Take a seat, says BJP to junior ally Nitish Kumar

Faced with a possible loss due to it’s NDA allies in Bihar HAM and RLSP queering the pitch in the Jehanabad assembly bypoll, BJP tells Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) to put up an NDA candidate there instead

Photo by AP Dube/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by AP Dube/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
user

Soroor Ahmed

Well before the March 11 bypoll for Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad and Bhabua assembly seats in Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata Party has conceded defeat in one of them––and that too at the hands of alliance partners. Other related developments suggest that everything is not hunky dory in the NDA.

After initially succumbing to pressure from the BJP and announcing that it would not field any candidate in any of the three seats, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) on February 18 suddenly nominated its former MLA Abhiram Sharma to contest against Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Suday Yadav in Jehanabad. Suday is the son of late RJD MLA Mundrika Yadav, whose death necessitated the bypoll.

JD(U)’s Bihar state president Bashistha Narayan Singh told media-persons on Sunday that his party leadership was requested by his state BJP counterpart Nityanand Rai and deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi to put up a candidate in Jehanabad.

The big question is, why this volte face so late in the day?

The answer is not too difficult to find. The announcement of bypoll election dates sent the Bihar NDA in turmoil, with Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha staking claim over Jehanabad seat.

Manjhi later agreed not to field a candidate and was present at the time of filing of nomination papers by Araria BJP candidate Pradip Singh on February 20. However, his son Santosh Manjhi on the same day met jailed RJD chief Lalu Prasad in Ranchi. This is not an isolated incident, as HAM state unit chief Brishen Patel too met Lalu in Ranchi last month. Manjhi senior too had many good words to say for the RJD chief in the recent past.

A significant related development took place in the NDA. A report went viral in social media that Gaya BJP MP Hari Manjhi had also met Lalu recently.

Though Hari denied it, what is interesting is that like him, Jitan Ram Manjhi too comes from Gaya and in 2014 unsuccessfully contested from this SC reserved parliamentary seat. Both these Dalit leaders want to keep all options open before the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.

On the other hand, RLSP has reason to be upset. It had staked claim on Jehanabad as RLSP candidate Praveen Kumar had ended runner up in the seat on the 2015 assembly elections.

Seeing that RLSP and HAM were out to queer the pitch for its candidate, the BJP suddenly decided to leave Jehanabad seat for JD(U), which moments after the offer was made, nominated Abhiram Sharma. The latter, a former Congress legislator, had represented Jehanabad as a JD(U) MLA between 2010 and 2015. He could not get a ticket again in 2015, as under the seat-sharing agreement in the then RJD-Congress-JD(U) Grand Alliance, Jehanabad went to the RJD.

Nitish’s home-coming to NDA was not welcomed by Upendra Kushwaha, a prominent Koeri face. A sizeable number of RLSP rank and file, especially Koeris, are not likely to support JD(U)’s candidate. This may rattle the calculation of NDA, though Jehanabad town assembly seat is caste-wise a bit favourable for it, compared to other assembly segments in the same district

Jehanabad, only 50-odd km from Patna, was in the past known for tussle between various Red armies on the one hand and the Senas of the upper castes––the latest being Ranvir Sena. In 1980s and 1990s Jehanabad and adjoining Gaya, Arwal and Aurangabad districts––along with Patna and Bhojpur––had witnessed several massacres, especially of Dalits. In post-Mandal years, the polarisation further increased.

In Jehanabad district, in particular, it was always easy to whip up anti-Bhumihar sentiment. But after the advent of Nitish Kumar and later Upendra Kushwaha, the Kurmis and Koeris broke ranks with rest of the OBCs, Yadavs in particular. All these people earlier used to vote for the CPI and later began supporting Lalu Prasad’s party. However, in the 2010 Bihar assembly election, Nitish Kumar managed to woo Kurmi, Koeri, Extreme Backward Castes and Dalit votes, leaving RJD high and dry.

But by 2015 things were back to square one as Nitish had joined hands with Lalu and Congress. The break with the Grand Alliance in July 2017 yet again changed the equation.

Nitish’s home-coming to NDA was not welcomed by Upendra Kushwaha, a prominent Koeri face. A sizeable number of RLSP rank and file, especially Koeris, are not likely to support JD(U)’s candidate. This may rattle the calculation of NDA, though Jehanabad town assembly seat is caste-wise a bit favourable for it, compared to other assembly segments in the same district.

There is one more reason for the BJP to withdraw from contest in Jehanabad. As the RJD followed the alliance ‘dharma’ and gave the Bhabua seat to Congress, which has fielded Shambhu Patel, it would have left a bad impression had the BJP not conceded any seat for its biggest partner in Bihar––JD(U).

Though byelections are also taking place in Araria LS and Bhabua assembly, all eyes are riveted on Jehanabad.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines