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Mission Bihar

After three years, BJP president Amit Shah is heading to Bihar where NDA partner JD(U) is showing signs of discomfort with being in the alliance. Recently, JD(U) Chief Nitish Kumar did not turn up at the International Yoga Day events in the state. After NDA partner Shiv Sena, which has been consistently criticising the NDA government at the Centre for the past four years, it is the JD(U) that is now playing the hardball. Other NDA partners in Bihar like Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) are also sending indications that they would seek a more equitable share in the seat distribution for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2019. And, not so long ago, another important NDA partner, the Telugu Desam Party led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu deserted the alliance, accusing the BJP-led Central government of not fulfilling the promise of according the state the special category status after its bifurcation in 2014. Shah is expected to hold parleys with all the three NDA partners in Bihar as well as his own party members to chalk out a common plan for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. In his two-day visit to the state, he would review the poll preparedness of his party in alliance with the NDA members. In the last Lok Sabha election, BJP had won 22 seats out of 40 in the state while JD(U) had won six seats, Lok Janshakti Party six seats and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party three seats. Given the fact that JD(U) has 71 seats, against BJP's 53, out of 225 in the state Assembly, it is likely to seek a larger share of the seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Also, the regional parties and NDA members in the state are of the view that BJP is no longer a strong force in the state and, therefore, it should spare more seats for the alliance partners. BJP winning an unprecedented 22 seats in Bihar in the last Lok Sabha election was attributed to its alliance with the regional parties which ensured that the votes in favour of the alliance were not divided. To repeat the success of the last Lok Sabha election this time around, BJP will have to keep the alliance with caste-sensitive regional parties intact and going. But that's not easy in view of the over-assertiveness of the alliance partners and the changing dynamics of the state politics in which Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has regained much of its lost ground. Realising this, Nitish Kumar is said to have once again opened a channel of communication with the party. Similarly, BJP has also stopped being excessively critical of RJD. Lalu Yadav, who was serving a jail term in Ranchi in the cases related to fodder scam, has been shifted to a hospital in Mumbai and some NDA ministers at the Centre have visited him there. Though RJD has been opposing the Modi government since the very beginning and has been steady in its alliance with Congress, a change in its stance in favour of BJP cannot be ruled out. In view of all these possibilities, Shah's Bihar visit assumes greater significance. RJD is in a resurgent mode in Bihar and it has the necessary support base to emerge as the most potent political force in the state. BJP, which has been carrying along with lesser political entities such as JD(U), LJP and RLSP, cannot be oblivious of the rising stars of RJD. In the last Lok Sabha election, Narendra Modi was the chief election campaigner for the BJP. Attired in colourful dresses, he travelled the length and breadth of the country and delivered emphatic speeches that compelled people to attend his public rallies in large numbers. He promised a new era of governance that would focus on development, fight corruption and bring back Indian black money stashed up abroad. He piled up charges of corruption and inefficiency on Congress-led UPA, which surprisingly lacked spirit and enthusiasm to counter Modi's offensive. Though BJP-led NDA won a landslide victory in the elections, commentators attributed the victory to Modi, who came to assume a larger than life image in Indian politics. Cut to the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Modi is still the BJP's most sellable face but his appeal and aura look somewhat eclipsed by the setbacks in the recent by-polls, especially in Kairana, Phulpur, and Gorakhpur. In these elections, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party joined hands and fielded common candidates that resulted in the defeat of the BJP. Now, this phenomenon is being taken as a template by the opposition parties to take on the BJP in the nationwide Lok Sabha elections of 2019. Now, it is worth watching how the Modi-Shah combine turns the table on the united opposition.

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