BJP in talks with regional parties, won’t contest on fewer than 105 seats.
New Delhi: With the state witnessing strong and rising anti-Nitish Kumar sentiments, BJP strategists are worried that the Bihar Assembly elections, that “may” happen in a few months, are unlikely to give a favourable result as the BJP is hoping for, if things are allowed to go on as they have been going on so far.
While referring to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Patna-based BJP party strategists told The Sunday Guardian that the last few months have seen a massive erosion of “brand Nitish” and the BJP is likely to become a collateral damage due to the fact that they were running the state in an alliance with the Janata Dal United (JDU).
“The CM did not step out of his home for 87 days when the entire state was reeling under Covid-19; the horrid and sorry condition of the government hospitals is now known to the entire world and Bihar’s testing rate is the lowest among 19 other states of the country. Migrants, who had come back to Bihar after being snubbed in various states, are being forced to go back since their own state cannot give them employment. Covid-19 has revealed the real status of ‘brand Nitish’’. Voters are watching these developments silently and we are very worried that we might have to pay a heavy price because of this in the coming months,” a Patna-based BJP functionary said.
According to him, the same sentiment was prevalent among almost all the party leaders who are active on the ground, but it was not being discussed publicly as the national leadership of the BJP, multiple times, has stated that the elections will be contested under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. The Sunday Guardian had earlier written on 30 May about how BJP MLAs had requested the party leadership to postpone the elections because of Covid-19 and the massive anti-incumbency on the ground. (Bihar BJP leaders’ plea to postpone polls ignored).
Earlier last week, NITI Aayog, while releasing data, revealed that Bihar’s Covid-19 testing rate was the lowest among 19 other states of the country with the state doing 2,197 tests per 10 lakh population. Neighbouring states like Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, were testing 4,416 and 3,798 individuals per 10 lakh of population respectively.
As a result of the increasing Covid-19 cases in the state, a one-week total lockdown was imposed in Patna and other parts of the state. The people in the state administration called it a “practical step” as it was now clear that Bihar did not have adequate men or resources to deal with the rising numbers of Covid-19 patients.
Earlier, Bihar had become one of the few states (the other being West Bengal) which removed its health secretary in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The then health secretary Sanjay Kumar was removed from his post and transferred to a “loop-line” in mid-May reportedly after he was being too “transparent” when it came to dealing with the Covid-19 figures in the state and was putting all data on public domain despite being asked by his political bosses not to.
This is the second successive year when the Nitish Kumar-led NDA has fared badly in handling issues related to the general public. Last year, the state capital was inundated with rainwater for weeks with properties worth crores belonging to the middle and lower class being destroyed because the state administration, all these years, could not clean the drains or build new drains in Patna. The deputy CM of the state and senior Bihar BJP leader Sushil Modi was himself forced to call the disaster rescue team which rescued him from his flooded home. Ultimately, it was the intervention from the Central government, led by Bihar BJP MPs including Patna MP Ravi Shankar Prasad, who arranged powerful pumps from coal mines from other states to drain out the accumulated rain water from the city, which led to normalization of the situation.
“Nitish Kumar’s political career is more or less over now. We are sticking with him because some of our senior state leaders are not willing to leave him for their own personal ambitions. While the common people are running from pillar to post seeking Covid-19 beds and doctors, a 9-doctor team, with equal number of nurses, and ventilators, was ordered to be installed at the CM residence in case he falls ill. Even during the Patna flooding, he did not come out to meet the people till the worst was over. The BJP, irrespective of what is in the public domain, will be forced to dump him. It is only a matter of time now,” a former Union minister said, adding that the “old” Nitish Kumar would have never given importance to himself in times of calamities like this.
BJP in talks with RLSP, VIP
According to BJP leaders, the BJP has made up its mind to contest on an equal number of seats, if not more, as that of JDU in the upcoming polls. “There is no scope of compromise on this topic (when it comes to seat sharing with JDU). We will contest an equal, if not more, number of seats. If Nitish Kumar is not comfortable with the equation, he is free to take any decision. We will contest at least 105 seats, if not more,” the aide of a Union minister said. On its part, the JDU, through “source”-based media reports, has made it clear that it will contest on no less than 120-122 seats. If the JDU contests on 120 seats, then that will leave 123 seats for the BJP and LJP, which is the other alliance partner in the Bihar NDA, to share among themselves in the 243-member Assembly.
The JDU is worried that if the BJP and JDU contest on equal numbers of seats and the BJP wins on more seats, the BJPwill have the first right over the CM’s chair, a situation which Nitish Kumar does not want to develop. In the 2010 elections, the JDU had contested on 141 seats, while the BJP had contested on 102 seats.
However, in the 2015 polls, in which the JDU and BJP contested elections as adversaries, the JDU contested 101 seats, while the BJP won 157 seats. Those BJP leaderswho feel that Nitish Kumar has become a burden, said that the Bihar BJP has capable leaders who will be easily accepted as a CM face by the people of Bihar. “Ravishankar Prasad is among the most acceptable faces when it comes to the party cadre and voters. People of Bihar want someone like him who can draw a vision for Bihar and then execute it on the ground. We also have people like Nityananad Rai, who is a Yadav and has a clean image and experience of handling the party and the administration. Giriraj Singh too is there, he has a lot of loyal supporters in the party. There is no dearth of capable leaders. The decision makers like Bhupendra Yadav (Bihar BJP in-charge, who has been camping in Patna for one week now), too, are aware that people of Bihar are tired of Nitish Kumar, but no one is taking the effort to share this feedback with the party leadership for reasons best known to them. Even J.P. Naddaji (BJP national president) has a strong network of well-wishers in Patna who can give him genuine feedback, but for that you have to call up people,” a 42-year-old party leader, who is going to contest the elections, said.
The BJP, multiple sources confirmed, was in talks with Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) to prepare for future “eventualities”.
“A lot of behind-the-scene developments are taking place with regards to our future course of action in Bihar elections, which will be revealed in coming times. That is all that I can say,” a former Union minister said when asked for his views on the present political situation in Bihar.