Patna: The BJP seems to have cornered its ally Janata Dal (United), led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and convinced it to give up its ‘big brother’ role in the state after hectic parleys over seat-sharing.
Marathon discussions over two days, Friday and Saturday, led the two alliance partners to reach an almost equal seat-sharing deal, with the JD(U) likely to contest from 122 seats and the BJP from 121 in the 243-member assembly, sources in both BJP and JD(U) told ThePrint.
Another NDA ally, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), remains steadfast on its demand that it will contest 143 seats alone and even put up candidates against the JD(U), and it’s not yet clear how the final distribution of the coalition will look.
The final distribution of seats among National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners is expected to be announced either Sunday evening or Monday. The Bihar assembly elections will take place in three phases on 28 October, 3 November and 7 November.
The meetings between the BJP and the JD(U) took place in Patna. The BJP was represented by former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, the party’s election in-charge in Bihar, and party general secretary Bhupender Yadav, while the JD(U) delegation included Bihar assembly speaker Vijay Kumar Choudhary, besides party leaders R.C.P. Sinha and Lallan Singh.
“BJP and JD(U) are equal partners of NDA. Both parties will be helping each other out,” BJP MLC and former Union minister Sanjay Paswan told ThePrint.
Sources in the BJP said the JD(U) will have to adjust Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) in its own quota.
Asked about the seat-sharing arrangement, JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan Prasad refused comment. “I will not comment on the numbers. All I can say is that whatever is decided by the top leadership of both the parties should be acceptable to all parties,” he said.
The last time the two parties contested the assembly elections together was in 2010. At the time, the JD(U) contested from 141 seats, and the BJP from 102. The JD(U) won 115 seats and the BJP, 91.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, both the BJP and JD(U) contested 17 seats each from the state’s 40, while their ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) fielded candidates from six seats. The BJP and the LJP won all their seats, but the JD(U) lost one.
“The BJP has a better strike rate. It’s an indication of what might happen after poll results are announced,” said a senior BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named.
‘Talks almost collapsed’
It has been learnt that the BJP and the JD(U) almost reached a breaking point Friday as discussions on seat-sharing got heated.
There was tension between the allies as the BJP demanded an equal number of seats, saying it had sacrificed five of its sitting MPs in the Lok Sabha elections to accommodate JD(U) nominees, said the unnamed BJP leader quoted above.
The BJP also refused to concede several urban seats to the JD(U) where it has a strong foothold and where Nitish wanted RJD turncoats to contest, the leader added.
The BJP’s demands, it is learnt, left JD(U) leaders “frustrated”. A JD(U) leader even asked the BJP to contest the election independently, the leader quoted above said. A BJP leader then retorted that they were ready to contest separately, the leader added.
With the JD(U)’s demands cutting no ice with the BJP, both Fadnavis and Yadav walked out of the talks Friday and returned to Delhi to apprise Union Home Minister Amit Shah of the situation, said the leader.
They returned to Patna Saturday to hold three rounds of talks with JD(U) leaders, and further hardened their stand”. “By late evening, JD(U) threw in the towel conceding to most of the BJP’s demands, getting just one seat extra,” said the BJP leader.
JD(U) left without an option
The JD(U) knows from experience that contesting solo is not an option. Its last solo venture was in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which led to a debacle as it managed to win just 2 of 40 seats.
All victories of Nitish in the assembly elections — right from 2005 — have been in tie-up with other parties, including in 2015, when it contested polls in alliance with the RJD and the Congress.
Although the BJP and the JD(U) have struck a seat-sharing deal, the partners allegedly don’t have complete trust in each other.
JD(U) leaders believe that LJP president Chirag Paswan, who has been vociferous in his attacks against Nitish, is working at the behest of the BJP’s top leadership.
“It’s like remaining married when one spouse knows that the other is sleeping with another person,” said a JD(U) MLA explaining the lack of trust between the two allies.