The differences between Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party Janata Dal (United) and its ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the upcoming bypoll for the Araria parliamentary seat has seen JD(U) MLA Sarfaraz Alam quit the party. JD(U) wanted to field Alam as its candidate but the saffron party insisted that it would contest, as its candidate, Pradip Kumar Singh was the runner up in the seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, which Alam’s father Taslimuddin had won on the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) ticket. He died in September last. As JD(U) contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election separately, it cannot stake claim to Araria as its candidate Vijay Kumar Mandal was not even the runner-up but a distant third.
Even while JD(U) and BJP were engaged in their tussle, RJD, the main opposition in Bihar, was quick to capitalise on the situation and invited Sarfaraz Alam to join his father’s party. He is now likely to be its candidate in Araria.
Apart from the Araria Lok Sabha seat, the BJP has also staked claim over two assembly seats which are seeing byelections on March 11. While it is understandable that BJP would contest on the Bhabua seat, where the bypoll was necessitated by death of its sitting MLA Anand Bhushan Pandey, Jehanabad was represented by RJD MLA Mundrika Yadav, who passed away of dengue in October last.
While the JD(U) has meekly accepted the BJP’s demand, the three other older alliance partners of the NDA—the Lok Janshakti Party of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of another Union minister Upendra Kushwaha and Hindustani Awam Morcha of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi—are openly seeking their own pound of flesh.
The LJP is keen to field its candidate in Araria as its nominee Zakir Husain was defeated by BJP’s Pradip Kumar by just over 23,000 votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. As the constituency has sizeable Muslim votes, the LJP wants to throw its hat in the ring. In the 2015 assembly election, RLSP’s Praveen Kumar lost by about 30,000 votes to Mundrika Yadav. Thus, RLSP is staking its claim over the Jehanabad seat. But the BJP is reluctant to give in.
While the LJP, HAM and RLSP are openly flexing their muscles, especially after the fall in BJP’s graph in Gujarat and Rajasthan, JD(U) which has the highest, number of MLAs of the NDA parties––71 in the house of 243––appears to be fast losing its bargaining position. If this trend continues, party leaders fear the BJP may not leave any seat for JD(U) in the coming Rajya Sabha biennial election. The situation may be even more difficult in next year’s Lok Sabha poll.
If JD(U) was really keen to field Sarfaraz Alam––as party insiders claim––it is surprising as the party had suspended him two years ago when he allegedly misbehaved with a couple travelling in Rajdhani Express on January 17, 2016 from Katihar to Patna.
He and his father had joined JD(U) several years back. But while the father returned to the RJD fold, the son remained in the party. Even in 2015 when the two parties had joined hands to contest elections, Sarfaraz did not return to RJD. What is interesting to note is that when the father-son duo were in RJD, the BJP and a section of media would leave no stone unturned to criticise them for their activities. But once in JD(U), none from the saffron party would publicly flay them.
The pangs of separation in 2013 and then once again homecoming to NDA in 2017 are taking a heavy toll on Nitish Kumar. Though he has been down but not out several times in his career, never has he looked so helpless. The RJD has already begun mocking Nitish, suggesting that soon what is left of his party would be swallowed up by BJP and Nitish would be made governor of some state. It’s true that a situation with potential to end his career is coming sooner rather than later, unless he manages to somehow counter his ally. The general elections are just a year away, if not earlier. The NDA has ‘House Full’-like situation in terms of division of seats, as in 2014 NDA won 31 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. If the ‘sitting-getting’ formula is applied in NDA’s division of seats, the JD(U) would be left with just nine seats to contest.
What a fall for Nitish, who was once eyeing the post of Prime Minister.