The ink had barely dried on the alliance worked out between the BJP, the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan, Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and the late entrant Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha when the LJP’s heir-apparent and son of Ram Vilas, Chirag Paswan, told a specially-convened media conference in Patna: “There is no smoke without fire,” referring to reports on LJP being upset with the BJP for the seat sharing.
Apparently by design, while the father said all was well in the alliance, his son showed a foul mood, provoking political analysts to imagine things.“We were not angry, but were shocked…We were taken aback because the formula agreed on during the negotiations was different. We just want the same parameters to be applied in our case also,” Chirag said.
Earlier, it was Manjhi who had thrown tantrums and had to be appeased with five more seats than originally intended. In mollycoddling him, the BJP rubbed the Paswans the wrong way. The Paswans who avowedly represent the Dalits and Manjhi who is a leader of the Mahadalits have, in recent days, drawn daggers but are co-existing as partners under the BJP’s umbrella. In fact, marriages of convenience are the order of the day in election-bound Bihar.
Characterised by deception and skullduggery, there is little sanctity about alliances in today’s Bihar—today’s pre-poll ally could well be tomorrow’s enemy. Indeed, there is no knowing what would be the equations after the elections are done with. This may be the clever strategy of the Paswans for the son to have a reason to gravitate towards the ‘mahagathbandhan’ of Nitish and Lalu.
Vote bank politics, which has played havoc with the body politic across the country, is indeed in full flow in Bihar which is a cauldron of caste and religious divisions. There is far too much hypocrisy and posturing among party leaders from both sides for a clear picture of what is going on and what lies in store.
While the BJP has its share of political complexities, its rivals are in no better shape. The Janata Dal (U) of Nitish Kumar and the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav were once sworn enemies divided by deep mutual distrust and suspicion. Today, they hug each other before cameras as though they are the best of friends because they are fighting their toughest battle for survival which could hurl them into the dump of history. They have the Congress party as their ally which was anathema for their mentors Jayaprakash Narayan, Karpoori Thakur, Ram Manohar Lohia and the like.
There still is no love lost between the Congress and its new-found allies but they pretend that all’s hunky-dory in the alliance. It is believed that a JD (U)-Congress deal was struck before the JD (U) clinched a pact with the RJD and that Lalu Yadav was kept in the dark on the purported alliance with the Congress. In the normal course, Lalu would have reacted strongly to it but this time he lay low because he knows only too well that his bargaining position is considerably weakened by the fact that he is on bail after conviction in a fodder scam case.
Understandably, Lalu is apprehensive that after he is put back in jail after his bail is cancelled, his flock would be amenable to being wooed into Janata Dal (U). He is banking hard on the ‘mahagathbandhan’ winning the elections and it is a do or die battle for him. The last time around, when he had to vacate the chief ministerial chair, he had wasted an opportunity to groom an alternate leader for his party and had chosen to foist his novice wife, Rabri Devi instead. Now again, he is building up his sons to take over the party reins from him.
With 17 per cent of the people in Bihar being Muslims, there is a scramble for the Muslim vote among the ‘mahagathbandhan’ partners. The BJP is not in the race for a share in the Muslim vote but its leaders are happy that firebrand Muslim leader Asaduddin Owaisi who hails from Andhra Pradesh, has thrown his hat in the ring though he has declared that his party, the MIM will contest only in the Seemanchal region which has 24 seats. Owaisi may not win seats but he can be an effective spoiler in dividing the Muslim vote. That is why, while the BJP is silently happy, the so-called secular alliance is sore with Owaisi.
The Congress, on its part, is reconciled to the prospect of winning only a handful of seats in the new Assembly. It is, however, banking on the ‘secular’ alliance winning a majority of seats so that it can tom-tom about it in building up pressure on the BJP in Delhi.
The stakes for the BJP are no less high than for its rivals. Victory in Bihar will not only be a major boost to the party in the ensuing State elections but it would be crucial for the numbers it desperately needs in the Rajya Sabha to be able to see vital constitutional amendments through.
Defeat, however, would be a big jolt for the BJP, reminiscent of the terrible rout in the Assembly elections in Delhi when the Aam Aadmi Party mauled them in January this year. The effect that a defeat would have on their 2019 Lok Sabha fight would be considerable. It would not be wrong to say that national politics would no longer be the same after the Bihar elections regardless of whether they win or lose.