Knives Out in Bihar Grand Alliance as Tejashwi Yadav's Return Fuels 2022 Seat Sharing Squabbles
Instead of mulling over the actual causes of electoral reverses, Mahagathbandhan constituents have been singing different tunes indicating their inner contradictions and inconsistencies.
File photo of RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, RLSP’s Upendra Kushwaha, AICC in-charge for Bihar Shaktisinh Gohil and HAM(S) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi. (PTi)
Even before the bruises caused by electoral reverses could heal, regional outfits of the grand alliance have begun squabbling over their future political alignments and the number of seats each of them would be contesting in the next assembly election in Bihar in October 2020.
Instead of mulling over the actual causes of electoral reverses, either jointly or separately, and formulating a coordinated strategy for the next polls, the allies have been singing different tunes indicating their inner contradictions and inconsistencies.
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who had been in hibernation since the Lok Sabha results were declared on May 23, surfaced on Twitter on Saturday claiming he had been out of action as he was undergoing treatment for a long-delayed ligament and ACL injury.
Senior RJD leader and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh had earlier speculated that Tejashwi, a cricket enthusiast, may have gone to England to watch the World Cup, while some others claimed that he might be in New Delhi for a court hearing related to the disproportionate assets case or on some personal work.
With the grand alliance appearing to float rudderless in Bihar's political waters, former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) president Jitan Ram Manjhi has tried to create a ripple by staking claim to 40-50 of the 243 assembly seats in the state. “HAM will contest at least one assembly constituency in each district of Bihar. This will come to nearly 40 to 50 seats in the state,” said party spokesperson Danish Rizwan.
Manjhi’s recent overtures and actions have not been consistent with the ‘all is well’ message the grand alliance leaders have been trying to send across after the poll debacle. Manjhi was recently seen cozying up to chief minister and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar on two occasions during Iftaar and had simultaneously launched a veiled attack on Tejashwi.
Manjhi has described the RJD leader as "immature" and "a kid", saying Tejashwi was not as politically mature as himself and RJD founder-president Lalu Prasad Yadav. His comment on Tejashwi’s hibernation — that the RJD leader was away "recuperating from the shock of the poll debacle" — has also not gone down well with the party leadership.
Such remarks not only show Manjhi’s discomfiture within the grand alliance, but also give ample indications of his next political move ahead of the state election. A larger political canvass of outfits, like HAM, under Kumar's leadership cannot be ruled out given the latter’s growing uneasiness within the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It was Kumar who had installed Manjhi as chief minister in 2014.
Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha has also been contemplating bigger plans to fulfill his chief ministerial ambitions. He, however, wants a consensus among the grand alliance partners on the chief ministerial candidate ahead of the election. He has earlier ruffled Kumar’s feathers with his desire for the top post.
The number of seats to be contested by the RLSP, therefore, will be reciprocal to the stature and the post Kushwaha is hoping for in the 2020 election. The RLSP had contested from five Lok Sabha seats, of which Kushwaha was the candidate from two. However, he lost from both, including his sitting Karakat seat.
“I will not comment on what Manjhiji has proposed, but I will follow the gathbandhan (alliance) dharma when it comes to seat-sharing for the Assembly election. Moreover, it is quite early to talk about seats as several rounds of talks will be held before anything is finalised,” Kushwaha said.
The RLSP, however, had received a setback after its two MLAs — Lallan Paswan and Sudhanshu Shekhar — and its lone MLC Sanjiv Shyam Singh joined the JD(U). The RLSP legislators had revolted against Kushwaha’s decision to snap ties with the NDA and join the grand alliance.
In contrast, Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP) leader Mukesh Sahani appeared to be working passionately to further strengthen the grand alliance. He hinted that some more allies, such as the CPI-ML, may come onboard.
Sahani, who calls himself the ‘son of Mallah’, cut his teeth in Bihar politics in 2014 when he campaigned for the NDA along with BJP chief Amit Shah. However, he joined the grand alliance before the Lok Sabha election and unsuccessfully contested from three parliamentary constituencies.
Sahani has not yet disclosed the number of seats from where he intends to field candidates, but he wants a substantial number given the support of a chunk of extremely backward castes (EBCs) the party claims as its vote-base.
“I am fully with the grand alliance and hopeful that all the allies will work together to trounce the BJP-led NDA in Bihar. Every political party of the grand alliance will have a respectable number of constituencies out of the total 243 Assembly seats in Bihar. The Assembly election will have an entirely different result than the Lok Sabha polls,” Sahani said.
As the inter-party and intra-party contradictions surface in the grand alliance, a clamour is growing within the Congress to sever ties with the allies and go it alone in the state election.
Many Congress leaders feel the party’s image is compromised due to its ties with the RJD whose president is serving a jail term in multiple fodder scam cases and Tejashwi facing several cases of owning disproportionate assets through shell companies.
Champions of the ‘ekla chalo’ (walk alone) policy in the Congress believe that leaving the RJD-led coalition would allow voters in Bihar to think differently about the grand old party and help it rope in new supporters. They think the Congress has suffered in Bihar for aligning with the RJD, which is against reservation for economically weak upper castes.
Sadanand Singh, legislature party leader in the Bihar Assembly, has pitched for getting off the crutches the party has used for the past three decades. “The Congress must work to strengthen its cadre and vote-base at the grassroots level,” he said.
Though 15 months away from now, the grand alliance appears to be lacking in preparation for the crucial Assembly election. On the contrary, the JDU has been gearing up by formulating strategies through its national executive meeting held recently in Patna.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)
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