It has time and again become clear that while Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is one of the better administrators and has a high integrity quotient, he is not a rabble-rouser and crowd puller like his now notorious rival Lalu Prasad Yadav who is in jail on charges of corruption and misuse of office.
That Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal has triumphed in the recent Jokihat assembly byelection handing out a thrashing to the Nitish-led Janata Dal (U) much the same way as it did earlier in the year when it won the Araria Lok Sabha seat and the Jehanabad assembly seat, while losing the Bhabua assembly seat to the JD (U) is testimony to the clever equations that Lalu forged with caste and religious groups which he bequeathed to his son Tejashwi Yadav who holds the party’s reins in his absence.
For Nitish’s men to now demand that the JD (U) be allowed to spearhead the JD (U)-BJP alliance’s fight in the Lok Sabha polls due next year and that the JD(U) be allotted 25 of the 40 seats in an electoral arrangement is to ask for the moon. Significantly, the JD(U) had won a mere two seats in the 2014 parliamentary polls while the BJP had managed 22 though that election was fought with the two parties as rivals.
The RJD’s victory in Jehanabad was significant as a substantial section of dominant Bhumihars and Brahmins are said to have moved towards the RJD against JD(U). This should be a cause of worry for the JD(U)-BJP combine as it has enjoyed upper caste support until now.
The Muslims too gravitated towards the RJD both in Jokihat and in Jehanabad, upset as they were with the JD (U) alliance with the BJP.
In fact, the by-poll results indicate that Nitish Kumar, who had earned substantial support from Muslims and the extremely backward classes (EBC) in the last decade, may have lost much of that support after he abruptly severed ties with the RJD to join the NDA again.
The Lok Sabha byelection in Araria was forced by the RJD MP Mohammed Taslimuddin’s death. His son, Sarfaraz Alam, defeated BJP leader and former MP Pradeep Kumar Singh by a margin of 60,000 votes. The BJP had won the seat in 2004 and 2009 when Nitish headed the NDA in Bihar. In 2014, when Nitish broke ranks with the BJP, Taslimuddin wrested the seat from the BJP in a triangular fight.
The result in Araria, which is one of the seats in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region of Bihar, reflects the RJ’s status as the most preferred party among Muslims and Yadavs.
The RJD’s convincing victories have set the stage for Tejashwi to play a pivotal role in state politics following his father’s detention after conviction in the fodder scam case.
The BJP had cobbled up an alliance with the LJP of Ram Bilas Paswan and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) of Upendra Kushwaha for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The JD(U) contested elections on its own while the RJD and the Congress were in UPA.
The BJP won 22 of 40 Lok Sabha seats while its alliance partners won nine - six to LJP and three to RLSP. The JD(U) won only two, the RJD four and the Congress two.
In the context of the JD (U)’s feelers on wanting to contest 25 seats, the BJP has tried to play down the differences. “Jab dil mil gaye (When hearts have connected), seats are no big deal. Who will contest how many seats in elections, all this will be decided after we sit together for our meeting,” senior Bihar BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi said.
Clearly, Nitish cannot expect the kind of deal that is being sought by his men. He will have to make compromises or else the alliance could flounder. If the UPA is to be stopped in its tracks, an important state like Bihar will have to match that alliance with its own which is cohesive and strong.