Besides dealing a blow to Bihar’s Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), the Janata Dal (United)’s defeat by the BJP in the Kurhani Assembly bypoll seems to have has sent out various stark messages to the ruling Nitish Kumar-led coalition.
The JD(U) candidate Manoj Kumar Singh aka Manoj Kushwaha lost to the BJP’s Kedar Gupta from Kurhani with a margin of 3,632 votes. The Opposition BJP thus managed to wrest the seat from the Grand Alliance since it was won by the RJD’s Anil Sahani in the 2020 elections. Sahani lost his Assembly membership following his conviction in the LTC scam. Kedar Gupta had won this seat in the 2015 polls, while Manoj Kushwaha had won it twice earlier.
The Kurhani defeat is the second electoral setback for the Grand Alliance since its loss in the Gopalganj Assembly bypoll last month, although the RJD had then managed to retain its Mokama seat. The electoral score in Bihar is now 2:1 in favour of the BJP since Chief Minister and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar’s return to the Grand Alliance in August this year.
Following his break-up with the BJP, Nitish would showcase the “power of seven-party Mahagathbandhan”. Given the formidable social arithmetic of the coalition led by the Nitish Kumar-Tejashwi Prasad Yadav combine, it should have been a smooth sailing not only for Manoj Kushwaha in Kurhani but the Grand Alliance’s candidate in Gopalganj too. On paper, the ruling camp claimed a formidable social coalition comprising the Muslim-Yadav support base (with sections of EBCs and even upper castes) of the RJD, Scheduled Caste (SC) votes of the CPI-ML, smaller support groups of the CPI and the CPI (M), the Congress’s SC and upper caste votes besides Nitish’s support base of Koeri-Kurmi (Luv-Kush) among OBCs, a fair chunk of EBCs and SCs (Mahadalits).
Conversely, the BJP should have fared poorly in the Kurhani and Gopalganj bypolls. After all, the NDA became virtually defunct in Bihar after Nitish switched sides, with the saffron party currently not having any ally. The LJP (Ramvilas)’s chief Chirag Paswan might have campaigned for the BJP in the polls but his party, which does not have any MLA, is not part of the NDA yet. Chirag’s uncle and Union minister, Pashupati Kumar Paras, who heads the National Lok Janshakti Party, is not perceived to have the political heft of a prominent Dalit leader in the state.
Although Nitish has not reacted to the Kurhani loss, RJD leader and Deputy CM Tejashwi told reporters: “We have been losing elections by narrow margins. We have to look for its reasons.” The BJP had also managed to retain the Gopalganj seat with a slim margin.
The RJD has put some blame on the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM for the Kurhani and Gopalganj losses as the latter’s candidates had cut into some of the Grand Alliance’s Muslim votes in both the constituencies. But what seems to have been disturbing the Lalu Prasad-headed party most is its concern regarding the “holding together of the Koeri-Kurmi and Yadav votes”. There has been a sense of unease in the RJD whether the Grand Alliance would be able to carry on board both Yadavs, the RJD’s support bedrock, and Kurmis-Koeris, the JD(U)’s key vote base, in the long run.
The JD(U) Parliamentary Party Board’s chairman Upendra Kushwaha has subtly left a mild poser for his party by saying that “it should go as per the wishes of the people” rather than doing the other way round. Kushwaha did not elaborate it, but his message is being interpreted mainly in terms of hiccups in the cementing of the core social constituencies of the RJD and the JD(U).
RJD national spokesperson Subodh Kumar told The Indian Express, ”Every election loss has a message. We will have to surely look at the aspect of cementing of the core constituencies of the Grand Alliance parties, mainly RJD and JD(U). Traditionally, right since the formation of Triveni Sangh (a group of Koeris, Kurmis and Yadavs) in 1933, the combination has been working. Our unity dismantled the Congress in 1967, and Lalu Prasad also kept them together.” He added: “This combination did suffer after Nitish Kumar walked out of the Janata Dal in 1993. But our strength was displayed in 2015 polls when we again joined hands. Now that we are together again after a gap of five years, we have to relook at some dots. In any case, we are working on A to Z politics to ensure a rainbow social combination.”
BJP national spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan told The Indian Express: “Kurhani loss is not a simple loss (for Mahagathbandhan). It is a loss of reputation, dignity and credibility of Nitish Kumar, who has become a habitual offender of people’s mandate. Kurhani loss is the last nail in coffin of Nitish Kumar’s political career.”