Bihar: Mahagathbandhan struggles to overcome Modi-Nitish might

Shreyasi Jha
Going by the exit polls, the Bihar mahagathbandhan’s chances against the BJP are looking bleak.

As the 17th Lok Sabha election results are going to be in shortly, the Bihar opposition alliance looks at its fate with narrow hopes. With 40 seats at stake, the regional parties in Bihar – Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP) – joined hands with the Congress to draw out the BJP from the state. However, current trends indicate a clean sweep for the NDA in Bihar with the duo of Nitish Kumar-Sushil Modi looking set to outperform their competitors.

The results will also gauge the JD(U)-BJP alliance’s success in the state after the former broke up with the RJD-Congress alliance in 2017 after successfully defeating the BJP in 2015 Assembly elections. The results will not only decide the relevance of Narendra Modi’s might in the Hindi heartland but will also give an idea of whether Nitish Kumar’s leadership is accepted in the state irrespective of his alliance partner.

The Left politics’ fate will also be decided in the state as CPI’s popular leader Kanhaiya Kumar is up against BJP s Giriraj Singh in Begusarai. Despite catching the national imagination, the young communist is finding it difficult to go past his counterpart. Initial trends show Kumar trailing BJP ‘s Giriraj Singh by a wide margin .

Key constituencies and top candidates of Bihar

The state has been a witness to one of the most high-profile contests from the Patna Sahib seat where senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad is pitted against actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, who switched over to the Congress from the BJP after being denied ticket from the seat. Prasad looks set to trounce Sinha.

Other key constituencies are Pataliputra, from where RJD’s Misa Bharti and Ram Kripal Yadav are in the fray; and Jamui from where LJP’s Chirag Paswan is contesting.

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Patna Sahib contenders Shatrughan Sinha and Ravi Shankar Prasad. (express photo: Shreyasi Jha)

What was the seat-wise equation?

Bihar’s Purnia and Nalanda were the only two seats won by JD (U) in 2014 polls. That year, Nitish Kumar had almost camped in Purnia to ensure the victory of JD(U) candidate Santosh Kushwaha against BJP nominee Uday Singh, also known as Pappu Singh, in a three-way contest which was fought on the backward and forward template . This time too, Kushwaha was the NDA candidate against the same opponent, who contested from Congress this year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BIhar CM Nitish Kumar at the NDA alliance’s dinner meet in New Delhi. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

The Madhepura seat saw a triangular contest between three Yadavs. Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJP) chief Sharad Yadav contested on the RJD s ticket against sitting MP and Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) leader Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav and JD(U)’s Dinesh Chandra Yadav.

Bihar mahagathbandhan ally VIP s head Mukesh Sahni, who had made his electoral debut from the Khagaria Lok Sabha seat, was looking to bank on RJD s Yadav and Muslim votes against sitting LJP MP Choudhary Mehboob Ali Qaisar. Sahni, whose party fought on three seats in Bihar, has the support of EBC Sahni/Mallah (who also write Kevat and Nishad) and Nonia votes (2.5 lakh).

When The Indian Express went to Muzaffarpur, a group of Mallahs (boatmen), who bear Sahni, Kevat, Nishad, Bind, Beldar or Mukhiya surname, talked about Sahni, who uses sobriquet of son of Mallah . Paswan ke neta Ram Vilas Paswan hai, Mushahar ke neta Jitan Ram Manjhi hai, Kushwaha ke neta Upendra Kushwaha hai. Ab hamari bhi apni party hai, ab hum bhi kisi ko symbol denge. Ab tak to dusron ke bharose par the (Ram Vilas Paswan is the leader of Paswans, Jitan Ram Manjhi is leader of Mushahars and Upendra Kushwaha is the leader of Kushwahas. Now, we have our own party. We can also distribute tickets and do not have to depend on others).

At Simri Pokhra, Sahnis said they did not go to PM Narendra Modi s rally in Muzaffarpur (April 30). (Express photo: Santosh Singh)

East Champaran Lok Sabha constituency witnessed a keen contest between five-time BJP MP and Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) candidate Aakash Singh, son of former Union minister and Congress s Rajya Sabha MP Akhilesh Prasad Singh.

How the seat-sharing was done?

This year, the RJD contested only on 19 seats (less than half the total 40 LS seats in Bihar) for the first time. Never before in history had the RJD contested on less than 25 seats. The Congress got 9 seats, Upendra Kushwaha led RLSP 5, Jitan Ram Manjhi led HAM 3, and VIP got 3 seats. The party had spared one seat to the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

Coming to NDA’s seat sharing, the BJP and the JD(U) contested 17 seats each while the LJP got 6 seats to contest polls.

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For Bihar, this was the first election in three decades which was fought by the RJD in absence of its chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. His family, especially son Tejashwi, was seen carrying forward his ideologies and style but there was a feeling that Lalu s absence is a loss for the party and will also tell on the gathbandhan.

RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav along with his elder Son Tej Pratap and Daughter Misa Bharti at his residence. (Express photo: Prashant Ravi/File)

What had happened in Lok Sabha elections 2014?

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party had emerged as the single largest party in the state, winning 22 seats with a vote share of 29.9 per cent. The NDA had won 31 seats with RLSP-3 and LJP-6 without having JD(U) in its camp. The polls saw Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) Nitish Kumar as a vocal critic of Modi. Lalu Prasad s RJD was the second-biggest in terms of votes polled, with a share 20.5 per cent, but it was third in terms of seat tally (4). The LJP had won 6 seats, with a vote share of 6.5 per cent. Congress had corned an 8.6 per cent vote share but won only two seats, while three seats went to RLSP, which polled only 3.1 per cent votes. Also, 56.26 per cent (i.e. 35,892,459) out of 63,800,160 registered electors had participated across 61,721 polling stations to choose their 40 Members of Parliament from among 607 candidates.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav. (File)

Almost a year after, Bihar which has 243 Assembly constituencies, went to polls in 2015 after which the JD(U)-RJD alliance formed the government. While, the RJD had emerged as the single largest party, winning 80 seats with an 18.8 per cent vote share, JD(U) was the second-biggest with 71 seats (17.3 per cent vote share). On the other hand, the BJP had won 53 seats (25 per cent vote share), and the Congress 27 (6.8 per cent vote share). Other parties and independent candidates together claimed 12 seats with a combined vote share of 32.1 per cent. But in July 2017, Nitish Kumar broke alliance with the RJD and returned to the NDA fold.

What the exit polls said?

The exit poll results, which came on May 19, had predicted BJP-led NDA s sweep in Bihar. Most pollsters thought the coalition of BJP, JD (U) and the LJP will win 30 or more seats out of the 40 seats in the state.

As always, the caste factor has been a major factor in the selection of candidates by both the NDA and the Grand Alliance.

Bihar has six major regions Bhojpur, Champaran, Mithilanchal, Seemanchal, Kosi and Magadh-Pataliputra. In the manifesto, the RJD had promised reservation to Dalits and the backward classes on the basis of their population. The manifesto mentions promotion in reservation and promises to fill all vacant government posts.

How top constituencies had performed in 2014?

In 2014, Begusarai had 1,778,759 registered electors — 949,825 of them male and 828,934 female. The constituency had seen a 60.60% voter turnout then. In Patna Sahib, Shatrughan Sinha had beaten Kunal Singh of Congress by receiving 55.10 per cent of the votes cast in this constituency. While in Patliputra, Ram Kripal Yadav beat Misha Bharti of RJD by receiving 39.20 per cent of the votes cast in this constituency. In jamui, Chirag Kumar Paswan beat Sudhansu Shekhar Bhaskar of RJD by receiving 36.80 per cent of the votes cast in this constituency.

What the leaders had said?

In an interview to The Indian Express in April, Tejashwi Yadav had expressed his confidence over mahagathbandhan. "We have succeeded in bringing in several alliance partners, like the CPI(M-L). Last time, we fought in 27 seats but we are contesting 19 now. Congress fought on 12 and is fighting nine now. We had to accommodate others," he had said.

When The Indian Express went for reporting in Begusarai, Kanhaiya Kumar had called Giriraj Singh an outsider who accepted the Begusarai ticket reluctantly. He had questioned Giriraj his record as a parliamentarian. Begusarai Lok Sabha constituency has hardly seen any development in infrastructure or education. It needs a representative who can make local issues national. Begusarai needs a good voice in Parliament.

Kanhaiya Kumar during his Campaign in Begusarai. (Express Photo: Shashi Ghosh)

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi had told The Indian Express: "We are supremely confident about returning to power with the BJP getting a majority of its own (at the Centre). Talking about Bihar, the last two Lok Sabha elections show that our alliance is about 10 per cent ahead of the Opposition. In 2014, NDA got about 38 per cent votes and RJD-Congress had about 28 per cent. Now that the JD(U) is with us, we will be well placed despite the Grand Alliance s claims of having done well."

Coming to Hajipur, LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan has won the seat eight times since his first win in 1977 when he won by a record margin of 4,24,545 votes against Congress candidate Baleshwar Ram. The electorate in Hajipur comprises about 3.5 lakh OBC Yadav voters, 1.5 lakh Muslim voters, 1.5 lakh OBC Kushwaha voters, 3.5 lakh upper caste Rajput voters, 1.5 lakh upper caste Bhumihar voters, a similar number of OBC Bania voters, 4.5 lakh Dalit voters and about 3 lakh EBC voters.

Jamui sitting MP Chirag Paswan had the easier option of stepping into the shoes of his father, Ram Vilas Paswan, by contesting from Hajipur after senior Paswan said no to electoral politics. But, Chirag had told The Indian Express, he didn t leave his 2014 seat. Jamui is like my mother. I want to do more for Jamui and give the same recognition my father gave to Hajipur, Chiraghad said, rolling off his achievements in the last five years a medical college, an engineering college, a pisional office of the Food Corporation of India, a passport kendra, and railway projects worth Rs 2,800 crore.