NDA stitches together formidable alliance in Bihar as BJP signals willingness to assuage allies' concerns
By sealing the seat-sharing deal with Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP, the BJP leadership has sent a message to Shiv Sena, TDP and others — existing and former allies — that the party will not hesitate in taking a step forward if needed to maintain the coalition dharma
The proverbial mausam vaigyanik or weatherman of Indian politics Ram Vilas Paswan stays in Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). His stance, exit or continuance from the ruling coalition at the Centre was being watched curiously by people across the country, not because of his strength, but because of his stature as a politician from the Dalit community and his perceived ability to read which way winds of popular mood would blow.
Incidentally, it was another prominent politician from Bihar, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav who had closely seen Paswan's evolution and his ability to switch sides — National Front, United Front, NDA, UPA and then again to the NDA in 2014 — which bestowed the Lok Janshakti Party chief with the title of "mausam vaigyanik". Paswan is the only leader in the country who has been a prominent Union Cabinet minister, and who has worked in almost all the governments. Paswan has worked with six prime ministers since 1989 — VP Singh, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi — with the only exception being Narshimha Rao government, and the UPA-II, because he had lost the Lok Sabha election.
Paswan’s importance can be assessed from the fact that when Sonia Gandhi began stitching a coalition against the Vajpayee government in 2004, her first port of call was the LJP chief. She walked from her 10 Janpath residence to Paswan’s 12 Janpath residence without seeking a formal appointment. Ahead of 2014 when Nitish Kumar had deserted BJP, Paswan made a U-turn from his stated position, "drink poison than even align with the BJP" and happily joined Modi’s bandwagon.
Despite Paswan’s son Chirag, MP and LJP Parliamentary Board chief, making statements which placed the senior ally BJP in a somewhat awkward position, the BJP leadership went the extra mile to accommodate, or even yield to the demands of the LJP.
In the last five years, the BJP leadership has not given this honour to any other ally. The party didn’t make any effort to talk to Upendra Kushwaha, former union minister and RLSP chief who quit NDA and joined prospective UPA-III last week. Amit Shah didn’t grant Kushwaha audience despite the RLSP chief making the plea for a meeting at various platforms. Shiv Sena, TDP and others — existing and former allies — have learnt it hard ways that public posturing with the present BJP does not help.
The way the BJP leadership treated Ram Vilas Paswan — meeting him immediately after LJP expressed its concerns and then sending a chartered flight to Mumbai to make him and Chirag fly to Delhi for sealing the seat-sharing deal and Shah announcing it in the presence of Nitish Kumar — stands out as an exception. The formula is 17 BJP, 17 JD(U) and 6 LJP (for the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar), as well as a Rajya Sabha seat for Paswan.
It’s a fact that after losing the state Assembly elections in three Hindi heartland states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — to the Congress, the BJP leadership is somewhat mellowed and looking at things more pragmatically than it would have, perhaps, done otherwise. But then it's also a fact that Paswan brings on the table something that the BJP leadership can’t ignore — transferring Paswan votes in almost every parliamentary constituency to the BJP.
And the BJP values that. Firstpost spoke to senior BJP leaders from Bihar and they all suggested that Paswan has proved to be a trustworthy ally and has the ability to influence votes from his community, which is spread across the state and thus can be a help in winning the seats.
Will Paswan's presence in the NDA invite upper caste backlash? The BJP leaders believe it wouldn’t. They admit that an upper caste backlash over the way the BJP reacted by overruling the Supreme Court verdict on the SC/ST Act did make BJP lose the three Hindi heartland states, but they believe by the time the parliamentary elections take place, the anger of the upper castes would have died down and the motive to make Modi the prime minister again would override all other concerns.
The NDA alliance in Bihar — BJP, JD(U) and LJP — appears formidable on both counts — arithmetic and chemistry. In 2014, BJP-led NDA had won 32 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. The JD(U) had contested separately, it won only two seats but polled around 16 percent votes. Going by the 2014 parliamentary and 2015 state Assembly polls, the BJP-JD(U)-LJP alliance together could cross over 50 percent votes in 2019. By sacrificing concerns for one or two seats, the BJP leadership has sent a larger message that it is open to accommodate the concerns of the allies, in short, it will not hesitate in taking a step forward if needed to maintain the coalition dharma.
Pitted against NDA will be the Mahagthbandhan. The Mahagathbandhan for Bihar election is still taking shape but so far those have come on board are Congress, RJD, Kushwaha’s RLSP, Sharad Yadav’s Loktantrik Janata Dal, Mukesh Sahni who has styled himself as a son of 'Mallah', Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM and Left Front parties. After their victory in the three state Assemblies, Congress leaders have found buoyancy and are in a mood to bargain hard for the maximum number of seats. RJD is the only party in this coalition which has a solid Muslim-Yadav support base on the ground. Leaders like Kushwaha and Sahni don’t have much presence on the ground but they are highly ambitious and would be looking for their share in the bargain.
By sealing the seat-sharing arrangement with Paswan, the NDA has scored in round one.
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