The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) deciding to go solo in the Bihar Assembly election 2020 has thrown open many possibilities in the poll-bound state. At the core of the tussle is definitely the LJP’s own fight for survival but party president Chirag Paswan’s all-out attack on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the Janata Dal-United (JDU) president keeps the door for post-poll political negotiations open.
It is not the first time that the LJP is cherry picking in an assembly election. It put up candidates against the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in 2005 Bihar Assembly election while both were part of the Congress-led UPA that was ruling at the Centre. LJP founder Ram Vilas Paswan was a minister at the Centre. He is a minister in the Narendra Modi government now and his party, the LJP, is preparing to put up candidates against the JDU but will offer no challenge to the BJP in Bihar Assembly election. Both the JDU and the LJP are part of the NDA, ruling at the Centre.
The LJP went solo in Manipur Assembly election in 2017 where it formed a post-poll alliance with the BJP to form the government. What makes the LJP’s stand in Bihar Assembly election more curious is Chirag Paswan’s relentless attack on Nitish Kumar and claim that the BJP-LJP alliance will form the next government in the state.
It gives credence to whispers in the political circles that LJP chief Chirag Paswan has the tacit support of the BJP in his tirade against Nitish Kumar. There has been a sense that the BJP wants to downsize the political stature of Nitish Kumar for snapping ties in the run up to 2014 Lok Sabha election protesting over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise in the party, and dominance in the NDA.
Nitish Kumar has been one of the two poles of Bihar politics since 1990s. The other was Lalu Prasad, the RJD chief, who is serving a jail term in a fodder scam case. Lalu Prasad’s active political career is practically finished. His son, Tejashwi Yadav now virtually runs the party. Nitish Kumar, in this scenario, became unchallengeable in Bihar. But his political clout also comes in the BJP’s way. The LJP seems to have offered the BJP a chance to settle a score with Nitish Kumar.
MORE SEATS FOR BJP VIA LJP
Walking out of the LJP from the NDA easily translates into more seats in the seat-sharing formula between the BJP and the JDU. It also puts pressure on Nitish Kumar to accommodate former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) from the JDU’s quota. The JDU refused to entertain the LJP’s claim in the NDA on the premise that it is in alliance with the BJP and the LJP could only be accommodated by the BJP. Now, the BJP can use the same logic to JDU-HAM equation.
Reports already say that Nitish Kumar had ceded ground in seat-sharing talks agreeing for a 50-50 formula much against its demand for maintaining 1.4:1 formula of 2010, when the JDU was the senior partner.
Contesting more seats in the alliance offers the BJP more chances to win more, and thereby become a senior partner in post-poll scenario. This becomes a serious possibility due to the LJP’s decision to put up candidates against the JDU nominees.
The LJP has its vote bank among the Dalit community, who form around 17-18 per cent of voters in Bihar. The last time, the LJP contested alone, it had secured over 5,000 votes on around 50 seats. This size of vote share can influence electoral outcome in an assembly election.
PRESSURE ON NITISH
Additionally, the tussle between the LJP and the JDU – in the backdrop of Nitish Kumar deserting the NDA and coming back again – has given out a signal to the committed voters of the BJP that Chirag Paswan is more favourable. This perception on the ground may stop the BJP supporters from voting for a JDU candidate. The problem with Nitish Kumar has been that despite having ruled the state for 15 years, his party JDU does not have an election winning support base in Bihar.
In this sense, the LJP’s decision for the Bihar Assembly election gives the BJP a real chance of emerging as the single-largest party at least in the Bihar NDA. Under the new era BJP leadership, it is bound to get difficult for Nitish Kumar to continue as the chief minister with his party becoming a junior partner.
The LJP, which contested February 2005 Bihar Assembly election alone and returned with its best tally of 29 with over 12 per cent vote share, gets close to that figure, Chirag Paswan may decide who forms the government. He hopes to better the LJP’s best performance but the party’s vote share has been declining since then.
If the BJP-JDU alliance fails to win majority, Chirag Paswan can easily find a way back into Bihar NDA with a higher stature and say over Nitish Kumar. The possibility of what Chirag Paswan’s dream of a BJP-LJP government looks grim.
FINISHING OFF JDU
There is another narrative taking shape in Bihar politics. That the BJP is eyeing to appropriate the JDU, which has been centred around the personality of Nitish Kumar, who is staring at the twilight of his political career. Some BJP leaders in Bihar talk about a post-Nitish future of the JDU saying, the party would do better to merge with the BJP a few years down the line.
Nitish Kumar has not been able to groom a successor for himself in the JDU. Two examples of Jitan Ram Manjhi and Prashant Kishor betray certain nervousness on Nitish Kumar’s part in handing over the reins of the party to another leader. When Jitan Ram Manjhi asserted himself after having been appointed as the Bihar chief minister, he was expelled from the JDU. Prashant Kishor met with the same fate.
BLAME GOES TO NITISH, CREDIT TO BJP
There is another factor that works in favour of the BJP with Chirag Paswan going berserk against Nitish Kumar. All senior BJP leaders – PM Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party president JP Nadda – have repeatedly projected Nitish Kumar as their chief ministerial face.
At the same time, they have not been unequivocal in criticizing those targeting Nitish Kumar over the issues of law and order, development, Covid-19 handling or tackling flood situation in Bihar. Debates around these issues makes anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar stronger.
The tacit support by the BJP to Chirag Paswan also serves to deflect the anti-incumbency anger away from the BJP towards Nitish Kumar.
This means while Nitish Kumar faces anti-incumbency of 15 years, the BJP and the LJP take no blame for that. The Bihar Assembly election in the view of the LJP’s ‘solo march’ may end up weakening Nitish Kumar and thus empowering the BJP, many of whose members in Bihar hope to see a partyman taking oath as the chief minister mid-way during the next term.