Patna: The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is altering the ground rules for grand alliance partners ahead of this year’s assembly elections in Bihar, after burning its fingers in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls by conceding as many as 21 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats to its allies including the Congress.
RJD sources said they are out to “rectify” the mistake made ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when the party conceded far more seats to the allies — Congress, RLSP, HAM, CPI(ML) and Vikasheel Insaan Party — than they deserved.
“Most of the candidates fielded by ally partners were unworthy, who could not offer any resistance to the NDA candidates,” a former RJD minister told ThePrint. “If we repeat the same mistake in the assembly polls we are likely to face a revolt from within the party as RJD already has strong candidates in most of the assembly seats.”
“In the 2020 assembly polls, the RJD will not contest less than 150 of the 243 seats,” added the former minister.
In the 2015 assembly elections, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD, allies back then, contested 101 seats each while the Congress fought in 41.
“There will be no co-ordination committee for grand alliance partners. The RJD is a major party in Bihar and Tejashwi Yadav should be accepted as the leader of the grand alliance,” the former minister said. “The gates are open for those allies who refuse to accept this reality.”
“In Bihar, the political axis revolves around two parties, BJP and RJD. Other parties are allies of either of the two,” the RJD leader added.
The statements come two days after RJD state unit chief Jagdanand Singh said something similar and added that Lalu Prasad has been the coordinator of the alliance even from jail.
Singh had also hinted at the possibility of the RJD looking at an alliance with AAP in Delhi, where Congress and BJP will be its rivals.
Congress responds with anger
The RJD’s position evoked a strong reaction from alliance partner Congress.
“Tejashwi Yadav can be the leader of the RJD but not of the grand alliance,” Sadanand Singh, Congress leader in the assembly, told ThePrint.
Taking an exception to Jagdanand Singh’s statement that BJP and RJD were the only forces in Bihar, Congress’ state spokesperson Harku Jha said, “Who will be the leader of the grand alliance will not be decided by RJD. It will be decided by all the leaders of the grand alliance.”
Former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who heads the HAM, called Singh’s statement “arrogant and undemocratic”.
In the 2015 assembly polls, Congress had contested 42 assembly seats in the grand alliance and managed to win 27 seats. The party managed a 64 per cent strike rate despite Lalu Prasad’s unwillingness to concede more than 25 seats to the Congress in the run up to the polls.
Nitish Kumar, who was then with the alliance before forming a government with the support of BJP, brokered the deal for Congress and gave it 41 seats.
In the absence of Nitish, Congress leaders fear that Lalu will offer it fewer seats.
“We contested 41 seats in 2015 and we may demand 80 seats for the 2020 assembly polls. We may not have our own social base but the Congress is much more acceptable to the upper caste than the RJD.
“Most of our MLAs are from the upper castes. The Congress still has a following among the Muslim population,” said a senior Congress leader who didn’t wish to be named. He pointed out that the grand alliance partnership was “fruitful” only due to the presence of Nitish Kumar.
“In 2010, we contested more than 60 seats (in alliance with RJD), (but) just managed to win four seats,” said the Congress leader, declaring that the party will not bow down to RJD trying to reduce the number of seats even if this is at the cost of other allies.
In the Lok Sabha polls, RJD had attempted to woo different castes through alliance partners — like Kushwahas (RLSP), a section of Dalits (Jitan Ram Manjhi) and Mallahs (Mukesh Sahini) —and failed. However, the party is unwilling to break the partnerships completely.
“Off-loading them entirely will mean that even our attempts (to increase social base) will not be made. We want the allies to understand their real strength and make demands accordingly,” said the former RJD minister quoted above.
He stressed that this time, the RJD will strive to cobble together an alliance on its own terms instead of being arm-twisted into conceding more seats to allies as happened in the Lok Sabha polls.
‘Only airing frustration’
In his statement, Jagdanand Singh took an indirect swipe at JD(U) too, by declaring that it was just “a partner of the BJP” and RJD made a mistake by giving the leadership of the grand alliance in the 2015 assembly elections to a minor party and leader — Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
This has evoked scorn in the JD(U) which has been striving to be treated as an equal partner of the BJP.
“Jagdanand Singh is only airing his frustration over the grand alliance. If JD(U) is a minor player, how could the grand alliance have swept the polls in 2015 assembly elections and been routed in the Lok Sabha polls after Nitish Kumar’s exit?” asked JD(U) spokesperson Sanjay Singh.
Singh stressed that Nitish was the king and king-maker in Bihar.
However, just like RJD, even in the NDA, the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) also wants a bigger say in the next election. It said it will contest 43 seats, suggesting that BJP and JD(U) should contest 100 each.