After their breakfast and dinner diplomacy, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and BJP president Amit Shah came out all smiles on Thursday and declared that “all is well” in their alliance, ending speculation that the JD (U) could even part company with the BJP. This message came after weeks of uncertainty, as the JD (U) has made no secret of its unhappiness with the saffron party publicly.
All can be well only after they decide on seat-sharing for the 2019 polls and also who will lead the campaign in Bihar. JD (U) wants Nitish Kumar to lead the campaign while the BJP insists on seeking votes in Prime Minister Modi’s name. These issues have not been resolved.
The JD (U) wants the decision to be made now as it does not want a fait accompli just before the polls while the BJP wants to look at it later. JD (U) wants a repeat of the 2009 Lok Sabha election seat-sharing formula when it contested 25 of the 40 seats and the BJP contested 15.
UP and Bihar are crucial for any party, more so for the BJP to return to power as together they represent one fourth of the Lok Sabha. The JD (U) won only two seats in 2014 when it contested separately. The NDA in contrast had won 31 of the 40 seats in Bihar.
The tussle in Bihar started because none of the alliance partners is willing to relinquish seats to accommodate the JD (U), which is the latest to return to the NDA. The BJP has a problem in seat sharing, as it has to share 40 seats with four allies from Bihar. Former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi had quit the party earlier this year while RSLP leader Upendra Kushwaha is annoyed with the induction of Nitish Kumar in NDA. Ram Vilas Paswan too is flexing his muscles.
Political compulsions of the two parties have resulted in this truce for the time being. After the BJP pulled out of the PDP-led coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir recently, the JD (U) started getting nervous because it had come back without resolving the issue of seat-sharing and was now left in the cold. JD (U) feels neglected like the other BJP allies.
NDA partners like Shiv Sena and Akali Dal feel that they had been ignored in power sharing. In the past few months, the TDP quit the NDA and the Shiv Sena also has declared its intention to go it alone in the 2019 polls. Akali Dal too is feeling ignored by the big brother attitude of the BJP. The JD (U), which came back to the NDA last year, has been waiting to get representation in the Modi cabinet but in vain.
Although some internal surveys conducted by the BJP have given hope that even if the JD (U) goes out of the fold, the division in the opposition votes would benefit the BJP and it can win about 20 seats on its own, the BJP is a little nervous and wants to mollify allies. Nitish Kumar has conveyed to Shah that he expects at least 15 of the 40 seats while his party leaders keep chanting that Nitish will lead the campaign in Bihar.
In the prelude to this bonhomie Nitish, after a two-day national executive meeting in Delhi, had declared last Sunday that the alliance would continue with the BJP. JD (U) is between the devil and the deep sea and does not have many options. The party is worried about its declining influence in the state.
Nitish had created a new class of Mahadalits, carving them out of the Dalits but the situation has undergone a major shift now. Notwithstanding some clashes between Yadavs and the Musahars, belonging to the Mahadalit sections, in some parts of Bihar, a new political equation between the Yadavs and Mahadalits is emerging.
This has unnerved the JD (U) leadership, which is the reason for the changed strategy. With his just less than three per cent Kurmi base, it is not possible to win elections, as Muslims will not vote for him if he continues in the NDA.
Nitish is desperate to survive which is why he has shifted the goal posts now from going it alone to continuing the alliance with the BJP. Chances of a return to the ‘Grand Alliance’ with the Congress and the RJD are dim.
The sense one gets from Bihar is that this was the first Nitish-Shah meeting and that all issues could not be resolved over just one breakfast or dinner. But negotiations will continue. For now, there is a temporary truce.