By Amitabh Tiwari
The Mahagathbandhan (in Bihar is facing teething troubles. The seat arrangement was to be finalised by January 31 and then on February 3 when Rahul Gandhi held a rally at Gandhi Maidan in Patna.
However, there is no news on the distribution of seats even as the National Democratic Alliance has sealed the deal with 17 seats each for Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party and 6 for Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.
The new math
In the last five years, Bihar politics has witnessed all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler. JDU exited NDA in 2013, a week after BJP named Modi as its Campaign Committee chief. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, JDU contested independently and was routed, bagging only 2 seats.
The BJP and allies won 31 out of 40 seats. In 2015 Bihar Assembly elections, friends-turned-foe Nitish and Lalu Prasad came together to stop the BJP juggernaut. However, in 2017, relations between the two socialist leaders soured, they turned foes again, and Nitish made a ghar wapsi in the NDA.
Two NDA partners, ex-chief minister Jiten Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha and Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party have left the NDA and joined the Mahagathbandhan. The aggregate vote share of NDA partners in 2014 was 52.4.%. Against this, the probable Mahagathbandhan which is shaping up recorded 35.6% vote share. HAM and Sharad Yadav’s Party were not in existence then.
|2014 Vote Share||MGB||2014 Vote Share|
NDA could face double anti-incumbency after losses in by-polls
NDA suffered reversals in by-polls, held last year. Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal retained 2 seats, Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad Vidhan Sabha, despite break-up with JDU. Tejashwi Yadav is emerging as heir to Lalu in RJD. Nitish has been ruling the state for almost 13 years and it is natural to develop anti-incumbency against such long-tenure governments.
The Modi government also has started feeling the heat after defeat in three Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
The NDA victory in 2019 Lok Sabha elections was a foregone conclusion a year ago. However, all polls now predict a hung Parliament. NDA could face double-anti incumbency with both state leadership (Nitish) and national leadership (Modi) losing ground to Tejashwi and Rahul,. respectively.
Caste holds the key
Caste is an important consideration for voters in the Hindi heartland. Development politics of Modi trumped caste equations in 2014. However, in 2019, the caste summation is even-stevens for NDA and the Mahagathbandhan. While the upper caste Kurmi and Koeri community are expected to back the NDA, Yadavs, Minorities, Dalits and Mahadalits are expected to back the Mahagathbandhan. Most Backward Classes which account for 24% of population hold the key to the state results.
Problem of plenty in the Mahagathbandhan
Kushwaha left NDA because he was offered just 2 seats as per reports. RLSP contested 4 seats in 2014 and won 3 of them. He felt that in the Mahagathbandhan he could get his due. But the Mahagathbandhan is expanding with new entrants. So much so that today there is a problem of plenty. There are 7-8 parties who are part of the Mahagathbandhan — RJD, Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (Pawar), HAM (Manjhi), VIP (Saini) and RLSP (Kushwaha).
In 2014, the RJD contested on 27, INC on 12, NCP on 1 seat. Tariq Anwar who contested on NCP ticket and won from Katihar has joined Congress. Tejaswi is keen to accommodate BSP (1 seat). Pappu Yadav whose wife Ranjit Ranjan is in the Congress is also hopeful of a ticket from the Mahagathbandhan. And we have not yet counted the Left parties.
A section in the RJD feels that leaders like Sharad Yadav, Manjhi and Kushwaha are well past their prime and do not bring much to the table. The Yadav vote is already with the Mahagathbandhan. Dalits are most likely to vote for parties other than the BJP like we saw in state elections in 2018.
Kushwaha won’t be able to do much damage to NDA with Nitish back in their camp. Tension is brewing among the main players RJD and Congress. While RJD is opposing the 10% reservations for Economically Backward Sections in the General category, Congress supported it in Parliament. Congress is expected to give many tickets to upper caste in its efforts to revive its traditional vote bank. In 2014, one-third of its contestants belonged to forward caste category.
The other bone of contention is accommodating Bahujan Samaj Party in the alliance. While RJD is keen to have Maya on board, it secured 2.2% vote share in 2014, Congress is apprehensive after she attacked the Grand Old Party and excluded the Congress from alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
Will Bihar go the UP way?
While the Mahagathbandhan has been gaining in strength, NDA still enjoys a big lead. A swing of 8% away from NDA towards the Mahagathbandhan is required to make the contest exciting. However, tensions within the alliance over seat distribution could play spoilsport specially given the recent policy of eklaa chaalo of Congress in Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Andhra.
Will it be a repeat of 2009 when Lalu and Paswan (who was then with UPA) left Congress out due to differences over seat sharing? Will it be repeat of Uttar Pradesh where Bua and Babua kept Congress out of the Mahagathbandhan? Only time will tell.
An interesting contest is certainly on the anvil.
(Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, consultant and strategist advising political parties and leaders. He is a former corporate and investment banker who tweets @politicalbaaba.)