Patna: A day after the Election Commission of India announced the poll schedule for the 243-member Bihar Assembly in October-November, the alliance picture is still unclear with hard bargains still on the table.
The two major alliances – the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the opposition Grand Alliance – are faced with similar situations. Be it old alliances or likely new allies, both are driving hard bargains ahead of polls in the state. While speculation is rife at the moment, a clearer picture may emerge by next week.
In the NDA corner, Chirag Paswan, the Lok Janshakti Party president is adamant on not having a relationship with the Janata Dal-United of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The younger Paswan has threatened to field candidates against the CM’s party if not given favourable seats. His stand has remained unchanged in over a month now. According to local LJP leaders, it reflects their party leader’s anger against Nitish Kumar’s inclination to neglect the party in their seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP.
According to sources within the NDA, senior national BJP leaders are attempting to pacify Chirag since a divided NDA will damage the prospects of the alliance.
Chirag’s father and Union Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, who has been ailing for the last two weeks, had said he would back his son’s call on the Bihar polls. Chirag has been issuing emotional letters reminding him of the same.
“Nitish Kumar initially wanted to divide the 243 assembly seats in the state between the JD-U and the BJP, with more seats for his party. JD-U wants the BJP to share seats with the LJP from its own quota. However, Chirag is also eyeing the 43 seats his party contested in the 2015 polls as an NDA ally. Back then Nitish Kumar had contested alongside Lalu Prasad’s RJD and the Congress,” a senior L JP leader said.
JD-U leaders have reiterated that their party is in alliance with the BJP, not the LJP.
Another reason for the LJP’s discontent is the JD-U inducting former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi into the NDA. Manjhi is a Dalit leader like Ram Vilas Paswan and could set the LJP back by a few seats in the arrangement.
Another part of the jigsaw is Rashtriya Lok Samta party president and former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha, who dumped the Grand Alliance earlier this week and is likely to rejoin the NDA formally within a day or two. Despite CM Nitish Kumar having expressed his reservations to top-level BJP leaders, he was ignored.
The Grand Alliance, comprising the RJD and the Congress, also includes the Left parties this time around. With the RJD looking to contest more seats than the others, talks have been difficult.
The Congress is bargaining for more seats than it had the last time citing many reasons. However, the RJD, the major alliance partner, feels otherwise.
Left parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) are keen on contesting alongside the Grand Alliance, but not on matters of seat-sharing from their strongholds. “Talks with the RJD over seat sharing are ongoing, we are hopeful of a positive result,” CPI (M) state secretary Avadesh Kumar said.
The RJD has reportedly agreed to give two seats to the CPI (M) but the party is demanding a larger share. While the former has increased its offer of seats to the CPI from three to six, talks have not yielded results.
The CPI (ML), which has three sitting MLAs in the state assembly, was offered 12 seats by the RJD. However, the party is adamant on contesting 25 seats.
Sources within the RJD said that Lalu Yadav has instructed party leaders to offer some seats to Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) chief Pappu Yadav – the former MP with a clout among people across the state, especially in the Koshi and Seemanchal regions. However, it is still unclear whether his party will be part of the Grand Alliance, contest alone or join hands with others.
In the assembly polls in 2015, the RJD, JD-U and the Congress contested and won 80, 71 and 27 seats respectively, with their respective vote-shares across the state at 18.35%,16.83% and 6.66%.
The BJP, which contested alongside the L JP, won 53 and two seats respectively, getting 24.42% and 4.83 % of the votes.