Pre-poll strategies for Lok Sabha election 2019 have begun and political parties are weighing their options before going for the final thrust. Dealt with setbacks in three Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah has its task cut out. Congress and Rahul Gandhi on the other hand are moving slowly but steadily, garnering crucial support from other political parties.
The exit of Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) chief Upendra Kushwaha from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and eventually joining hands with Congress has turned the Bihar battle quite interesting. The state has two strong regional forces in the form of RJD and JD(U) and other parties like RSLP and LJP. Now, a game of chess has begun between Congress and BJP over gaining the confidence of the aforementioned regional parties.
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Following Kushwaha’s exit, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) — another constituent of the NDA — has begun to mount pressure on the BJP over a greater share of seats in the alliance. The party began the hard bargaining soon after the BJP lost three states of MP, Chhattisgrah and Rajasthan. Kushwaha’s exit came as the apt time for the LJP to flex its muscle to get more seats in the bargain. In the process, it castigated Amit Shah for not finalising the seat-sharing deal and even questioned Arun Jaitley on the benefits of demonetisation.
For the Modi-shah duo, the task of keeping NDA intact gains prominence due to a mix of factors. ‘Mahagathbandhan’ or Grand Alliance of opposition parties in Bihar had managed to keep BJP at bay in 2015 assembly polls. However, JD(U), which was a key constituent of the alliance back then, has turned its allegiance to BJP. The announcement of Kushwaha joining the ‘mahagathbandhan’ of opposition parties in Bihar came at a press conference at the party headquarters in New Delhi in the presence of senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, AICC state in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, opposition leader Sharad Yadav and Jitan Ram Manjhi who heads the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular).
While the BJP has refused to term Kushwaha’s move a threat by calling him an “ajooba”, the alliance of the Congress, RJD and others in the state have projected it as a loss of face for the PM, given that Kushwaha was a Cabinet minister and has slammed the BJP for ignoring social justice. With LJP beginning to sound more combative, the BJP faces the threat of another exit and a significant loss of Dalit votes.
With grand alliance leaders asserting that they will “together throw the BJP out of power” and will work towards mitigating the plight of the people of Bihar and the country, BJP needs to keep JD(U) and LJP in its side.
“Both the MLAs and one MLC of the party (RLSP) have unanimously announced that we are with the NDA. We are with the coalition which RLSP has been a part of. Upendra Kushwaha has taken a decision at variance with the party’s sentiments,” party MLA Sudhanshu Shekhar said.
As per 2011 Census, the Kushwaha community has the sizeable presence of around 6 per cent of Bihar’s total population and contributed 3 seats to NDA’s staggering tally of 31 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. If we look at 2015 Assembly polls data, the grand alliance parties have close to 45 per cent vote share which will worry BJP. BJP, however, can counter this with the help of veteran politicians like Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan in the 2019 polls.