Sunday, 11 October 2015


The NDA in Bihar
All the ego clashes and political arm twisting apart, the four parties that constitute the NDA in Bihar reached a consensus on the seat sharing arrangement in mid September, a couple of weeks after its bĂȘte noire - the Mahaghatbandhan made a similar announcement. Speaking to the media, BJP president and the man behind the accord Amit Shah put up a brave face, squashing all rumors of rift between the partners, primarily LJP's Paswan and HAM's Manjhi who seemed to be at loggerheads to prove who amongst the two is the real leader of the lower castes within the NDA ranks. As per the arrangement, the saffron outfit which is heading the front took away the lion's share and will be fielding candidates from 160 assembly segments. The pecking order within the alliance was clearly demarcated with the LJP getting 40 seats followed by Kushwaha's RLSP getting 23 and Manjhi's newly launched HAM bagging 20. Here are the key takeaways from the entire exercise in my opinion.

The seat sharing arrangement between the four players has clearly shown who is the boss. With the BJP contesting nearly two thirds of the total seats, almost 60 seats more than what it had contested in alliance with the JD-U in last state polls, the party has given itself an opportunity to form a simple majority on its own. Of course, at present indications are that the contest is going to be keenly fought affair and it is highly unlikely that the party can go past the half way mark on its own. However, it has at least given itself a chance. Moreover, it is now but sure that in case the NDA forms the next government in Patna, the CM will for sure be from the saffron outfit. If you remember, allies like the RLSP and the HAM were pitching for their supremos to be anointed as the alliance's choice for the top job. With the hierarchy firmly established, all these murmurs have been laid to rest. Also from the BJP's perspective, with the deal being hammered out, it can no go on the offensive in its bid to form its maiden regime in Bihar.

So have the allies got a 'raw' deal? To answer this question, we need to answer a different question: Does the BJP need the allies or do the allies need BJP? With the entire opposition ganging up against you, having a few friends on your side does help; hopefully the saffron camp realizes this. Moreover, in a state where caste can be a dominant factor in determining the outcome, these outfits who have backing of certain sections of the society can help tilting the balance on one side in a closely fought contest like this one. In spite of this, I think it is the allies who benefit more from the arrangement.

Imagine the scenario wherein the LJP, the RLSP and the HAM had not aligned with the BJP. Firstly, two of the three parties would not have had any MPs in the Parliament today; the only reason that six LJP members and three RLSP nominees made the cut was that the belonged to parties backing Narendra Modi.

For outfits like the Hindustan Awam Manch (HAM) or the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) whose chiefs had left the JD-U to float their own parties after differences with incumbent CM Nitish Kumar, there was no way they could have joined the Grand Alliance. Going back to Kumar would mean compromising on their self respect and enduring political humiliation from all quarters. On the other hand, their association with the BJP gives them a chance in a fight in which they otherwise would have been destined to lose had they gone solo; without the support of the NDA, even opening their account would have been nothing short of a miracle considering the lack of organization structure within these outfits and their inability to arrange the resources needed to fight such a high stakes election for the time being.

While one may understand why the likes of Kushwaha and Manjhi had to go with the NDA, the case of Bihar's political joker - Ramvilas Paswan is, as usual 'curious', to say the least. In the last three decades, he has tried all permutations and combinations; no wonder, allying with the grand alliance was also an alternative which the Dalit leader would have contemplated, even post the May 2014 General Elections. However, one needs to realize that the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has been in a moribund state ever since 2004 with its support base dwindling with every passing day; in the last state polls, the party in alliance with the RJD could win just 3 seats. At this juncture, if the Hajipur strongman had gone with the Nitish led coalition, he would have been fourth in the hierarchy, even behind the Congess and thus would have at max, got 20 to 25 seats to contest. On the other hand, the LJP is the second largest partner in the NDA now and will nominate candidates for 40 assembly constituencies. Though a NDA victory in Bihar will be the ideal scenario for LJP chief, his main aim will be to leverage whatever is left of the Modi wave to regain lost political ground by maximizing his final tally; moreover, knowing the wily fox that he is, Paswan should have no problems dumping the NDA and walking over to the Nitish camp in case of a hung assembly in case of a hung verdict if he is offered a 'good' deal.

Perhaps, one factor that most of us have missed is the political mastery of BJP president Amit Shah. A brilliant strategist who was elevated to the top post in the party ranks after scripting a memorable win for his boss in the big polls, he showed us again why he is amongst the most astute politicians in the country today. Bihar is an important state for the BJP and failing to cross the mark here will be a major embarrassment for the PM himself. No wonder, with unrest brewing within the constituents of the NDA and the allies getting more assertive, Modi had to depute his trusted aide to sort out the matter at the earliest. Having completed his task with distinction and brokered a deal, it remains to to be seen if Shah can paint the big state 'saffron' for Modi.