The seat-sharing formula for the Bihar Assembly election announced by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Tuesday signals a major climbdown by his Janata Dal-United (JDU). For the first time in a Bihar Assembly election, the BJP has got equal share in the state polls.
In this year’s Bihar Assembly election, the BJP may in fact be fielding more candidates than the JDU. Nitish Kumar announced that the JDU got 122 seats in its quota as part of the seat-sharing deal. The BJP got the remaining 121 seats.
The JDU has to accommodate the Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) of former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi in the seats from its quota. The HAM-S will get seven seats to contest from the JDU quota.
The BJP is likely to accommodate the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) of Mukesh Sahani, the Bollywood set designer-turned-politician. Sahani walked out of the Mahagathbandhan a few days ago, in a move coinciding with LJP president Chirag Paswan’s decision to contest the Bihar Assembly election alone. If the BJP manages to convince the VIP to contest on less than six seats, the party would actually be fielding more candidates than the JDU of Nitish Kumar.
Previously, Nitish Kumar’s arrangement with the BJP was based on 1.4:1 formula. The BJP contested just over 100 seats while the JDU fought around 140 seats in Bihar Assembly election.
For record, the JDU contested 101 seats in 2015 when it allied with the RJD. The BJP contested 157 seats and it was in alliance with the LJP, the HAM-S and the RLSP (Rashtirya Lok Samta Party) of former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha.
That the seat-sharing equation would change in Bihar Assembly election was speculated after the two parties contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election on 50-50 formula. There had been resentment in the BJP ranks back then as the cadre felt that the party leadership had given away too much to Nitish Kumar, whose grip was perceived to be “declining” in Bihar after he snapped ties with the BJP in 2013 over elevation of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate for 2014 Lok Sabha polls – only to make amends four years later in 2017.
The BJP supporters in Bihar egged on the leadership to contest the Bihar Assembly election alone leaving out Nitish Kumar’s JDU. However, the BJP leadership, smarting under the shocking defeat in 2015 Bihar Assembly election, has refrained from challenging Nitish Kumar.
What the BJP leadership could not directly execute, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Chirag Paswan has done. Chirag Paswan campaigned relentlessly against Nitish Kumar through the year while professing allegiance to PM Narendra Modi. This built a pressure on Nitish Kumar, who realised it during seat-sharing negotiations. He ultimately conceded his political ground to expanding BJP in Bihar. Now, the two parties have become equal partners.
In return, Nitish Kumar has got verbal assurance from the BJP leadership that he is the chief ministerial candidate. This was reaffirmed at the joint press conference in Patna when Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, the senior BJP leader, said, “Only Nitish Kumar will be the chief minister irrespective of the outcome in terms of numbers.”
Sushil Modi also hit out at Chirag Paswan saying, “Had Ram Vilas Paswan [Chirag Paswan’s father and the LJP founder] been healthy, this would not have happened.”
Chirag Paswan has been campaigning in Bihar saying, “Modi tujhse bair nahin, Nitish teri khair nahin [there is nothing against Modi, but will not spare Nitish]”. Chirag Paswan has been using posters of PM Modi for his campaign claiming that there would be a BJP-LJP government post-election.
This has been unnerving for Nitish Kumar given that there is speculation in Bihar’s political circle that Chirag Paswan has the tacit support of the BJP leadership. Trying to clear the air, Sushil Modi, in Nitish Kumar’s presence, said only four NDA allies can use PM Modi’s photograph in their campaigns.
Nitish Kumar also took dig at Chirag Paswan, whose LJP has only two seats in Bihar Assembly. Ram Vilas Paswan is a Rajya Sabha member from Bihar, and hence a Union minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet.
Nitish Kumar said, “Ram Vilas Paswan is unwell. We want him to recover. Did he reach Rajya Sabha without JDU’s help? How many seats do they have in Bihar Vidhan Sabha? TwoSo, BJP-JD(U) gave him ticket to the Rajya Sabha. What do we have to do with what someone says?”
The seat-sharing deal has been a difficult one for both the BJP and the JDU, and the agreement could be reached only two days before the date for filing nomination for the first phases closes. The last date for 71 seats of the first phase of Bihar Assembly election is October 8.
Bihar goes to the polls in three phases for its 243 seats. The voting would take place on October 28, November 3 and November 7. The votes would be counted on November 10.