NEW DELHI:Bihar is the next big battleground. Not because the state faces elections in a few months time for which hard bargaining for seats among allies have begun, but because it will see a contest of a new experiment: Janata Parivar (conjoined but not merger) versus the BJP. A test-match between Narendra Modi’s magic and Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad’s combined offensive. The past one-and-a-half year politics in Bihar has been conducted in reaction to Modi’s rise on the national stage. It ultimately sent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar back into the arms of his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend Lalu, with a calculated intent reclaiming the aggregated old Janata Parivar votes.
For the BJP too, Bihar politics has been as much about the high-profile breakup with Nitish/JD-U as it has been about peddling the Modi magic with new NDA partners, like Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha. Both have asked for their pound of flesh in the “seat sharing consultations” they had with BJP state in-charge Dharmendra Pradhan.
Ram Vilas Paswan and his charismatic son Chirag say they will settle for nothing less than 50-55 seats; Kushwaha, whose backward Koeri voters are spread across constituencies contributing to 3,000-10,000 votes in each, is asking for another 50. Neither is willing to part seats from their share for BJP’s newest ally, JD-U’s ejected chief minister Jitendra Mahji.
It’s no better for the other side, which has kept a complete merger of JD-U and RJD into a wholesome Janata Parivar in abeyance, for the post-poll period. RJD’s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has also sprung an eye-popping demand of 145 seats from JD-U. To which, Nitish Kumar could only respond with a snipe: “Why not all of 243?”
It’s typical of allies to hike the bidding-stock market style at the beginning of any seat-sharing talks. But, in this case, there’s an edginess the exercise. The outcome of the Bihar Assembly the seats are shared and who gets what. On it will depend how the JD(U)-RJD’s joint elections work, whether Lalu can keep his Yadav-Muslim vote bank intact in the face of a “socially incompatible” tie-up with a Kurmi leader with the Mahadalit vote bank, Nitish Kumar. Yadavs are aggressive, not liked by either Kurmis or the extremely backward caste who’ve been at their receiving end during Lalu’s rule.
Similarly, for the BJP, it’s an uphill task. It has to retain 7-8 per cent youth voters attracted to Modi’s emotive development plank with the upper caste votes and build on it with Dalit votes from Paswan, Kushwaha and Manjhi, none of whom can bring more than 5-7 per cent of the backward votes. Mixed with a smattering of Yadav votes could be pulled in by Ramkripal Yadav (ex-RJD) and BJP state leader Nand Kishore Yadav.
In Bihar, politics is as much about caste and community as it is about development. “That is why BJP, instead of funding Majhi to cut into Nitish-Lalu-(possibly) Congress’ secular vote bank, is now looking at an alliance with him,” says Patna-based social scientist D N Diwakar. Either way, both sides will have to sacrifice 100-odd seats to make the alliances work in a manner that yields results, Diwakar adds. But it could turn the game tricky for Nitish as he would have shed 15-17 winning seats of JD-U to his RJD/Lalu. His party in alliance with BJP had wrested 117 in 2010.
Internal dissention is another blues tune. In the BJP, which is not projecting OBC leader Sushil Modi or Bhumihar leader C P Thakur of the older lot or any of the new claimants, has to manage its own house. “A surfeit of leaders wants to be CM. BJP is a cadre-based party; once a decision is taken everyone falls in line. The same cannot be said about RJD and JD-U, which has already seen attrition (most recent being Pappu Yadav).
“Those who lose their seats are also likely to change sides,” says political analyst Sanjay Kumar, even as he gives much credence to the new dynamics in Bihar politics, coming together of two most prominent leaders of the state. But when the state goes to polls around October it will be about the management of a “tense political environment”, which will test of the Nitish-Lalu combine’s ability to stall a second Modi-BJP upsurge after the Lok Sabha elections.
And, by all indications, it’s a tight rope walk for either side. A neck-to-neck, as the saying goes, in which the oldest player in the state and the new prince is ploughing a lonely furrow.