BJP President Amit Shah and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar | PTI
BJP President Amit Shah and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar | PTI
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At least 6 BJP MPs in Bihar fear losing their ticket because of seat sharing pact with Nitish Kumar

Theseat sharing announced by BJP president Amit Shah and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar in Bihar has caused major distress to BJP incumbents.

The announcement that the two parties will be contesting an equal number of seats in Bihar was hailed as a big strategic achievement ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Also read: BJP & JD(U) to contest on equal number of seats for 2019 in Bihar, Nitish to be face of NDA

The equal-partnership arrangement surprised many because it came in the backdrop of the 2014 “Modi Wave”, when the BJP had won a whopping 22 out of the state’s 40 seats whileNitish’s JD(U) won only 2 seats contesting independently.

Even as the seat-sharing was cheered widely, Bihar’s sitting MPs from the BJP are now saying that at least six of them, or about 30 per cent, will be losing out on the BJP ticket to contest the next election. Some MPs like Muzaffarpur’s Ajay Nishad who contested on a BJP ticket in 2014 may even try for a switchover to the JD(U) in case the BJP drops his seat. Before 2014, his father Jai Narain Nishad was MP from Muzaffarpur on a JD(U) ticket, but was expelled from the party before the general election due to “anti-party activities”. Nishad had organised a ‘Modi yagna’, supporting Narendra Modi’s bid for prime ministership even after Nitish Kumar had left the NDA.

Also Read: 4 reasons Amit Shah has been so generous to Nitish Kumar in seat-sharing in Bihar

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Several other MPs and party workers had shifted from the JD(U) to the BJP before the last Lok Sabha elections in a similar fashion. But now that the BJP is set to relinquish its mandate in several regions, it has become a major source of infighting and discontent among the party karyakartas.

The massive victory of 2014 allowed the BJP to build its cadre network in areas where the party earlier had negligible presence. This was most apparent in western Bihar where the party made major gains in 2014. If these seats are now going to be contested by the JD(U), the cadre that the BJP built is unlikely to survive. The process will be hastened if the BJP leaders start deserting the party over being denied tickets.

There is another worrying development. The confusion caused by the seat-sharing decision has already translated into several BJP leaders restricting their spending and effort. If they can’t even be assured of the fact that the BJP would contest on their chosen seats, it makes little sense for them to expend resources. Even high profile seats like Arrah from where union power minister R.K. Singh won in 2014 aren’t safe from the chopping block.

Concern is growing among the BJP’s other coalition partners in Bihar as well. They fear that they would be asked to sacrifice the seats they won in 2014 to accommodate the JD(U).

Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, which won six out of seven seats and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, which won all the three seats it contested in 2014, have both hinted that they could desert the NDA if they don’t get their fair share of seats. It could be a negotiating tactic but it shows what the BJP has to contend with now.

Agreeing to this seat sharing agreement when the NDA decisively won over 75 per cent of the seats in Bihar less than 5 years ago – without the support of Nitish Kumar – hints at a lack of confidence among the BJP’s decision-makers. For the first time, bombastic claims of winning huge mandates have been replaced by an admission that the “Modi Wave” is officially dead. This is the only thing that explains giving away so many seats to a returning ally who barely won any seats independently.

Also Read: BJP’s strategy for 2019 is the ‘There is no Alternative’ factor

Bihar betrays the BJP’s deep nervousness about 2019 –the party is willing to sacrifice its own existing MPs in order to satiate its coalition partners. It is now inevitable that other partners will also demand their pound of flesh.

The tragedy is that the BJP alliance is still not confident of winning a decisive number of seats in Bihar in spite of its sacrifices. The JD(U) doesn’t have the support that it once did and several voting groups like Muslims and Dalits could decide to vote for the RJD-Congress alliance solely because of their desire to keep the BJP out of power. Although Nitish Kumar is making a concerted effort at wooing the Dalit and Mahadalit communities that comprise 15.9 per cent of the state’s population, the community still hasn’t rallied behind Kumar due to its coalition partner.

At a Dalit conference held in Patna this month, Kumar spoke in favour of reservation. “Nobody can change it,” he said, and urged his party workers to “visit Dalit localities and create awareness about schemes and initiatives being taken by the state government”.

But what is becoming clear is that the Muslim and Yadav communities, comprising 31 per cent of the state’s population, have solidly aligned with the RJD-Congress combine. The Congress is also making a dent in the upper caste bloc in Bihar, especially the Bhumihars and Brahmins.

Until now, the BJP presented itself as invincible. The Rafale deal, the government response to the Supreme Court’s order on the SC/ST Act, and the CBI controversy are denting its image management skills. Even Modi’s supporters on the ground quietly concede that not enough has been done. The clearest message from Bihar’s seat-sharing arrangement is that the BJP itself doesn’t believe that “Brand Modi” will be enough to help it sail through 2019.

The author is a political data analyst working with election consultants across party lines. He was formerly with the India Foundation and studied economics at the University of Michigan.

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