The seat-sharing formula of the RJD-led mahagathbandhan covers most major caste groups in Bihar against the NDA ruling combine of the JD(U) and BJP, which won 31 of the 40 seats in 2014.
The Congress, which will contest on 9 seats has, however, been denied both Darbhanga, which it wanted for Kirti Azad, its import from the BJP, and Aurangabad, from where its former MP Nikhil Kumar was keen to contest.
Another important takeaway from Friday’s seat-sharing announcement is the virtual end of the independent political existence of the veteran leader Sharad Yadav, who will contest the election on the RJD’s symbol, and will merge his Loktantrik Janata Dal with Lalu Prasad’s party after the polls.
Also, for the first time, the RJD has entered into an alliance with the CPI (ML), which has a not-insignificant chunk of votes – which are also mostly transferable – in several Lok Sabha constituencies, including Siwan, Jahanabad, Aurangabad, Ara, Karakat and Pataliputra.
No deal could, however, be struck with the CPI, which has insisted on the Begusarai constituency for the former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar. The RJD does not want to let go of this seat, leading to the possibility of an interesting three-cornered fight. Begusarai was represented in the outgoing Lok Sabha by Bhola Singh of the BJP, who passed away in October 2018. RJD had got 3.69 lakh votes last time despite Narendra Modi wave and hence, has decided to contest itself rather than giving it to CPI.
Among the two new partners in the mahagathbandhan, Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) will contest 5 seats. The RLSP, which switched from the NDA to the Opposition alliance recently, has 3 seats in the outgoing Lok Sabha – Jahanabad, Karakat and Sitamarhi.
The Kushwahas or Koeris, the RLSP’s main support base, are an OBC caste that make up 8 per cent of the electorate in Bihar. Koeris, Kurmis, and the EBC Dhanuks are generally considered a bloc – Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, himself a Kurmi, draws significantly on this vote bank.
The alliance will be hoping that the RLSP is able to take away at least a chunk of these votes and weaken Nitish in the process.
The other new entrant in the mahagathbandhan is Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP), which will contest 3 seats. Sahni belongs to the boatman caste of people who have surnames such as Sahni, Nishad, Mallah and Kewat. This caste makes up 8 per cent of the electorate and is part of the 28 per cent EBCs in Bihar. They have a sizeable presence in several seats, mainly in North Bihar.
Former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S), which too, has been given 3 seats, will be expected to bring in a chunk of Dalit and EBC votes. The RJD and Congress also have some Dalit votes, and the mahagathbandhan will be hoping that they are able to together cancel out the Dalit votes that Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP will draw for the NDA.
The RJD’s Yadav and Muslim vote banks remain formidable, and the mahagathbandhan hopes that the Congress will take away at least some upper caste votes from the BJP.