Upheaval in Bihar
Ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha election, Bihar with 40 seats is at the centre of a political upheaval with BJP president arriving in the state on July 12 to talk with JD(U) chief and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on the seat sharing issue. Last week, Union Minister and a strong proponent of Hindu politics, Giriraj Singh visited Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal leaders in jail to enquire after their well-being. These leaders were put behind bars by the state police for allegedly instigating violence during the Ram Navami festival in April this year. After the 30-minute meeting with these leaders at Nawada jail, Singh accused the Nitish Kumar government of framing the leaders affiliated with Hindu organisations. He said that in the name of secularism and maintaining public order, the state government has tried to suppress Hindu leaders. Despite such unpleasant remarks and amid talks that Nitish Kumar is not feeling comfortable in the NDA, Kumar recently clarified that there are no differences between JD(U) and BJP and the coalition government in Bihar is functioning smoothly. Kumar is also facing stinging diatribe from former alliance partner RJD, with its de facto chief and Lalu Prasad's younger son Tejashwi Yadav making it clear that JD(U) is no more welcome in the proposed grand alliance of the opposition parties. RJD is the single largest party in the Bihar Assembly with 81 seats. It has also won most of the byelections held in the state in the recent past that go on to prove that the party is still enjoying the support of a large section of the voters. In view of the inimical environment that Kumar faces in Bihar, he has to ensure that his party allies with the most potent political force in order to win enough number of seats and remain relevant in the state politics. This exigency brings him to seek an alliance with RJD but the party does not seem to be ready to play the ball. Right now, the party is part of NDA and running the state government in alliance with BJP. But the fact that it had won only two Lok Sabha seats in the last election does not guarantee that BJP will be willing to offer it enough number of seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. NDA parties – BJP, Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP and Upendra Kushwaha-led RLSP had contested 30, seven and three seats respectively in the 2014 elections, winning 22, six and three of them. Neither BJP nor the NDA partners would be willing to give up the seats that they represent. This means that JD(U) may get less than 10 seats to contest and that is far from the expectation that Kumar's political ambition allows him to settle down with. Realising the restlessness of Kumar on the issue, BJP President Shah is on a two-day visit to Bihar from July 12. Besides a scheduled talk with Kumar on the seat sharing issue, the BJP chief will assess the ground situation and talk to his party colleagues before formulating BJP's poll strategy for the state. And, the ground situation appears to be in favour of RJD whereas the influence of both JD(U) and BJP is on the decline. The only thing that can save JD(U) and BJP is a judicious alliance with regional parties. BJP already has LJP, RLSP and JD(U) under the fold of NDA and a continuity of this alliance can still overwhelm the rising force of RJD and Congress combine. But this alliance cannot accommodate Kumar's aspiration to remaining the most important political force in the state. While BJP would clearly want the alliance to continue, Kumar does not see enough reasons to remain steady with NDA. And, that's the reason, political analysts believe, why he made a phone call to ailing RJD supremo Lalu Yadav, purportedly to enquire after his health.
Though RJD is the most important political entity in today's politics in Bihar, it has its own challenges to deal with. Almost the entire family of Lalu Yadav, except for the eldest son Tej Pratap Yadav who is not taken seriously even by his own family members, are embroiled in different corruption cases. Lalu Yadav is already serving a jail term in three of the fodder scam cases. His wife, daughter Misa Bharati and her husband, and Tejeshwi Yadav are all being grilled by CBI and ED in different corruption cases. Their priority at the moment seems is to find some relief from the probing agencies. Winning or losing some seats because RJD could not ally with JD(U) would not matter much for the embattled Yadav family. The relief from the probing agency is possible only when RJD keeps BJP and the Central government in good humour. And that is a big reason why RJD would not reciprocate the overtures of JD(U).