Though a show of bonhomie between BJP president Amit Shah and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during their recent talks has virtually put to rest the prospects of JD(U) returning to Grand Alliance for the general elections next year, but the seat sharing arrangement among NDA partners in the state could be a challenge.
Shah and Kumar’s bonding over breakfast as well on dinner on Thursday has sent indications that he would not walk out of the coalition and join hands with Lalu Prasad’s RJD again if his party is not given the respect of “elder brother” and provided lion share of seats as used to be in the NDA during the times of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani.
Besides Shah and the Bihar Chief Minister beaming before photographers on the occasion, the BJP chief also gave the message of togetherness in words.
Addressing BJP workers during his one-day tour of Bihar on July 12, Shah in an apparent reference to speculation about Kumar feeling uncomfortable in the coalition and mooting return to the Grand Alliance which comprises RJD and Congress, had said “detractors must not harbour many hopes. Nitish is not going to side with the corrupt.”
Kumar’s smiling face captured by shutterbugs at the breakfast table with Shah and also while coming out after breaking bread on that day reconfirmed the message of unity.
It was said that the thorny issue of seat-sharing in the NDA would be resolved during Shah-Kumar meeting, but sources in the two parties said besides a general talk on the prevailing political situation in Bihar, nothing concrete was discussed with regard to seat adjustments for 2019 election.
JD(U) General Secretary K C Tyagi told PTI: “It was a good meeting between the two top leaders and we are happy about it. But, seat sharing is a long process and no one party can arrive at a decision on its own. A decision could be taken only after talks between leaders of all the constituents in a congenial atmosphere.”
Senior BJP leader and Bihar minister Nand Kishore Yadav said Shah-Kumar meeting “made it emphatically clear that BJP, JD(U) and other NDA constituents will fight together in coming Parliamentary election as well Assembly election in 2020.”
General election is still far away, distribution of seats for Lok Sabha election would be solved amicably “at an appropriate time,” said Yadav, who had joined Shah and other leaders of BJP and JD(U) at the dinner hosted by Kumar on Thursday last at his One Anne Marg bungalow.
“Our party national president Amit Shah has already said that NDA is going to win all the 40 Parliamentary seats in Bihar,” state BJP vice president Davesh Kumar said, adding “you can take this from me on affidavit paper.”
Though there is optimism regarding settlement of seat sharing, but it seems more complicated than what it appears.
Dynamics within the NDA has changed after re-entry of Nitish Kumar into the fold last year after his break up with the Grand Alliance that also comprised the RJD and Congress.
During the last Lok Sabha elections in 2014, BJP, LJP and RLSP won 31 out of a total of 40 seats in Bihar while the JD (U) which had an alliance with Left parties was blown away by “Modi lahar”(storm) and could manage to bag only two seats.
BJP and its old allies LJP, RLSP had snatched over a dozen Lok Sabha seats in Bihar which JD(U) had won in 2009 and in such a condition it would be difficult for any party to insist that these constituencies were their stronghold.
Muzaffarpur seat was won by Capt Jai Narain Nishad of JD(U) in 2009 but, in 2014 his son Ajay Nishad bagged the seat as a BJP nominee.
Similarly, Valmikinagar (SC), Jhanjharpur, Gopalganj, Ujiyarpur, Begusarai and Arrah were with JD(U) in 2009 which the BJP won in 2014.
Ramsundar Das of JD(U) had won the Hajipur (reserved seat) in 2009 defeating Ramvilas Paswan then but, Paswan, now a Union minister, snatched it from Kumar’s party in the 2014 poll.
Karakat seat was with JD(U) in 2009 but it was won by RLSP chief and Union minister Upendra Kushwaha in the last poll.
There were at least four Lok Sabha seats where JD(U) had come second to NDA winners in 2014 though they had held those constituencies previously. For example, in Munger, the present state minister and a close confidant of the Chief Minister, Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lallan, bagged the seat in 2009, but lost there in 2014 to Veena Devi of LJP.
Arrah seat was with JD(U) in 2009, but in last election Union Energy minister R K Singh won it as a BJP nominee.
There is also likely to be uncertainthy in the Madhepura seat which Sharad Yadav, now expelled from the JD(U), won in 2009 but lost to Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav in 2014.
Pappu Yadav at that time was a RJD candidate, but has now separated and formed his own ‘Jan Adhikar Party’.
The NDA would also have to take a decision on the Jehanabad seat held by RLSP Arun Kumar.
After differences with party president Upendra Kushwaha, Arun Kumar has petitioned Election Commission to recognise him as the original RLSP and provide him the symbol.
“Besides me, out of two MLAs in the state one (Lallan Paswan) is with me. I am having separate talks with the BJP leaders for contesting together in 2019 elections,” Arun Kumar told PTI.
Winnability will be the deciding factor in seat distribution, a senior BJP leader said on condition of anonimity.