Bihar's Political drama

The exit of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar has opened up the state assembly elections. Till last week of September, the NDA was considered as a clear winner with most opinion polls predicting an overwhelming majority for NDA. The Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — have arrived at a tentative seat-sharing arrangement, but the third pillar of this alliance, the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), has decided to contest separately. Intriguingly, the LJP will remain a part of the central government; it has declared that its battle is with Mr Kumar and not with the BJP.
Nitish Kumar is the NDA’s chief ministerial candidate but the LJP’s exit can create an impression that BJP can have its own CM if the party wins more seats than the JD (U). The LJP can help the BJP as party president Chirag Paswan has been saying that Bihar needs an alternative to Kumar, who has been the chief minister for the last 15 years. Nitish must worry about LJP because it was a similar gambit by Ram Vilas Paswan in 2005, contesting against RJD in 178 seats though both were national partners in UPA, that ended Lalu Prasad’s 15-year-long sway over Bihar. LJP won 29 seats and cornered a 12.3% vote share. If history were to repeat, this would be Nitish’s turn to be tripped by another Paswan after 5 year hegemony.
It is important not to overestimate the LJP. It is a relatively small party; its social base is limited to the Paswan caste, found in limited pockets; and its recent electoral success is primarily due to its association with Mr Modi. But the fact that the BJP is both a part of the incumbent formation, asking for votes for the continued leadership of Nitish Kumar, and has a friendly party in the Opposition, asking for votes to displace Nitish Kumar, means that Bihar’s election — and post-election scenario — may throw up surprises. BJP’s challenge is to prevent a replay of Maharashtra last year, when Shiv Sena joined hands with UPA to bag the CM post.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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