Ending months-long speculation about a possible split in the BJP-JD(U) alliance in Bihar, BJP national president Amit Shah has declared that the alliance is intact and would fight the Assembly elections under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
The declaration may have made JD(U) happy, but the real winner is the BJP, which is keen on a bipolar contest and a larger say in seat-sharing.
Party looks at larger say, more seats
By its posturing as a generous partner in the alliance with JD(U), the BJP has ensured that it will benefit in the long run. It has no credible face to project as chief ministerial candidate, and its priority in Bihar is to grow as the leading force by finishing potential opposition parties. If RJD weakens, BJP is confident it would get Yadav support too. Nitish Kumar, with no significant communities as his committed support base, would have to make compromises in running coalition. In seat-sharing discussions too, BJP is expected to demand large share of the pie.
BJP sources said their party, the aggressive partner in the alliance, does not want a triangular contest in Bihar. “A triangular contest leaves potential for the RJD, which is in a shambles, to return as a force. Nitish, being a tough negotiator, would not have agreed to the alliance if it was not led by him. But Shah is no less a negotiator, and has long-term gains for the party in mind,” said a BJP leader.
Pointing out that 40 per cent Yadavs voted for Narendra Modi-led BJP, party leaders argued that they would vote for the BJP again if the RJD — which is facing disintegration since Lalu Prasad’s imprisonment — is not strong enough to come up as a formidable alternative. Yadavs, which form 10 per cent of Bihar’s population, had always voted for RJD during Lalu’s leadership. “BJP and JD(U) together can sweep the elections. RJD will be washed away. BJP being the stronger player will have the scope to grow further after the Assembly elections,” a BJP leader from Bihar said.
BJP also does not want to project any leader as CM candidate, and the party going solo without a face in a triangular contest is not feasible, added the leader.
In an interview with News18 channel, Shah said the BJP-JD(U) alliance is “atal” (unshakeable). “Both will go to the polls together and we will fight the elections under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. This is clear as far as Bihar is concerned,” he said.
BJP leaders said this “large-heartedness” would have to be reciprocated by JD(U) when it comes to other crucial decisions of the alliance, like seat-sharing and functioning of government.
Maintaining that Shah’s statement had removed uncertainty over the stability of the alliance, Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal told The Indian Express: “We are running as equal partners. We being brother had offered 17 seats to JD(U) and it has to reciprocate.”
Sources said the BJP’s move had “certainly given it an upper hand” in the functioning of the coalition government as well as seat-sharing negotiations. Recently, Nitish, embarrassed by severe waterlogging in Patna, took action against 45 officials including 11 engineers of Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Corporation for their failure to resolve the issue, as drains were not cleaned properly before the rainy season and pump-houses were not functional. It was the Jaiswal-led BJP unit that took a firm stand that the officials should be held responsible for the crisis.
Meanwhile, JD(U) let BJP elect its leader from a seat vacated after the death of former Union minister Ram Jethmalani, who was elected three years ago on an RJD ticket. BJP’s Satish Chandra Dubey was elected unopposed to Rajya Sabha earlier this month.
While BJP maintained that JD(U) would have to fall in line if Nitish wants to run the coalition, JD(U) interpreted Shah’s clarification as an acceptance of its supremacy. Its leaders argued that since Nitish leads the coalition, JD(U) would naturally get supremacy, unlike BJP-Shiv Sena alliance where Devendra Fadnavis leads the coalition.
On Friday, JD(U) leader Sanjay Jha tweeted that he appreciated Shah’s “statement quelling rumours about ‘rift’ in our alliance. This shall disappoint… rumour mongers…”