Sunday, 16 August 2015

GET... SET... GO!

Source: News 18
"Why just 143 seats? The RJD should contest from all 243 assembly seats". This was Bihar CM Nitish Kumar's reaction in May to a question posed by a journalist after RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh's comment that his party should contest 143 seats as part of the 'Secular' Front since it had got more votes compared to the JD-U in the 2014 General Elections. With the top leadership of both parties taking pot shots at each other in the last three months, many in the media as well as the BJP were expecting the candidature of the Chief Minister as well as the seat sharing arrangement between the partners to be major road blocks in the future of this mega coalition. Considering the bitter rivalry that existed between the JD-U and the RJD in the past, they were definitely not off the mark; although going alone was out of question, speculations were rife that these two issues could potentially damage the camaraderie that exists between the former Socialist leaders for now, re-igniting past differences and sowing the seeds of 'disharmony' within the grand alliance.

The first of these two contentious issue - the choice of the Chief Ministerial candidate was sorted in June earlier this year as the incumbent CM Nitish Kumar was given the charge of leading the Janata Parivaar and its allies for the Bihar polls. His former rival - Lalu Prasad who is not eligible to contest any elections after his conviction in the Fodder Scam did try his best to play 'spoil sport'. However, the backing of the Congress and JP's supremo-in-waiting Mulayum Singh Yadav, the lack of any other credible face within the RJD to lead the Front and the image of Nitish as a pro-development leader meant that he was the numero uno choice for the post. In the media conference where the incumbent CM was declared as the leader of the non-NDA coalition, Lalu did make a 'veiled' attack at Kumar when he said that he was even ready to drink 'poison' just to keep the 'communal' forces at bay. In spite of all the drama, the bottom line was clear; the question of leadership of the new Front was a settled one and after throwing some tantrums, the RJD supremo did fall in line in the end, much to the relief of the coalition and its supporters. But then, the other concern was still there: Would the non-NDA parties be able to reach at a consensus on the number of seats to contest and put up a strong defence against the BJP led Front or would the alliance splinter owing to the 'bruised' egos of their leaders?

Many political analysts believed that the seat sharing arrangement could be the mega alliance's 'Achilles Heel'. The Janata Dal - United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) were at loggerheads for long as to what would be the basis for reaching at the final figures; while the former wanted it to be based on the 2010 state polls, the latter was pressing for the General Polls 2014. Moreover, history too was not on their side. One would remember that in 2009, the Congress had walked out of the alliance with Lalu Yadav and LJP's Ramvilas Paswan after it was given just two seats to contest in the then General Elections. There were speculations that the Yadav strongman would demand more seats for his party as 'compensation' for supporting the candidature of Nitish Kumar. The JD-U, on the other hand, having contested as many as 140 odd seats in alliance with the BJP in 2010, was not very keen to accommodate his new found allies.

No wonder then, the news of the coalition partners reaching consensus last Wednesday came in as a surprise to most. As per the pact, the two main regional outfits are set to contest 100 seats each while leaving 40 seats for the Congress which seems to have benefited the most out of the rivalry between the regional parties. Meanwhile, in the conference that was attended by the top leaders of the coalition namely, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav and INC's C P Joshi, the mega coalition blew the electoral bugle. Of course, it was not a smooth sailing all throughout. NCP leader and Katihar MP Tarique Anwar was left fuming after his outfit was allocated just three seats, questioning the very 'secular' ideals that the coalition claims to uphold while accusing them of marginalizing the Muslims over the years for electoral gains. The Samajwadi Party (SP) whose supremo Mulayum Singh played a key role in bringing the coalition together is also said to be disappointed after it was left out of the talks. In fact, even RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh while speaking to the media expressed his disappointment over the formula and further went on to say that entire exercise was conducted in a 'hurry'.

All the infighting apart, the leaders of the 'Secular' Front must be congratulated for sorting out the two major issues facing its very existence. The pressure is now on the NDA in general and the BJP in particular. With the polls about three months away, the saffron party and its allies are yet to finalize the seat sharing formula. With Paswan, Manjhi and Kushwaha demanding over 60 seats each, it remains to be seen how Amit Shah manages to use his political acumen in reaching a compromise. Forget seat sharing, the BJP has not yet managed to project its CM candidate for the Bihar polls. With the 'Secular' alliance now getting ready for the battle, it is high time that the NDA puts its house in order if it wants to win the prestigious state of Bihar.