Patna: Nearly a week after BJP president Amit Shah declared Nitish Kumar as leader of the National Democratic Alliance for 2020 Bihar assembly elections, the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP received a jolt in the bypolls held for five state assembly seats. The two allies lost four out of five seats they contested.
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), however, won the Samastipur Lok Sabha seat in a direct contest with the Congress.
The bypolls were held in Belhar, Daraundha, Kishanganj, Nathnagar and Simri-Bakhtiarpur assembly constituencies after the sitting MLAs were elected to the Lok Sabha. The Samastipur Lok Sabha seat had fallen vacant due to death of LJP MP Ramchandra Paswan. His son, Prince Raj, defeated Congress’ Ashok Kumar Ram by over 1 lakh votes.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) had contested on four seats, leaving the Kishanganj seat for the Congress. While RJD’s Qamrul Hoda won from Simri-Bakhtiarpur, Ramdeo Yadav trounced the JD(U) nominee from Belhar seat. After a close contest between RJD and JD(U), the JD(U) candidate Lakshmikant Mandal defeated RJD nominee Rabiya Khatun.
In Daraundha, Independent candidate Karanjeet Singh alias Vyas Singh defeated JD(U) nominee Ajay Singh, who contested after his wife Kavita Singh was elected to the Lok Sabha.
The most surprising result this time has been the victory All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) candidate Qamrul Hoda, who won from Kishanganj seat, defeating BJP nominee Sweety Singh by over 10,000 votes. The AIMIM, led by Asaduddin Owaisi, had also fielded its candidate from Kishanganj in the last Lok Sabha elections and led in two assembly segments.
The AIMIM has plans to make inroads in Seemanchal area, comprising Kishanganj, Katihar, Purnia and Araria districts on the West Bengal border. The emergence of AIMIM is bound to upset the Muslim-Yadav combination of the RJD and minority plank of the Congress as the Seemanchal region has nearly 70 per cent population of Muslims.
The victory of the RJD, AIMIM and an Independent candidate has definitely set the alarm bells ringing in the NDA camp, which was confident of winning all the seats after Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was declared leader of the NDA for the 2020 state assembly polls.
The declaration by BJP chief Amit Shah may have resolved the leadership issue, but it seems the rift within the NDA and the trust deficit between the two allies has taken its toll in the bypolls. It is being speculated that the grassroots level workers of the two parties could not coordinate well to ensure victory of the official NDA candidates.
The bypoll results are not considered an indication of the overall trend, but RJD and its allies have been emboldened by the outcome. Keeping this in view, the NDA allies would have to work out a well-oiled strategy for the final electoral battle in 2020 state polls.
The real challenge of seat-sharing has to be resolved if the resurgent BJP expects a better performance in the next assembly elections and thereby does not want to agree on a lesser number of seats. After Shah’s announcement, the Nitish baiters within the BJP have been silenced, but questions about seat-sharing are still being raised seeking reciprocal announcement from Nitish Kumar.
The BJP wants to fight the polls on equal terms unlike the past assembly elections when the JD(U) had contested on larger number of seats than the BJP. The issue of seat-sharing was broached by the newly appointed state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal, who demanded that Nitish Kumar should also show magnanimity by making a declaration about seat-sharing for the assembly polls.
Jaiswal said the BJP had shown big heart by conceding even sitting seats in parliamentary polls and had agreed to contest equal number of seats. “We expect him to make similar announcement. Nitishji has already shown generosity by leaving the Rajya Sabha seat vacated after the death of Ram Jethmalani for BJP candidate Satish Chandra Dubey,” he said.
Jaiswal, however, was hopeful that the seat-sharing would be cordially settled by the top leadership of both the parties as there is synergy among top leadership of NDA.
In fact, the BJP now expects that the JD(U) would not demand a larger share as in the 2005 and 2010 assembly elections. The formula of equal share between the two major allies after leaving a fair share for the LJP was adopted during the last Lok Sabha polls wherein the JD(U) and BJP contested 17 seats each, leaving six for the LJP.
Firebrand leaders like Giriraj Singh have sounded similar sentiments and expect that both the BJP and JD(U) will contest equal number of seats, leaving a respectable number of seats for the LJP.
BJP insiders said the JD(U) wants to contest at least 20 seats more than the BJP this time in the state assembly polls. In the Lok Sabha, the JD(U) and BJP shared 85 per cent seats, while the LJP contested on 15 per cent seats.
JD(U) leaders contested the BJP’s demand for equal seats, arguing that Nitish Kumar had gracefully accommodated LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan and BJP’s Satish Chandra Dube in the Rajya Sabha polls. “Now, it is the turn of the BJP to reciprocate with larger number of seats in the state assembly elections,” said a JD(U) leader.
In the 2015 assembly polls, which the JD(U) fought with the RJD, the two parties contested 101 seats each despite the RJD having only 22 seats at the time. The BJP, which contested 157 seats in alliance with the LJP and others, won only 53 seats.
In 2010 assembly elections, the JD(U) was the ‘big brother’ and had contested 141 seats and the BJP 102 seats out of 243 seats in the state assembly. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the JD(U) had contested 25 seats and the BJP 15 seats. Now with the defeat in the bypolls, the BJP may insist on a more equitable distribution of seats between the two parties.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)