In a major setback to the Bihar Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), the BJP defeated the JD(U) in the Kurhani Assembly bypoll. The BJP’s victory held importance because it wrested the seat from the RJD, the leading constituent of the Grand Alliance. It also gives a subtle hint that the combination of the OBCs, the Kushwahas and the Yadavs — the main vote banks of the JD(U) and the RJD respectively — may not be working as expected.
BJP’s Kedar Gupta, who had lost the seat in the 2020 Assembly polls by less than 1,000 votes, sprung a surprise on the JD(U) candidate Manoj Kumar Singh aka Manoj Kushwaha, who had won the seat in 2005 and 2010. Gupta had won the seat for the BJP in 2015. While Gupta got 76,648 votes, Kushwaha got 73,016, losing by a margin of 3,632 votes.
Among spoilers, while AIMIM’s Ghulam Murtaza, who got 3,202 votes, did not play much of a role, rebel RJD leader Shekhar Sahani, who contested as an Independent, left his mark by getting 3,716 votes in a tight contest. NOTA, too, played a role in the final outcome, scoring 4,416 votes and coming fourth. VIP (Vikassheel Insaan Party) candidate Nilabh Kumar, an upper caste Bhumihar, may have narrowed the BJP’s victory margin by getting 9,988 votes.
The Kurhani outcome has left the Grand Alliance with the burning question: can the Kushwahas and Yadavs, the dominant voters in Kurhani along with Muslims and Bhumihars, really come together electorally? The result also shows that BJP was able to hold on to its constituency of OBC Banias, while also gaining substantial Paswan votes, especially after LJP (Ramvilas) leader Chirag Paswan campaigned for the party candidate.
Pramod Kumar, a senior Muzaffarpur journalist, summed it up: “JD(U) candidate Manoj Kushwaha lost because of a poor connection with the people, and his arrogance. He was perhaps not able to win the confidence of Yadav voters.”
Though BJP and RJD had drawn level in recent bypolls held after the Grand Alliance government was formed this August, the Kurhani victory is special for the BJP as it wrested a seat from its opponents, despite Nitish Kumar and Tejaswi Prasad Yadav coming together. Having campaigned in Kurhani for the bypolls, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar had made it into a battle for prestige.
The RJD’s Anil Sahani had won the seat in 2020, but lost his membership following his conviction in the LTC scam. RJD then decided to allow JD(U) to contest for the seat. Though Nitish had kept himself out of recent bypolls in Mokama (won by RJD) and Gopalganj (won by BJP), he chose to campaign in Kurhani, more so because his party candidate was in the fray.
JD(U) parliamentary board chairman Upendra Kushwaha appeared to express dissent after he tweeted in Hindi: “The lesson for us is to go by the people and not to try to impose ourselves on them.” He, however, accepted his party’s defeat, saying victory and loss are part of the game.
But BJP Rajya Sabha MP and former Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi, said: “Since CM Nitish Kumar had made it into a battle of prestige, he should resign, as he had earlier done after his party got only two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.”