‘Biggest loser’ in the new arrangement may be the Upendra Kushwaha-led RLSP.
The seat-sharing issue among the four National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners in Bihar has almost been finalised. According to sources aware of the development, the biggest loser in the new arrangement is likely to be the Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), which had won three seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and has been seeking to contest on at least five seats now.
Without divulging the details, JDU sources said that the seat distribution issue has already been discussed and “informally” agreed upon by JDU president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and BJP national president Amit Shah. It will be made public soon, they added.
According to the sources, with chances that Kushwaha may walk out of the NDA and join the Lalu Yadav-led alliance, Nitish Kumar has started wooing the Kurmi-Koeri vote bank that Upendra Kushwaha claims to represent. Kumar is apparently acting under the advice of election strategist Prashant Kishor who has recently joined the ruling party.
Last week, Nitish Kumar invited more than 800 workers of the Kushwaha community at his residence and, during the five-hour-long meeting, facilitated in forming a new forum, “Kushwaha Rajnitik Vikas Manch”, which would work for the JDU. According to a source, members of Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) have also been asked to be ready to move to Bihar by the end of this year.
RJD sources said that Tejashwi Yadav, who is the de facto chief of the alliance in Bihar, has reportedly offered Kushwaha six seats if he joins them. However, RLSP sources said that they were hopeful that the BJP will share the seat distribution arrangement by Diwali, failing which the RLSP leadership will decide whether to stay in NDA, which they want as of now, or think of a new partnership. The sources admitted that despite sending several messages, the BJP has not talked to them about the seat-sharing issue and they are still waiting for a response. As of now, the RLSP is left with only two MPs, as one of its MPs, Arun Kumar, has turned rebel.
According to state BJP leaders, the party, which has 22 MPs from Bihar at present, can at the maximum, leave two seats for its allies including the Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), apart from JDU and RLSP. LJP has six MPs presently.
Sources said that media reports that BJP, JDU, LJP and RLSP would contest on 16, 16, four and two seats respectively with the remaining two to be given to Arun Kumar and Pappu Yadav, are “immature”. “BJP cannot sacrifice its six seats for JDU which had only won on two seats in 2014,” they said.
“We are likely to lose seats in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, for which we have to compensate in other states if we have to cross 200 on our own and make it easier to form a government. Sacrificing six of our existing MPs for JDU, which had won two seats, or the LJP, whose influence is limited, is not logical,” a BJP functionary said.
LJP has made it clear that it will not contest on less than seven seats that it had contested in 2014 and won six. BJP sources said that because of the prevailing environment in the country and a perception that the present government was anti-Dalit, the party had no choice but to listen to Paswan, who can switch sides any time if his demands are not met.
At the state level, both JDU and LJP want RLSP to be marginalised so that it is forced to leave the NDA which will give these two parties more seats to contest from.
“Nitish Kumar and Kushwaha are not friends. Both of them would want to finish each other politically. Nitish Kumar knows that if RLSP does not do well in 2019, it will be the end for Kushwaha,” a source said.
However, keeping the “alliance dharma” in mind, all the three leaders of their respective parties have not attacked each other openly and are using their lieutenants to attack each other, indirectly.
Kushwaha, who has been approached by multiple media outlets for his views on his subtle but visible marginalisation in NDA, has chosen to keep quiet and has not approved requests for interview.
Earlier this week, Kushwaha, in a bid to keep up the pressure on Shah, tweeted that “I won’t be surprised if NOTA gets the majority mark in Bihar”.
Similarly, Paswan’s brother Pashupati Kumar Paras, who is also a minister in the Nitish Kumar Cabinet, earlier this week said that they would not contest on fewer than seven seats and that his organisation was ready to contest all the 40 seats, adding that it was up to the BJP to play the role of big brother and go for sacrifices and contest on fewer seats than in 2014.