PATNA: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of JD(U) and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan have long been rivals in the state’s politics despite sharing space in NDA. But their growing bonhomie in recent months amid the pressures they are exerting on BJP for a “fair share” of seats to contest in the next Lok Sabha polls has alarmed the saffron party.
After Kumar and Paswan praised each other highly at a recent ceremony to mark former prime minister VP Singh’s birth anniversary, sources in their parties indicated that the two leaders could together part ways with the BJP. “Unless given a fair share of seats to contest, they will not hesitate to quit NDA. Whether they will join the RJD-led grand alliance or form a third coalition of parties is not clear yet, but they are ready for a triangular contest,” said a senior JD(U) leader.
Even though RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav has vowed not to accept Nitish again into the grand alliance, RJD leaders say party chief Lalu Prasad may agree to it. “He (Lalu) is a large-hearted leader with a strong commitment for socialism and secularism. He may eventually overrule his son to defeat the communal BJP,” said a senior RJD leader close to Lalu.
For BJP, which aims both at getting NDA re-elected at the Centre and simultaneously have a bigger role in Bihar politics, the pulls and pressures have presented a tougher task. While the party is working hard at keeping all its three allies along, it is also preparing to contest all the 40 seats on its own.
“It is not clear yet if (BJP chief) Amit Shah will meet Nitish Kumar during his July 12 visit to Patna to allay his apprehensions, but we are strengthening our base in all the 40 LS constituencies,” said a BJP state general secretary. “A triangular contest is a difficult prospect, but we are confident on Narendra Modi’s charisma and the visible changes his rule has brought,” he added.
The JD(U), which returned to NDA in July 2017 after a four-year break, wants the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to be contested in Bihar under the leadership of Nitish. Despite having won just two of Bihar’s 40 LS seats in the 2014 polls, the JD(U) is insisting on getting at least 20 seats in the next LS polls.
While BJP has tried to appease JD(U) on the first demand, saying the campaigns would be conducted on “CM Nitish Kumar’s work and PM Narendra Modi’s name”, it is the second demand that remains unresolved. Given that the NDA in Bihar has four parties—BJP, JD(U), LJP and RLSP — conceding half the seats to the JD(U) would leave the BJP with little legroom in state politics.
Paswan, currently the Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution, reportedly wants at least 10 his party. The LJP had contested on seven seats in the 2014 LS polls and won six. Similarly, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), led by Union Minister of State for HRD Upendra Kushwaha, insists on being given eight seats.The RLSP had contested on three seats in 2014 and won all, but it split after its MP Arun Kumar formed Rashtriya Samata Party Secular (RSPS).
“If the BJP does not need allies in Bihar, it is free to contest all the seats on its own,” said JD(U) spokesperson Sanjay Singh, revealing the tension in NDA over seat-sharing. His remarks were widely seen to indicate JD(U)’s assumption that the BJP cannot afford to lose allies after its image took a beating among the Muslims and Dalits due to the communal clashes in Bihar in March and the rising atrocities against Dalits.