Patna: “Nitish Kumar gelan ab, bhajpa inka ehi chunao mein khatam kar detwa (Nitish Kumar is a goner, BJP will finish him this election),” said Hari Shankar Prasad, a cart-puller waiting for customers near the busy crossing of Anisabad Golambar in Patna.
A day after the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), an ally of the BJP-led NDA, refused to contest the Bihar Assembly Elections under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the word on the street is that the BJP might be looking to pull the rug from under ‘big’ brother’s feet. The LJP will field candidates against the Janata Dal-United but not against the BJP. LJP president Chirag Paswan has made it clear that his party will remain with the NDA and had no problems with the BJP, even going as far as to say it wanted a BJP-led government in Bihar.
The party claims it has an ideological battle with the JD-U, but not with the BJP, and is keen to form a BJP-LJP government in the state. The LJP is likely to contest 122 seats, primarily against the JD-U. The party will not field candidates against the BJP and in return, the BJP, will also desist from contesting against it in 20 to 25 seats.
The LJP’s strength is its social support base among the Dusadhs, a militant Dalit caste, which constitutes about four to five percent of the total votes in the state. Chirag’s father, Ram Vilas Paswan, who belongs to this caste, enjoys the overwhelming loyalty of the community and has consistently managed to hold on to their votes while shifting alliance partners.
Prasad, the resident of a sleepy village in the neighbouring Arwal district. A member of a backward caste, he has a keen understanding of politics. “The BJP has used the LJP to damage Nitish Kumar; it is clear the way things unfolded. With the first of three phases of polls only 23 days away, the nomination process is on. The LJP will help BJP cut Nitish down to size,” said Prasad, who is inclined to CM Nitish Kumar for providing 20% reservation to EBC’s in panchayati raj elections.
Ghalib Khan, a retired government employee turned social activist, said the LJP may not win a lot of seats on its own but will spoil the JD-U's chances in 25 to 30 seats. “It is a game to defeat the JD-U and reduce its bargaining power after the polls,” he opined.
A.K. Mishra, a political commentator from Bihar, said the LJP’s target is Nitish. “It has a good relationship with the BJP. The LJP’s aim is clear: to reduce the number of JD-U victories. Unless the JD-U is weakened, it is not possible to replace Nitish with a BJP CM candidate,” he said.
The JD-U won 71 seats in the 2015 assembly polls when it contested alongside Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and the Congress. At the time, the BJP won 53 seats and the LJP won two seats.
Sataynarayan Madan, a political observer, said it was a part of the BJP’s strategy to get rid of Nitish Kumar. “More than the others, the BJP knew that Nitish’s popularity has been on the wane over the last decade. Nitish has become a liability for the BJP which carried him for years to widen its network and strengthen itself. Now, the situation has changed. People are looking for alternatives to Nitish and the BJP eyeing it. By ensuring the JD-U’s defeat, the party plans on emerging as the single largest party and push its candidate for the top job,” he added.
Madan said that while the BJP has reiterated that will support the CM and that he will be a chief ministerial candidate, “why has the mighty BJP failed to persuade a small ally (LJP) to not contest against the JD-U as it will harm the NDA.”
Madan, who was part of the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement against the Emergency as a student, said that Nitish’s remark, that the JD-U alliance is with the BJP and not the LJP, proved suicidal as it angered Chirag. The BJP also got a timely opportunity to attack.
In 2019, the LJP won six Lok Sabha seats when it contested alongside the BJP and the JD-U. The 2014 result was the same but back then the JD-U had contested alone.
However, in the state polls in 2015, the L JP performance contested 42 seats alongside the BJP and won only two seats. In 2010, the party had won only 3 seats after contesting in 75 seats with the RJD. Its vote-share was 6.74% in 2010 and 4.80% in 2015.
According to local LJP leaders, Chirag’s stance reflects their anger against the CM’s tendency to neglect the party.
JD-U state working president, Ashok Choudhary, said the party was free to do as it pleased but pointed out that the LJP had used Nitish Kumar’s name to garner votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
RJD leader Bhai Virendra said the BJP has pushed Nitish Kumar into a corner until the polls. “The BJP will dump him after polls, it is clear given how the LJP is saying so,”
CPI (ML) leader Dhirendra Jha said the BJP is desperate to play big brother in the NDA and will try to cut Nitish to size. “It appears certain that BJP the is behind the LJP’s move to damage Nitish. This has also divided the NDA and exposed its fake unity,” he added.
In 2019, some BJP leaders had targeted Nitish and his agenda in public. Then, senior BJP leader Sanjay Paswan said Nitish Kumar has occupied the chief minister’s chair for quite a while. He said that as votes were being garnered in the name of PM Modi, Nitish should vacate the CM’s chair for the BJP. Paswan, a BJP MLC considered close to the RSS, was sending a political message – the ‘Nitish factor’ had run its course.
Several BJP leaders privately say that the ‘Nitish factor’ is not visible in the state any longer. The JD-U itself is banking heavily on the ‘Modi factor’, as Nitish Kumar, too, had promoted ‘brand Modi’ during 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Given the history, it is a matter of discussion in Bihar that the BJP has had enough of Nitish Kumar. BJP leaders also claim that the party is stronger in the state and enjoys an overwhelming support from the upper castes, OBCs and EBCs that were once loyal to Nitish Kumar.