Forced by circumstances to join hands, former Bihar chief ministers Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar will find their alignment put to the test in byelections to 10 assembly seats on August 21. Their separate fronts having notched a combined tally of more votes than the victorious NDA managed in the Lok Sabha polls, the bypolls will be a test for whether they can retain those shares in alliance against a front that has since settled at the Centre.
The NDA, which won 31 of Bihar’s 40 seats, polled 38.9 per cent votes as compared to the 47.2 per cent combined tally of Nitish’s JD(U), Lalu’s RJD and their allies, including the Congress that tied up with Lalu.
Lalu and Nitish have so far refrained from meeting each other, even at iftar parties hosted by CM Jeetan Ram Manjhi. They are set to announce their alliance formally on Wednesday.
Their relationship goes back over two decades, with Nitish having been second-in-command after Lalu became CM in 1990. Exchanges during the last Lok Sabha elections notwithstanding, sources said the two had maintained a good personal relationship throughout.
Now they have not only tied up but also worked out a seat-sharing arrangement. Sources said the RJD will contest Rajnagar, Mohinuddin Nagar, Banka and Chhapra; the JD(U) Mohania, Jale, Parbatta and Hajipur; the Congress Narkatiaganj and Bhagalpur.
In the 2010 elections, the JD(U) had won one, its then ally the BJP six, and the RJD three of these 10 seats. The bypolls have been necessitated following the resignation of some leaders as well as the election of BJP MLAs Janardhan Singh Sigriwal and Ashwini Kumar Choubey to the Lok Sabha.
The BJP is keen to contest nine of the seats, leaving the tenth for the LJP. The bypolls are no less a challenge to the BJP-led NDA, which needs to keep the new alliance short of its combined Lok Sabha vote share. Having lost three assembly bypolls in Uttarakhand, the BJP also faces claims by the opposition that the Modi wave has started to ebb.
If the BJP is wary, however, it is not showing it. “Experts had been talking about an RJD-LJP alliance in the 2009 Lok Sabha and the 2010 assembly polls, but it fell flat,” says BJP legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi. “Lalu and Nitish may look a formidable alliance on paper, but it will not work on the ground because their cadres are not happy with the alliance.”
Nitish says, “The BJP is nervous. We will ensure our combination stops the BJP in its tracks so that we can salvage Brand …continued »