In a big boost to RJD-led Grand Alliance and a jolt to the NDA, the RJD retained both the Araria (Lok Sabha) and Jehanabad (Assembly) seats despite the JD(U) having returned to the NDA. The BJP, however, won the Bhabua Assembly bypoll.
The Araria victory also boosted Leader of the Opposition in Assembly Tejashwi Prasad Yadav in his effort to emerge as a powerful leader in the absence of his father Lalu Prasad. In fact, Tejashwi made the most of his father’s absence by playing up allegations of political vendetta to his party’s advantage. Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi joining the Grand Alliance too seems to have played a role in splintering the Mahadalit votes. Manjhi said: “We had sensed it coming. The harassment of Dalits under the liquor law, and [resentment over] NDA vendetta politics were reflected in the Grand Alliance’s victory.”
On a day when senior NDA leaders said the bypoll victory should not be taken as a referendum on the Nitish government or NDA unity in Bihar, deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi posted a tweet that could potentially lead to controversy. “RJD got a lead of 1 lakh 30 Thousand votes from 2 Minority dominated constituency which led to their victory in Araria,” Sushil Modi tweeted. On March 9, BJP state president Nityanand Rai had said that Araria would “become a den of ISI”, RJD leaders said voters had taught Nitish a lesson for betraying the 2015 Assembly mandate and exposed fissures in Nitish’s core constituency of Mahadalits and non-Yadav OBCs.
RJD candidate Sarfaraz Alam (5.09 lakh votes) defeated the BJP’s Pradeep Kumar Singh (4.47 lakh) by 61,788 votes in Araria . The RJD’s Jehanabad candidate Kumar Krishna Mohan a.k.a. Suday Yadav defeated the JD(U)’s Abhiram Sharma by 35,036 votes, and the BJP’s Bhabua candidate Rinki Rani Pandey defeated the Congress’s Shambhu Singh Patel by 14,866 votes.
The RJD’s Mohammed Taslimuddin had wrested the seat from the BJP’s Pradeep Kumar Singh in 2014. His son Sarfaraz Alam, who had just crossed over from JD(U) to RJD, retained his father’s seat. The BJP’s Singh, who left the counting venue much before the result was announced, said: “I congratulate Sarfaraz Alam… There must been backstabbing within the party.” He had looked confident initially, after taking the lead in the middle rounds of counting.
Alam credited his father’s legacy and leadership of Lalu and Tejashwi. He said: “I got secular votes.” Targeting the state BJP chief for his comment, Alam said: “People living in glass houses must not throw stone at others.”
Tejashwi said: “It is time of penance for Nitish. This victory had taught some lessons to the betrayer of the 2015 mandate, Nitish Kumar.” Tejashwi said the result has also boosted the prospects of a national alliance to take on the BJP in 2019. “Lalu Prasadji had long been talking about need of the SP and the BSP coming together. The result can be seen in Phulpur and Gorakhpur. Congress should come together with them. The dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi has set the ball rolling.”