OPINION | Divided by Trust Deficit, United by Elections: Is Blame-game Over Bihar Floods Enough to Rock BJP-JDU Boat?
Be it taking credit for the victory in Lok Sabha polls, share in the Union ministry, amendment in Article 370, uniform civil code, NRC or Ram temple at Ayodhya, BJP and JD(U) have been at loggerheads but still talk about fighting the crucial assembly polls together.
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Patna: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar is experiencing a phase of trust deficit between its two major partners, resulting in a game of one-upmanship to outsmart each other. The war of words between the two parties appears to be sort of positioning for larger share in the assembly seats and acceptance of Nitish Kumar as NDA leader for the 2020 polls.
Whatsoever has been the provocation – big or small – the Janata Dal United (JDU) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have never let go of any chance to outwit each other. Be it taking credit for the victory in Lok Sabha polls, share in the Union ministry, amendment in Article 370, uniform civil code, national register for citizens or Ram temple at Ayodhya, the two NDA partners have been at loggerheads but continue to talk about fighting the crucial assembly polls together.
The most recent spat between the two allies has been triggered by the blame-game over waterlogging in Patna. The senior BJP leaders accused Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of mishandling the situation while the JDU leaders retorted by asserting that the BJP had no moral right to censure the government as the ministers handling the urban development department have been from the saffron party.
The trust deficit between the two allies began when Nitish Kumar refused to accept only one berth in the Union Council Ministers in the Narendra Modi 2.0 government. Soon after, the JDU declared that the party was an NDA ally only in Bihar and at the national level, and that it would fight independently in the upcoming Jharkhand assembly elections and in other states.
The core issues involved in the game of one-upmanship are declaration of Nitish Kumar as NDA chief ministerial candidate and the number of seats the two partners will contest in the 2020 elections. Insiders in the BJP claimed that the 50:50 formula of seat-sharing adopted during the Lok Sabha polls would be replicated during the state assembly polls.
In the Lok Sabha elections, the JDU and BJP contested 17 seats each, leaving six for the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) led by Ram Vilas Paswan. In terms of percentage, the JDU and BJP equally shared 85 per cent of the seats, while the LJP secured 15 per cent seats in seat-sharing in 2019 parliamentary polls. Of these, the BJP won 17, JDU 16 and the LJP six seats. The JDU lost to Congress in the Kishanganj constituency.
However, doubts are being raised on whether big-brother JDU would accept it or not because it had won more seats than the BJP in the 2015 assembly polls, in which the JDU had joined hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Lalu Prasad Yadav. The RJD had emerged as the single largest party with 80 seats, followed by JDU with 71 seats. The BJP, which fought the 2015 polls in alliance with the LJP, had won only 53 seats.
The JDU also claimed that it had a bigger share in seat-sharing as part of the NDA in the 2010 and October 2005 assembly elections. In 2010, the JDU and BJP had contested 139 and 102 seats, respectively, leaving two for independent candidates in the 243-member Bihar legislative assembly. While Nitish Kumar’s JDU won 115 seats, its ally BJP secured 91 seats. In the October 2005 assembly elections, too, the JDU and BJP had contested 139 and 102 seats and secured 88 and 55 seats, respectively.
Going by the 2019 Lok Sabha formula, the chances of JDU and BJP contesting 103 seats each, leaving 37 seats for the LJP, appear more plausible in 2020. But the JDU, which claims to be the big brother by virtue of its substantial vote base among the extremely backward castes (EBCs) and Dalits, may stick to the 2010 and 2005 formula for a bigger share in terms of seats.
However, the hard-bargainer Nitish does not have his supporters like Arun Jaitley in the BJP now. It is also not the age of A B Vajpayee or L K Advani, who were soft towards the allies just to secure enough number of seats with the support of allies’ vote bank.
As things stand today, the BJP, led by hardliners Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, has secured more than the magic number on its own in the Lok Sabha polls. Though the BJP valued the allies inducting one MP each from them into the union council of ministers, senior state party leaders made it clear that the BJP will now pander the allies only to the extent possible.
Notwithstanding the differences, the JDU and BJP need each other and do not want the NDA to disintegrate for the benefit of the grand alliance. Therefore, it is deemed necessary to clear the misunderstandings that have cropped up between the two parties after a series of controversies in the recent past.
Besides the hitch on the number of seats each party would contest, there could be changes in the profile of some seats held by each party. The BJP will have to do much exercise on nearly 50 assembly seats as it had won only 53 seats in 2015.
A top leader in BJP said both the alliance partners will fight the Bihar assembly elections jointly and the seat-sharing formulae adopted in the last Lok Sabha elections would be followed this time as well. The relationship between the two parties is ‘on track’ and the minor differences apparent today will disappear much before the assembly polls, he said.
To a query about the chances of BJP and JDU contesting the elections separately in Bihar, he said that this was ‘impractical’ and will prove damaging for both the parties.
The relationship between the two NDA allies since 1996 had witnessed ups and downs since the appearance of posters of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar shaking hands together and newspaper advertisements lauding aid of Rs 5 crore to Bihar for Kosi flood victims given by the Gujarat government.
The photo of a May 2009 NDA rally in Ludhiana upset Nitish so much that he had cancelled the dinner he was to host for the visiting BJP leaders for national executive meet in Patna.
After nearly 17 years on the NDA bandwagon, the JDU and BJP parted company in 2013 when Narendra Modi was declared the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP for the 2014 polls. In 2015, Nitish fought assembly polls with the RJD and notched a spectacular tally to become the chief minister. But he made a flip again in July 2017 by deserting the grand alliance and became chief minister with the help of the BJP in a dramatic turn of events.
With the differences persisting, it is to be seen whether Nitish continues with the NDA in the 2020 polls.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)
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