Bihar elections 2020: The power dynamics in NDA
Bihar Assembly election is just around the corner, and it is expected that the first Assembly election to be conducted in India after the coronavirus outbreak will provide plenty of fireworks. The recent infighting and crack in the NDA alliance in Bihar have already triggered a political drama. It can also give the Opposition a chance to improve their position and performance in the Assembly elections.
The turbulence in NDA resulted from the new stance of their erstwhile partner Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) which is likely to have an impact on the electoral outcome in the state, and perhaps on the government going to be formed later. LJP chief Chirag Paswan, son of late Ram Vilas Paswan, has time and again expressed his craving for the chief ministerial post and that enticed him to launch an attack against the Chief Minister and JD (U) supremo Nitish Kumar. The rift escalated with each passing day, with Chirag openly criticising Nitish, portraying him as someone unworthy to hold the coveted office.
Amid this ongoing infighting in NDA, BJP expressed their solidarity with the JD(U). Party president JP Nadda said that the Nitish Kumar government took care of the people of Bihar amid the Covid-19 pandemic, asserting that "it is important that the leadership of the state is secured with him".
Even though BJP tried to douse Chirag's anger, the saffron party would fight the election with JD(U) was evident. Chirag pulling out of the NDA alliance was an imminent move, and when he did announce that his party would contest the polls alone, it did not come as a surprise. But he has been careful in not infuriating the BJP and maintained that the LJP and BJP are allies at the Centre, even though the saffron party has rebuffed him repeatedly and even went to the extent of calling him a "vote katwa" (one who undermines votes of other parties).
The onus is now on Paswan junior to gain the trust the Dalits and upper-caste voters and 'walk the talk'. LJP's decision to 'go solo' can enable the party and Chirag to emerge as a force who can fight their battles alone in Bihar. But for NDA, it means going back to the board and revising the plans made earlier.
With LJP out of the NDA fold, the JD(U) and BJP reached to a 122-121 seat-sharing agreement for the 243 seats they are contesting and the LJP is contesting 143 seats in the state. So possibly, the LJP will bite into the present NDA vote share.
NDA will mostly bank on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's charismatic image and Nitish Kumar's apparent 'good governance' to bolster their prospect. And the BJP is well aware of the fact that under the present circumstances, it has a bright chance of steering clear of the shadow of JD(U) and increase its footprint in the state.
Here, we must take a look at another coalition partner of this alliance, which can end up deciding the fate of the elections: Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM) and its chief Jitan Ram Manjhi. A former protege of Nitish, he was hand-picked by the JD(U) strongman and made Bihar Chief Minister in May 2014 after Nitish's defeat in the Lok Sabha election.
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However, within ten months of making Manjhi the Bihar CM, Nitish took over the reins of the office. Manjhi was slowly growing stronger, posing a threat to his once upon a time mentor. He was eventually banished by the JD (U) in 2015, and he joined the Grand Alliance. Later, he quit the camp and joined the NDA, as the fourth pillar of the structure.
A senior Mahagatbandhan (Grand Alliance) leader, who earlier worked closely with Manjhi, told Deccan Herald, 'Mahadalits in Bihar are numerically strong. Together they comprise around 16% of the electorate. But this includes 6% Paswans too. Manjhi's influence is in the Magadh region comprising Gaya and Aurangabad. Even if Manjhi commands 6% votes, a minor shift in the vote base could tilt the balance.'
Nitish knows the significance of having Manjhi in his camp, and Manjhi is aware of the strength that the NDA posses. Nitish, unsettled by Chirag's constant attacks, needs Manjhi, who is a Mahadalit leader, to counter the growing influence of the LJP chief.
Perceiving the influence Manjhi can exert, JDU has decided to give HAM seven seats from its own 122 seats.
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Former Bollywood set designer Mukesh Sahni-led Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) is also a part of the Bihar NDA and BJP has given them 11 seats for the polls. The VIP, which claims support among fishermen community, had been a coalition partner of the Grand Alliance since last year's Lok Sabha polls.
Popularly known as "Son of Mallah", Sahni quit the camp soon after the seat-sharing deal of Grand Alliance was announced by RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav who did not announce the number of seats that the VIP would contest under the alliance.
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NDA has the necessary arsenal to come out with flying colours in this gruelling Bihar test, but at the same time, it also has a task in its hand. Along with Tejashwi Yadav, the NDA will now have to tackle Chirag as well. The alliance has to make sure that the LJP does not prove BJP's 'vote katwa' comment to be true and hurt their chances by drawing some of the voters who favoured the erstwhile NDA, thereby handing an advantage to Tejashwi and his allies. The change in the NDA structure has made the Bihar elections more rivetting and promises further twists and turns.