The Janata Dal (United) and the BJP are facing off in a close contest in a bypoll for the Kurhani Assembly constituency in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district on Monday. This is the first electoral contest between the two former allies since the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) broke ties with the BJP in August and will also illustrate how the JD(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) fare when together in a poll fight.
Though the contest is primarily between the two former allies, the margin of the party that emerges as the winner will be largely determined by the number of votes the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), and an RJD rebel contesting as an Independent manage to bag in a constituency where caste equations play a major role electorally.
Voters from the Muslim community, Other Backward Class groups such as Yadavs and Kushwahas, and the Bhumihar community are evenly balanced in the seat, followed by the Extremely Backward Class (EBC) communities such as Sahanis and Nonias.
The bypoll was necessitated after RJD MLA Anil Sahani was disqualified following his conviction in an LTC scam for fraudulently claiming travelling and dearness allowance reimbursements when he was a member of the Rajya Sabha.
The RJD, which is a part of the ruling Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandan, let partner JD(U) contest the seat. Miffed with the situation, local RJD leader Shekhar Sahani filed his nomination as an Independent.
JD(U) candidate Manoj Kushwaha won the seat twice (2005 and 2010), while BJP candidate Kedar Gupta won the seat in the 2015 Assembly polls. While the leaders are popular, the social equations in the region are likely to alter the voting patterns and end up being decisive.
The VIP has fielded Nilabh Kumar, the grandson of former MLA and socialist leader Sadhu Sharan Shahi, from the Bumihar community. The VIP’s eye on the Bhumihar vote can hurt the BJP’s vote share from the community, according to political observers.
The AIMIM has fielded Murtaza Ansari, a Pasmanda Muslim face and a Zila Parishad head. The party could potentially take away a chunk of Muslim votes and end up hurting the JD(U), which has relied on the community’s support.
Sahani will get the Sahani community’s votes, cutting into both the Mahagathbandan and the BJP’s votes. Adding to the equations, Kudni has about 20,000 Scheduled Caste (SC) Paswan voters. The community has historically supported the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) whose leader Chirag Paswan campaigned for the BJP, making the battle tougher for the JD(U).
The importance of the seat can be gauged from the fact that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who did not campaign for the bypolls in Mokama and Gopalganj last month, held rallies at Kuhani along with Deputy CM Tejashwi Prasad Yadav.
Senior Muzaffarpur-based journalist Pramod Kumar told The Indian Express, “Kurhani presents a social combination that no party can take the seat for granted. The margin of victory is going to be very thin. Though the Grand Alliance candidate may have a slight edge, the performance of the VIP and AIMIM may decide the winner.”