In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 22 seats of Bihar’s 40. The party announced on Sunday it would contest 17 seats in the state, ally Janata Dal (United) in an equal number of seats, and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in six.
Why should BJP contest lesser number of seats than what it already holds? Political rivals have said the BJP, by surrendering its seats to Nitish Kumar-led JD (U), is betraying its nerves after losing the Assembly elections recently.
It is a good line of attack for the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led alliance in its attempts to demoralise the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in Bihar. The BJP has conceded ground at a time several of its allies are upset.
However, BJP’s decision has sound logic as well as precedents. In 2014, the BJP’s allies were Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Samata Party (RLSP). Its principal rival was the alliance of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The third pole in the contest was that of the Janata Dal (United) and Communist Party of India (CPI) alliance.
The BJP-led alliance won 31-seats (BJP 22, LJP 6 and RLSP 3). The RJD-led alliance bagged 7-seats (RJD 4, Congress 2 and NCP 1). The JD (U) could win only two. In 2013, Nitish Kumar had severed JD (U)’s 17-year-old alliance with the BJP. His gamble clearly failed.
However, for those 17-years, and particularly after 2005, the face of the JD (U)-BJP alliance was Nitish Kumar, and the chief minister when the alliance formed its governments in Bihar in 2005 and 2010. He came to be known as ‘sushasan babu’, a leader committed to good governance.
The JD (U) was the senior partner and BJP junior in the seat-sharing arrangements between the two parties. In 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the JD (U) contested 24 of 40, winning six. The BJP contested 16 to win five seats. In 2009 Lok Sabha, the JD (U) won 20 and BJP 12.
A similar arrangement existed between the two parties in the assembly polls in the state. In the 2010 Assembly polls in Bihar, the JD (U) contested 141 of the 243-seats. It won 115. The BJP contested 102 and won 91. The support bases of the two parties also complimented each other.
Kumar had support among his Kurmi community and other ECB (or extremely backward castes), dalits and Muslims. The BJP’s support base in Bihar comprises the upper castes. The polarisation against Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s Muslim-Yadav, or ‘MY’, combine, who cumulatively comprise 31-32 per cent, helped the Kumar-led alliance to successive wins in 2005 and 2010 Assembly polls, and 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
BJP chief Amit Shah understands that 2014 was an exceptional election, which the BJP won on the back of Narendra Modi’s chemistry with the people. It had also struck good arithmetic by aligning with Kushwaha's RLSP and Paswan's LJP. It also helped that the opposition was split between RJD-led alliance and JD (U)-led alliance.
When these parties came together in the 2015 Assembly polls, the BJP suffered an embarrassing defeat and could only form the government via the back door.
The BJP, therefore, has returned to the number of seats it used to contest in alliance with the JD (U) until 2009 Lok Sabha. The JD (U) has had to cede seats with the entry of Paswan-led LJP. Much could change in the coming months, including whether LJP continues to stay in the NDA.
Their opposing alliance, meanwhile, is spoilt for the number of parties in its corner. Apart from RJD, NCP's Tariq Anwar, a sitting MP, has joined the Congress. Kushwaha is now in Congress-led UPA, as is Jitan Ram Manjhi-led Hindustani Awam Morcha and Sharad Yadav-led Loktantrik Janata Dal. The alliance is also negotiating with the Left parties.