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The Loneliness of being BJP in Bihar

Charged by Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia’s joining of BJP, Bihar party spokesperson Nikhil Anand said in March this year that many Congress leaders in the state are going to follow him and join BJP. However, six months later, BJP is still waiting for MLAs, ex MLAs or prominent people from opposition parties to come and join it in the election bound state. The party was first to launch its digital campaign and is investing huge sums of money in elections like before- which includes the recently inaugurated “hi-tech” media centre in posh Hotel Chanakya of Patna. Yet, no opposition politician of any stature seems to be interested in joining it to enhance his or her poll prospects. Does that mean political leaders in Bihar are not indulging in pre-election defections this time? No, on the contrary, Aaya Ram Gaya Ram or party hopping by seasoned politicians in Bihar is in full swing. Albeit, state BJP cuts a lonely figure in its own favourite game.

The stolen template:

In the last six years, it has emerged as one of the indispensable part of BJP’s electoral strategy to cause defection among the rival party and get them join the saffron rank, thereby winning in the war of perception as to who is calling the shots. It used it in almost every state that it stormed since the 2014 elections be it Jharkhand, Assam, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh. Thisprocess of big stalwarts from the congress and other regional parties, be they HimantaBiswaSarma in Assam, S. M. Krishna in Karnataka or a series of SP and BSP leaders in Uttar Pradesh, joining the BJP before the respective state assembly elections has emerged as the new election template wherein the saffron party has been playing on the front foot. Strangely though, Bihar emerges as an exception to the trend. Rather, it is Nitish Kumar who seems to not only have stolen the show but rather is outmaneuvering the BJP at every stage. 

For instance, this year alone, 6 MLAs and 5 MLCs of RJD have joined JD (U). These include prominent figures like Parsa MLA Chandrika Rai (son of ex CM Daroga Prasad Rai and estranged father in law of Tej Pratap Yadav), Jaivardhan Yadav (son of iconic Yadav leader late Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav), ex minister Faraz Fatmi, Qamar Alam, Prema Chaudhary etc. JD (U) also managed to get two Congress MLAs- Purnima Yadav and Sudarshan Kumar this year, while 2 RLSP MLAs and 1 MLC joined the party last year itself. RJD too managed to woo ShyamRajak, industries minister of Bihar government and JD (U)’s Dalit face to join the party besides some small figures. As this coming and going of leaders remains limited to two main parties- JD (U) and RJD, no figure of prominence has joined BJP till now.

This turning the table by Nitish turns out to be a bit surprising, as orchestrating defections in opponent parties and creating spectacle of prominent faces from opposition making a beeline to join it before the beginning of elections is a time-tested template of BJP. However, what we see in Bihar is politicians interested in changing loyalties to avail upcoming opportunities are more inclined to join JD (U) or RJD than BJP, which leaves the party in a kind of fix. Despite being the “moneybag” for NDA and despite most consistent efforts in election preparations, BJP still appears to be a marginal, or rather, lonely player, as far as appearing as an alluring platform for dissident leaders from the opposition ranksis concerned, in Bihar elections 2020.

A replay of 2015:

BJP 2015 poll debacle when the party contested 157 seats and won only 53, was blamed on a couple of factors like too much prominence to central government leaders and schemes, insensitive comments by seniors and lack of localization of the campaign. Come 2020 and the same things are visible again. Though the party high-command is publicly showing Nitish as the leader of the NDA camp in Bihar, it has also decided to fight the election on the work and name of PM Modi again. The reason for this, according to some party insiders, is an internal survey conducted by the party which reveals that Nitish is facing significant anti-incumbency this time and fighting election on his name won’t be a good idea. Hence the party is back to 2015 model.

Further, as the campaign intensifies, the problem of insensitive comments is also emerging. Recently when party president JP Nadda visited Darbhanga, Nadda said people would never have thought that union aviation minister will visit a place like Darbhanga. He also said that it is only when people vote BJP that such things happen and would stop if BJP loses. Many people from Mithila region took strong exception to this on social media, citing that the royal family of Darbhanga was one of the first in India to start air travel, even before independence.

Divisions in NDA camp:

While the challenges from outside continue, things within the NDA camp are not all hunky dory. This is going to be the first assembly election in the state where both LJP of RamvilasPaswan and JD (U) will be contesting from the same camp. This would mean that out of the 243 total seats, LJP would at least want to retain the 42 seats it got in 2015. However, that seems difficult as JD (U) is said to be insisting on taking 110 or more seats and even if BJP agrees to reduce its own seats to 100, that would leave only 33 seats and new entrant HAM of Jitan Ram Manjhi would also claim some seats out of those. It is for this reason that LJP is giving repeated ultimatums to JD (U) through Paswan’s son Chirag, and BJP seems to be encouraging this to pressurize Nitish Kumar for agreeing to reduce his demands and contest on seats equal to those of BJP. But even if that happens and both agree to contest on 100 seats each, LJP will have to reduce its seats given the demands of HAM that need to be adjusted within the remaining 43 seats.  

Hence, the real electoral dynamics in the ensuing election in Bihar is not between the moves and counter moves by the opposition and the ruling dispensation. Rather, it is the Machiavellian contestations between Nitish Kumar and the BJP that seems to emerge as the main electoral script.

Dr. Sajjan Kumar is a political analyst. Rajan Pandey is a freelance journalist. They are associated with Peoples Pulse, a Hyderabad based research organization.

By: Dr. Sajjan Kumar and Rajan Pandey

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