BJP allies Nitish, Paswan and Kushwaha are believed to have come up with a seat-sharing plan that will leave the party with less than the 22 seats it won in 2014.
New Delhi: A series of bypoll losses for the BJP across the country has dented its invincibility and opened the door for allies to reassert themselves. In Bihar, the pushback is coming in the form of jockeying for seats by alliance partners and a renewed call for grant of special status.
At an NDA meeting on 7 June, sources told ThePrint, the BJP’s allies in the state — Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP — are planning to put forward a seat-sharing formula for the Lok Sabha elections next year.
The formula, the sources said, will be to let the JD(U) and the BJP contest 14 or 15 seats each and leave the remaining 10 or 12 for the LJP and RLSP. Bihar sends 40 MPs to Parliament.
But this might be tough for the BJP to digest as it considers itself the bigger partner in the state, at least as far as the general elections go.
In 2014, the BJP, which contested in alliance with the LJP and RLSP, won 22 seats alone. Paswan’s party won six while Kushwaha’s came home with three. Nitish Kumar’s party was reduced to just two seats.
BJP leader and Bihar’s deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, however, said the partners will sort out the matter amicably.
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“Jab dil mil gaye to baki sab milne mein koi problem nahi hai (When hearts have met, nothing will be a problem),” Modi said in Delhi Monday. “We will sort out everything at the right time.”
The JD(U) denied any agreement with other parties on the seat-sharing formula. “No talk of seat-sharing has taken place yet,” JD(U) leader K.C. Tyagi told ThePrint. “These things will be discussed at the right moment.”
LJP’s Ramchandra Paswan, a party MP, said the BJP should be “liberal” in matters of seat sharing.
“When BJP ties up with LJP they benefit across the country because our voters are in most of the states. This may be either 50 votes or 5,000 votes or even more,” said Paswan. “But, in return, we get to contest seats only in Bihar in areas where our influence is.”
The JD(U), it appears, is trying to re-establish itself as the big brother in Bihar, a scenario that existed until 2013, when Nitish walked out of the alliance with the BJP. Until then, the JD(U) always got the lion’s share in the seat-sharing between the two parties which joined hands in 1996.
Now the plan to form a sort of a front within the NDA in Bihar is seen as Nitish’s way of cornering the BJP. To that end, ThePrint has learnt, Nitish held several meetings with Paswan and Kushwaha. The plan was to first finalise the deal among themselves and then take it to the BJP.
Last week’s bypoll results only accelerated that move.
As the BJP suffered losses in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala, the JD(U) called a core committee meeting on 3 June to discuss strategy. The leaders, sources said, felt it was the right time to corner the BJP.
Present at the meeting were party general secretaries K.C. Tyagi and Pavan Varma, among other senior leaders, and poll strategist Prashant Kishor.
Sources said it was at this meeting that the JD(U) decided to name Nitish Kumar as the NDA’s face in Bihar. The hope was that this will change the messaging from BJP is big brother to JD(U) is big brother.
The gradual rift between the allies could also be noted from Nitish’s recent criticism of demonetisation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s big bang reform of 2016 to check black money.
The Bihar chief minister, in another surprise move, tweeted a personal blog in which he raised the issue of special status to Bihar.
His 29 May tweet came months after he went totally silent on the issue, which the opposition claimed was because he was a part of the NDA.
Also, on 31 May, as the party suffered an embarrassing loss to Lalu Prasad’s RJD in the Jokihat, senior JD(U) leader Tyagi was quick to blame the BJP for it, saying it was because of rising petrol and diesel prices.
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