JD(U) seeks to establish upper hand in Bihar NDA alliance after BJP's Assembly poll losses, pushback over CAA and NRC

  • The exit of the Shiv Sena, the BJP's oldest partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), after the Maharashtra polls in October is a lesson for the BJP in communication and compromise with its allies

  • The fallout and the ensuing political crisis that resulted in the BJP losing power in the state despite being the single largest party, is in sharp focus as it gears up for the Bihar Assembly polls later this year

  • After the debacle in Maharashtra and Jharkhand the saffron party is being increasingly cornered by its ally in Bihar, Nitish Kumar's JDU

In recent months, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has faced setbacks in the subsequent Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Jharkhand close on the heels of an unprecedented mandate in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Among the reasons for these setbacks has been the saffron party's inability to get the right equation with its regional allies in the three states.

The exit of the Shiv Sena, the BJP's oldest partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), after the Maharashtra polls in October is a lesson for the BJP in communication and compromise with its allies. The fallout and the ensuing political crisis that resulted in the BJP losing power in the state despite being the single largest party, is in sharp focus as it gears up for the Bihar Assembly polls later this year.

After the debacle in Maharashtra and Jharkhand — where the BJP saw its seats reduce from 37 to 25 — the saffron party is being increasingly cornered by its ally in Bihar, Nitish Kumar's JD(U). While the BJP is spreading itself thin in dealing with the nationwide sustained protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and trying to figure out where its alliance math went wrong in the Assembly polls, the JD(U) is trying to establish its leverage over the Amit Shah-led party.

The JD(U) attributed the BJP's loss in Jharkhand to "arrogance" which led the party to contest all 81 seats without its allies, including the influential All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

 JD(U) seeks to establish upper hand in Bihar NDA alliance after BJPs Assembly poll losses, pushback over CAA and NRC

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. PTI

Asserting that the national party should have made more space for allies in the seat-sharing talks for the Jharkhand polls, a JD(U) MLC was quoted by ThePrint as saying, "The arrogance of the BJP can be judged by the fact that it broke off ties with the AJSU, which does have some pockets of following."

JD(U) spokesperson Sanjay Singh was also quoted by The Times of India as saying, "We hope that BJP will review the results and avoid repeating such mistakes in the upcoming Bihar elections."

Some party leaders also attributed the widespread unrest over the CAA and impending National Register of Citizens (NRC) to the BJP's loss in Jharkhand. JD(U) MLC Ghulam Rasool Baliyavi was also quoted by the report as saying, "Effects of protests against NRC and CAA were reflected in the Jharkhand election results."

JD(U) leaders would hope that the poor fortunes of the BJP in the Assembly polls so far would enable Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to negotiate for more when it comes to the seat-sharing arrangement.

This crucial pre-poll process seems to have hit the first roadblock already, with JD(U) leader and election strategist Prashant Kishor demanding that the BJP submit to being the junior ally in the Bihar polls alliance. Asserting that the 50-50 formula that was agreed between the parties ahead of the Lok Sabha election wouldn't be the prudent course of action for the Assembly polls, Kishor had on 30 December said that the JD(U), headed by Nitish, had a greater political heft in Bihar and that it should contest more seats than the BJP.

"If we look at the 2010 Assembly polls, which the JD(U) and the BJP had last contested together, the ratio was 1:1.4. Even if there is a slight change this time, it cannot be that both parties fight an equal number of seats," he said.

The poll strategist-turned-politician, who became a full-time member of the JD(U) around a year ago, also dismissed suggestions that Nitish might be expected to cede some ground to the BJP, a repetition of the favour he had extended in the 2015 Assembly polls for Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

"There can be no comparison between the two scenarios. In 2015, in the outgoing Assembly, the JD(U) had about 120 MLAs while the RJD had only 20. But since the alliance was an entirely new experiment, many things were factored in...Moreover, even if the 2015 Assembly polls are taken as benchmark this time, it is undeniable that JD(U)'s tally was significantly higher than that of the BJP. So my contention of a 1:1.4 ratio holds ground. I am not talking about the number of seats that each party could contest. I am talking about the proportion," he said.

While Kishor's statement on seat-sharing — along with his decisive dissent against the JD(U)'s support for the Citizenship Amendment Act — rankled some party leaders who termed his suggestions as "untimely", reports have quoted JD(U) functionaries being unhappy with the equation with its ally as early as October 2018.

"JD(U) had won 71 seats in the last Assembly election in 2015 against BJP's 54. Thus, JD(U) has a natural claim on a higher number of seats. Nonetheless, there can be a 5-5- seat-sharing arrangement on the lines of the Lok Sabha polls," a JD(U) worker was quoted by The Times of India as saying.

Asserting that the BJP "didn't have much option but to accept Nitish's leadership", the party worker added, "Nitish always wins the election, irrespective of his alliance. The BJP, on the other hand, has faced quite a troubled alliance in many states in the recent past. Thus, they can't afford to keep Nitishji out as no other leader in Bihar can meet his stature as of now."

However, Nitish has been under fire from members of his own party for the perception that he is doing the BJP's bidding, especially with the party's votes in favour of the contentious CAA in the Parliament — which is one step ahead of its 'token opposition' to other controversial laws like the triple talaq law and the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, both instances in which the party's MPs staged a walk-out.

He is having to appeal to dissenting voices in his party, including JD(U) national general secretary Pawan Verma, who urged the Bihar chief minister to reconsider support for the CAA.

In a bid assuage the discontent in the party, Nitish on 20 December announced that the NRC, which is being joined with the CAA by critics of the law, wouldn't be implemented in Bihar. Notably, he was the first chief minister from the NDA to reject the implementation of the NRC in his state.

The BJP however, with a "dented aura of invincibility", isn't taking the JD(U)'s criticism.

Bihar deputy chief minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi slammed Kishor for his statements. Echoing Shah's assurance on Nitish being the alliance's chief ministerial face for the 2020 Assembly polls, Sushil said, "A person running a business for profit first tries to create a market for his service, thinks about the welfare of the country later. It has been decided that the 2020 Assembly election will be contested under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The decision regarding seat sharing will be taken by the leadership when the time comes. There is no problem at all."

The BJP is working on the double to warm up to the JD(U) ahead of the polls, as is evident by its effort to get the regional party to join the central government under Narendra Modi.

Looking to further "cement" ties with the JD(U), the BJP is likely to induct two senior JD(U) MPs, Rajiv Ranjan Singh and Ram Chandra Prasad Singh into the Union government when Modi expands his Council of Ministers, The Indian Express reported.

The report said, "Currently for the BJP, strengthening ties with the JD(U) is crucial against the backdrop of growing dissent over the citizenship law as well as on the economic situation. Many NDA allies have publicly expressed criticism over these issues and unemployment."

"For perception too, the party has to be seen as being more comfortable with its allies," the report quoted a a BJP functionary as saying.

It is also worth noting that ever-increasing problems in the state are likely to undermine Nitish's popularity in the state. "The Patna floods in 2019, the Muzaffarpur encephalitis deaths and shelter home abuse cases, piling up of prohibition related cases in courts, and a dismal last rank in Niti Aayog’s Sustainable Development Goals India Index," could hurt the Bihar chief minister, The Times of India noted.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 02, 2020 23:17:52 IST