After Nitish Kumar seized the crown from Jitan Ram Manjhi, if the Bihar polls are an acid test for anyone, it is for Nitish Kumar and not PM Narendra Modi. Whatever be the result, while Modi’s government will continue to remain powerful, it is Kumar who will find his political existence under threat if he loses, and the challenge of running a messy coalition government, if he wins.
For the BJP, the Bihar polls hold huge promise. Reason: For the first time it has cobbled together a coalition of upper castes, OBCs and Dalits, which it can also test in national politics. While Muslims and Yadavs cannot be lured now the rest of the communities could well swing to BJP’s this time.
The rival camp—JD(U), RJD and Congress will guarantee a coalition with no dominant partner. If the RJD wins more seats than Nitish Kumar, he’s had it. In short, the electorate can see that the BJP-led coalition has a better chance of providing stability than the JD(U)-RJD combo. Bihar’s voters are unlikely to vote for instability.
Second, the election will be an acid test for Nitish Kumar—his break up with the BJP in 2013 had angered the upper castes, and his efforts to install Manjhi as puppet chief minister in May 2014, and his move to get him sacked this February and reinstall himself as CM may not endear him to Dalits. These actions have exposed Kumar’s mountebank politics.
Third, with the focus now on Kumar’s poor performances, Modi will have a field day attacking him. This is a rare advantage for the BJP. It is not the party’s record in Delhi that will be the focus of the campaign, but Kumar’s failures. This is where the five-phase election will help Modi; he will have a field day attacking Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad across the state.
For the BJP and Modi, Bihar will be a testing ground with a few downsides. The Modi government will face no threat whatsoever from any result Bihar produces on 8 November. It is Nitish Kumar who should be biting his fingernails. This is a battle he cannot afford to lose, but even if he wins, he will have Lalu Yadav to contend with.
Meanwhile, a day after BJP president Amit Shah announced the seat-sharing agreement with Jitan RamManjhi, Lok Janshakti Party it was “shocked” with the final tally, which will see the party contesting only 40 of the 243 seats in the Bihar Assembly elections.
Who is the tallest Dalit/Mahadalit leader in Bihar? This question has seen LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi of Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) cross swords on many occasions in the last few weeks and it is once again at the centre of seat sharing, announced by the BJP.
On 15 September, LJP Parliamentary Board chairperson and Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag made it clear that his party was shocked about the seat-sharing under which BJP will contest 160 seats, LJP 40, RLSP 23 and HAM 20. Denying that his party had any differences with Manjhi, Chirag gave enough hints that all was not well within the NDA.
However, dismissing reports of leaving NDA, he said “We have adjusted to the numbers given to us. RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha and Manjhi are close allies, they are like family to us,” he said.