Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar face a test of their new poll arithmetic Thursday while the BJP banks on the Narendra Modi wave sustaining as 10 assembly seats in Bihar head for bypolls.
To counter the caste calculations of the Lalu-Nitish combine, the BJP has offered its own rainbow social combination of OBC Vaishyas, large sections of the upper castes, and splinter Yadav and Koeri-Kurmi votes, along with a major sections of EBCs. The result of the tough-to-predict bypolls could dictate the future of the “grand alliance” of RJD-JD(U)-Congress.
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The BJP, which had won six of the 10 seats in 2010 as a partner of the JD(U), faces a challenge retaining these against the combined strength of the three rivals. The grand alliance is banking on social or caste calculations, and hoping to retain the combined vote share that exceeded the BJP’s in the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP says none of these calculations will work as “most voters cannot digest the very idea of Lalu and Nitish coming together”.
Seat by seat, local factors will come into play. The BJP, which got almost twice as many votes as the RJD in Chhapra (part of Saran in the Lok Sabha), is up against RJD candidate Randhir Singh, son of former MP Prabhunath Singh, as well as BJP rebel and independent C N Gupta. For Lalu, it is a prestige battle after his wife lost the traditional RJD bastion in the Lok Sabha.
In Hajipur, part of Ram Vilas Paswan’s constituency, Lalu and Nitish’s first joint show on August 11 had a low turnout. But it is a test also for Paswan, who needs to ensure that the Dalits, especially the Paswans, remain with the NDA.
The Congress fancies its chances in Bhagalpur, and the BJP in Narkatiyaganj and Banka. The JD(U) and the BJP appear to be neck and neck in Mohania and Jale, and the RJD expects to give the BJP a tough fight in Rajnagar and Mohiuddinnagar.
RJD and JD(U) leaders hope to score 7-3. The BJP in pubic predicts eight seats but leaders in private say they would be happy with 6-4.