense JDU pressure, the BJP has asked the LJP to refrain from using Prime Minister Modi. Till now, the LJP has been using Modi’s image, besides the image of Ram Vilas Paswan and Chirag Paswan to attract votes.
Responding to reprimands over the use of Modi’s images, LJP’s national spokesman Sanjay Saraf said, “The PM is the leader of the country and we have the highest regard for him. If they don’t want this, we won’t use his photo. Our late leader Ram Vilas Paswan ji is our guiding force. It’s clear that Nitish Kumarji has persuaded some leaders, who are close to him, for this. Let the CM have a debate on issues of development such as how many hospitals and stadiums have been built; what his government has done to mitigate floods and to create jobs for lakhs who migrate every year from the state.”
Many Bihar watchers claim that the LJP will kill the chances of JDU candidates in many constituencies by giving tickets to disgruntled BJP leaders who wanted to fight elections from the constituencies that have gone to the ruling party. They also seem to be unanimous that LJP hasn’t taken a unilateral decision to fight election alone and hurt JDU chances in the assembly election, but has the blessings of the top BJP leadership.
However, Soroor Ahmed says this is completely erroneous to believe that LJP has been asked by the BJP to fight election on its own to destroy the chances of JDU in the assembly election and cause the victory of higher number of BJP candidates. He says that “election is the only time when Dalit outfits come out of the closet to assert themselves. This has been the case with Mayawati too who lies low through years before emerging very strongly during elections. This is a sort of protest by Dalit political parties and an effort to somehow get hold of the power”. He says any loss to Nitish will be a big loss for the NDA in Bihar as every vote going against him will be going straight to Congress-RJD Mahagathbandhan.
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Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October