Allies giving BJP sleepless nights in Bihar: NDA more divided than ever
With polling in 19 of the 40 constituencies in Bihar already over, the post-poll scenario has begun to occupy political discourse in the state. And the BJP appears to have a lot to worry about
Besides worrying about the final tally in Bihar (in 2014 NDA had grabbed 32 of the 40 seats), the Bharatiya Janata Party appears worried about not just the performance of its two allies, JD(U) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), but also whether the two will remain in the NDA if the alliance fails to win enough seats.
At this point, with polling in 21 seats still awaited in the three remaining polling days, two writings on the wall are visible. One is that the non-BJP alliance is doing on the ground much better than expected by the pundits. And while JD(U) will possibly have a better strike rate (it is contesting 17 seats), Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party is going through an existential crisis.
LJP, which is contesting in six constituencies, is having a tough time in all six. In three of them LJP has fielded Paswan’s son and two of his brothers. While LJP is flush with funds and is far more visible on the ground, the perception is that in the absence of Paswan himself, who is not contesting himself and has been assured a Rajya Sabha seat after the election, all three could end up losing in Hajipur, Samastipur and Jamui, which will possibly draw curtains on the family’s dream run in Bihar politics. A less-than-expected performance by Paswan may also close the door on his Rajya Sabha berth from Assam.
Ram Vilas Paswan has switched sides so many times that the joke is that even he doesn’t remember all of them. Till the third week of February 2014, no political analyst imagined that Ram Vilas Paswan would cross over to the Narendra Modi camp. This had happened in spite of strong protests from several BJP leaders, including Giriraj Singh. Just before the 2019 election, it was speculated that he was again ready to jump ship and both father and son had started publicly criticising the Modi Government. But they were placated with the carrot of a Rajya Sabha seat and six Lok Sabha seats in Bihar.
Political observers in Bihar are already betting that if the NDA fails to get enough seats, even Nitish Kumar and JD(U) might desert the NDA on the issue of special status to Bihar. He has played this card once before and there is nothing to prevent him from using it again.
Several JD(U) leaders are known to have kept their channels of communication with other parties open. Communication strategist and JD(U) Vice President Prashant Kishor in particular has repeatedly pointed out how JD(U) had already reduced BJP’s tally in the state by five seats. BJP had won 22 seats in 2014 but this time is contesting for only 17 seats. The actual deficit for the BJP will be higher because it is unlikely to have a 100% strike rate.
Barring union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who publicly claims that NDA would be storming back to power with over 400 seats, few BJP leaders in Bihar share his optimism. They are in fact getting increasingly bitter, realizing that unlike their friends in JD(U) and LJP, they have nowhere to go.
The much talked about body language of the Bihar chief minister at the Prime minister’s Darbhanga rally has also embarrassed the BJP. In viral video clips Nitish Kumar’s reluctance to respond to Narendra Modi’s call for raising the slogan, Vande Mataram, did not go unnoticed.
Not only did Nitish Kumar maintain a stiff upper lip, he remained seated even when others sprung up to raise their arms and join the sloganeering PM. He did rise finally, reluctantly but stood stiffly without raising his arms.
He is of course known to frown upon public exhibitionism. But his Darbhanga display has not gone down well with the BJP. The old distrust between them has resurfaced and may affect the polling in the remaining seats.