With Bihar assembly election, scheduled to be held in October-November this year, drawing closer, political activities have begun to heat up, with rival alliances and other outfits concretising strategies to woo voters for a mandate in their favour.
On the face of it, as things stand today, the electoral battle is mainly between National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comprising the BJP, Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) and Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) on one side and Mahagathbandhan comprising the Lalu Prasad-led RJD, the Congress and some smaller parties.
With BJP strongman Amit Shah declaring more than once that the NDA’s CM face will indeed be Nitish Kumar, and the RJD insisting that Lalu Prasad’s younger son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav is their prospective CM candidate, the issue of candidature for the top post would seem to be settled.
However, a series of recent developments indicate that chief ministerial ambitions of many leaders may throw up new poll alliances. Recent moves of LJP president Chirag Paswan, heir-apparent of Ram Vilas Paswan, indicate that he is the latest to fancy himself for the post and seems to be testing the water before publicly throwing his hat in the ring.
Former Union minister and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha and former CM and Hindustan Awami Morcha supremo Jitan Ram Manjhi have believed for some years that the chief ministership is rightfully theirs. In fact, it was in pursuance of this ambition that Kushwaha quit the Modi govt just about six months before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Kushwaha and Manjhi have been trying to build pressure on RJD to concede the post of the CM, and have also tried to rope in the Congress for this purpose, but the RJD has stoutly refused to play ball.
Meanwhile, Yashwant Sinha, a former bureaucrat and Union minister, has shifted base to Bihar in a bid to form a Third Front. The former Lok Sabha member from Hazaribagh seat in Jharkhand, has hinted that he is open to allying with the Congress and the RJD. With the slogan “Is baar badlo Bihar, banao behtar Bihar”, he is all set to launch an eight-day yatra from Patna on Tuesday.
Master poll strategist Prashant Kishor has been away from the limelight in recent months but he can, after having fallen out with Nitish Kumar, produce the glue to cobble up an electoral front that carries credibility with the masses.
Even within the NDA, emergence of challengers to CM Nitish Kumar – especially from the BJP camp – is very likely, depending on the nature of the verdict for the JD(U) in the ensuing poll. For this reason, JD(U) has been harping that it will contest no less than 120 assembly seats out of 243, and the BJP should give seats to contest to the LJP from its quota.
But the man to watch out for is LJP’s Chirag Paswan. In the 2015 assembly election, LJP was the largest ally of BJP and had contested 42 of the 243 seats (Nitish’s JD(U) was then an RJD ally). Chirag has been airing his party’s differences with JD(U) and has been critical of the Nitish government’s performance on issues like the return of migrant labourers to the state during lockdown, employment opportunities for them, farmers’ issues etc.
The party has made no bones about its belief that the opportunity to become chief minister of Bihar should not remain only with JD(U).
That no love is lost between the LJP and the JD(U) is underlined by the former removing its Munger district president Raghavendra Bharti from the post for his innocuous remark that “NDA alliance was intact”. Going by former Union minister and Congress leader Akhilesh Prasad Singh’s revelation last week, Ram Vilas Paswan has tried to open flanks with the Congress by sending feelers to him.
Political observers feel that this could be used as a pressure tactic within the NDA. Or, if things work out, this could be the precursor to a Third Front with the Congress and other smaller outfits, or a new-look Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) with RJD and LJP coexisting together. However, the fly in the ointment is the RJD’s insistence that the issue of chief ministerial candidate is not negotiable.
Anti-NDA strategising could have received a boost by now, had the Hemant Soren government in Jharkhand, in which RJD is an ally, released Lalu Prasad on parole. Lalu has been serving a jail term following his conviction in a fodder scam case. But Soren has chosen to sit on the matter. Now, Lalu Prasad has moved court for bail on the grounds of illness and having served more than half of the jail term.
If he is enlarged on bail and reaches Patna, anti-NDA politics will get a shot in the arm.
For now, Tejashwi Yadav has, in the space of a few days, appealed twice for people’s forgiveness “for the mistakes we committed during our 15-year reign in Bihar”. The RJD celebrated its 24th foundation day on Sunday with a cycle rally to protest against steep fuel price hike.
CM Nitish Kumar, on the other hand, will launch his poll campaign by addressing a virtual rally on August 7, during which more than 10 lakh people – other than JD(U)’s active workers – are sought to be connected through different social media platforms to hear him. NDA is trying to fight the polls on the plank of 15 years of Nitish raj vs 15 years of Lalu-Rabri raj.