In reaching out to his arch-rival Lalu Prasad for support, former Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s immediate necessity was countering an attempt by rebels in his party to defeat his candidates in bypolls to two seats in the Rajya Sabha. But there is also a long-term objective. Nitish’s move signalled an attempt at a political realignment in a state where the social alliance of the “new NDA” swept Nitish — as well as Lalu — away in the Lok Sabha polls.
The original NDA in Bihar, comprising the BJP and Nitish’s JD(U), had bagged 32 seats in 2009 with 38 per cent of the vote — 24 per cent for the JD(U) and 14 per cent for the BJP. When Nitish split with the BJP, his calculation was that he would wean the upper caste (considered a BJP support base), extremely backward castes and Mahadalits away from the BJP. But the new NDA, comprising the BJP, Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, won 31 seats in 2014 with about 39 per cent of the vote — with the BJP getting over 29 per cent, the LJP over 6 per cent and the RLSP 3 per cent.
Nitish failed in his gambit of wooing the minority vote bank while holding on to the EBCs and Mahadalits. The JD(U) vote share fell from 24 per cent to under 16.
What makes Nitish’s approach to Lalu additionally significant ahead of the assembly elections is the fact that contesting together appears the only option for the fronts each leader heads. Nitish’s JD(U) contested in alliance with the CPI, and Lalu Prasad’s RJD with the Congress and the NCP. If counted together, constituency by constituency, the sum of the votes polled by Nitish’s and Lalu’s candidates exceeded those of the new NDA in 19 of the 31 seats won by the latter. In theory, that would have given a Nitish-Lalu combine 28 seats instead of the nine won by non-NDA candidates, while the NDA’s tally would have fallen from 31 to 12. These 12 seats would have included the NDA bastions of Patna Sahib, East Champaran, Hajipur, Karakat and Muzaffarpur, the others being Arrah, Buxar, Gopalganj, Siwan, Sheohar, Sitamarhi and Valmikinagar.
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For all these calculations, BJP leaders express confidence that a Nitish-Lalu alliance, if one does take shape, will fail again in the assembly elections next year. They highlight contradictions in the two sides’ political mobilisation over the last two decades and term any move to come together as opportunistic.
“Nitish lived a false dream for the last one year after breaking the alliance with the BJP. He is free to live another false dream for another year until the next assembly elections,” says Dharmendra Pradhan, BJP general secretary-in-charge of Bihar.
“Nitish’s own MLAs are rebelling and he is indulging in opportunistic politics. His desperate move to align with Lalu will not be accepted… jungle raj mein mangal raj ka jhootha waada nahin chal payega,” Pradhan adds.