The dates for the Bihar assembly election can be announced any time now. In view of this, all political parties in the state have started to recalibrate their respective alliances. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, which won the maximum number of seats in the 2015 election but had to sit in the opposition due to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s volte-face in 2017, faces the biggest challenge. The party tasted the bitter pill of coalition politics in the 2019 Lok Sabha election as well.
Although it appears that almost all parties outside the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) camp are ready to contest the election under the umbrella of the ‘secular’ grand alliance, willing to accept Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) leadership, their individual ambitions speak otherwise.
Allies and their RJD reservation
The Congress and Communist parties are among the prominent ones expected to join the grand alliance. Both had to face political marginalisation in Bihar after the emergence of Lalu Prasad Yadav. Even after three decades of losing their vote bank, they continue to hold Lalu and his politics responsible for them not being able to make substantial progress in the state.
Apart from the Congress, all other allies — Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI(M) and CPI(M-L) — claim to have the same electoral base that now belongs to the RJD. This is why they often adopt strategies to weaken the RJD, albeit none of them have succeeded so far. However, allying with the RJD is a compulsion for them because without the former’s solid vote bank, their numbered voters will be of no use.
The seat sharing math
In the 243-member House, the RJD currently holds 82 seats, the Congress 27, the RLSP 2, and the CPI(M-L) 3. The CPI, CPM and Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party have no members in the Bihar assembly. Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) has 73 seats, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 53, Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) 2, and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) 1.
In the new grand alliance that is being formed in Bihar, the CPI and CPI(M) together are demanding 45 seats. Similarly, the CPI(M-L) wants to contest 50 seats. Smaller allies like Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) and Kuswaha’s RLSP are also seeking 25 and 49 seats, respectively. In 2015, the Congress had contested 43 seats, and because JD(U) is no longer part of the alliance, the Congress is reportedly seeking almost double the number of seats this time around. Even if we presume that these are early calculations and that the alliance partners would temper their aspirations, it would turn out to be a really hard bargain for the RJD, leaving limited choice for the single-largest party in the current Bihar assembly. In 2015, the RJD had contested 100 seats and won 82.
Friends or foes? It’s hard to tell for RJD
The probable alliance partners realise the RJD’s desperation to throw the NDA out of power. So, under the garb of opposition unity and the slogan “BJP Hatao”, these parties are trying to snatch at least 100 seats to contest for themselves, leaving the RJD with around 140 seats to fight on its own. This explains why some leaders from within the alliance are constantly attacking the RJD, saying that the people are angry with Lalu and his family. A similar pressure was applied on Tejashwi Yadav by these allies before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and the RJD had to cede ground. The party contested only 19 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats.
Once this is done, the real handiwork of the NDA will start. If the RJD gets to contest only on 140 seats, then there is a real possibility to restrict the party to somewhere around 80-100, just like the last time. The NDA’s main aim is to stop the RJD from gaining a majority on its own. As for the smaller opposition parties, such as the RLSP or VIP, the BJP can break them away at its will as is evident from its ‘Operation Kamal’ politics in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. This is NDA’s Plan A.
NDA’s Plan B will be to ensure that even if the grand alliance wins, the RJD is not able to form a government on its own and ends up seeking the Congress’ support. The Congress party on its own will never ditch the RJD, but with the existing resources, the BJP will not have any difficulty in luring away the party’s MLAs.
Left has a hope in Kanhaiya
Although the Left lies at the bottom of the current political pyramid in Bihar, the state holds significance for the Left Front parties from a long-term perspective, especially for the CPI and CPI(M). They plan to preserve and maintain their limited ground presence, and project former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) president and Bhumihar leader Kanhaiya Kumar as their face in Bihar. Both these parties hope for Kanhaiya’s rise in the state, and the upper caste-dominated media, they know, will come handy in this plan.
With this objective in mind, the Left would make sure to get a bigger share of the pie from RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav during the seat sharing agreement. Their long-term plan also includes confining Tejashwi to a smaller role in the alliance and ultimately eliminating him politically.
The Yashwant Sinha factor
Yashwant Sinha, once a strong and influential leader in the BJP, is the latest to join Bihar’s poll rumble. His United Democratic Alliance— a front consisting of 16 tiny parties — has announced to contest on all 243 assembly seats. This alliance will further cause the fragmentation of anti-BJP votes. In a way, they, too, will alter the electoral equations in favour of the BJP.
It would not be wrong to assess that the RJD’s alliance partners, too, have a Plan B and by all means they are trying to execute it currently — if they could not finish Lalu and his party by fighting against them, they could very well do it by fighting alongside. This might not propel them to power, but they can still manage to acquire the role of the principal opposition party.
RJD, go solo
The RJD and Tejashwi Yadav must play with the aggression they had shown after Nitish’s volte-face in 2017 and contest the 2020 assembly election on their own. Handing out too many seats to any party other than the Congress will indirectly serve the BJP’s motives. Even the Congress does not exercise enough control over its MLAs. Hence, the RJD must contest on as many seats as it deems fit to cross the 122-mark, required to form the government, on its own.
The RJD must have learnt its lesson from the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The second preference of the supporters of all non-BJP parties often isn’t someone from the RJD, but the BJP itself. If the candidate of their choice does not get the ticket, then the votes go to the BJP.
The author is senior political analyst. Views are personal.
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