Too few seats, too many CMs: the BJP's problems in Bihar
- The BJP\'s election plan in Bihar refuses to fall into place.
- The secular alliance has declared Nitish Kumar their chief ministerial bet. The NDA has no clear candidate.
- Many are throwing their hats in the ring: Jiten Manjhi, Upendra Kushwaha, CP Thakur.
- More than a go at chief ministership, the NDA allies are jostling for seats.
- The BJP wants to contest 150 of 243 seats. That leaves 93 for its three allies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah's election plan for Bihar just refuses to fall into place. Just when former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's arrival on board seemed to have strengthened the NDA, a war over seat-shares has broken out amidst its allies.
First, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) - one of the partners in the NDA - has thrown a wrench in the works.
The party has declared its leader, Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Upendra Kushwaha, as the candidate for chief minister.
The RLSP's state president, Arun Kumar, said Kushwaha is the most capable and deserving candidate for the job.
The opposition alliance of Lalu Prasad's RJD, Nitish Kumar's JD(U) and the Congress has already decided to give the incumbent Nitish another go.
Now they, as well as others, are asking the NDA who it has to offer against Nitish. The BJP has ducked the question so far, but the RLSP has put it in a spot.
Musical chairs: The scramble for seats
Already, differences are showing. While former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi maintains it's not yet time to project a CM candidate, senior leader CP Thakur has come out to say he will accept the role if offered.
This despite the fact that RSLP's announcement is seen as just a bargaining chip in seat sharing negotiations. "The posturing is just to get a bigger share of seats than other allies," said a BJP source.
Upendra Kushwaha's projection as CM candidate is just a bargaining chip for his party in seat sharing talks
A leader of the Hindustani Awam Morcha, led by Manjhi, echoed this view. The allies, other than the BJP, he said, "want to get more seats than others and this makes them desperate to do these things".
"Our party is in a better position and more popular than the other allies. We will perform better. They also know this and that is why they are trying to put pressure on the BJP."
The NDA in Bihar constitutes the BJP, the RLSP, the Morcha and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party. According to sources, the BJP wants to contest 150 of 243 seats on offer.
That leaves 93 seats for the other three, none of whom want to settle for a seat less than the other. None, however, has officially quoted a number so far.
"We have nothing to do with what they (the RLSP) are saying and deciding. We will go with what the BJP and the prime minister decide," said the LJP general secretary Abdul Khaliq.
Others in the LJP, however, are agitated. "We are the second largest party in the NDA in terms of experience and leadership. How can the RLSP or the Morcha demand more seats?" asked a party leader. "That's not going to happen. Let them make noise, it won't help them."
Crossing fences: partners for a season
Apart from haggling over seats, the LJP has another axe to grind with Manjhi. The MLAs he took from the JD(U) to float his party included those who had abandoned Paswan for Nitish some years earlier.
"They betrayed us in 2005. How we will ask our supporters to vote for them now?" asked Abdul Khaliq.
Well, isn't the LJP also canvassing for Modi, the main reason for its break with the NDA in 2003?
"Modi is a different issue," Abdul Khaliq said. "But seeking votes for people who betrayed us here is not acceptable to the party and our supporters."
The BJP wants to contest 150 seats, leaving 93 for allies. None of them want to settle for a seat less than the other
Abdul Khaliq may evade the question, but that doesn't mean the BJP's Hindutva baggage is not part of the conversation.
Minority question: how to make the vote count
Addressing a convention of Muslims on Sunday, Kushwaha declared: "Hum NDA mein zaroor hein, lekin sampradayikta jaise muddon pe koi samjhauta nahi karenge (We are in the NDA, but we won't compromise on issues such as communalism)."
If Kushwaha can play the Muslim card to get the BJP's attention, Manjhi has the Dalit badge.
He is headed to Delhi to address a rally on 24 June. "The 'Gareeb Swabhimaan Sammelan' will help portray Manjhi as a political face of the Dalits. It is also an opportunity to get acceptability at the national level," said a party insider.
Such posturing in the national capital is also intended to signal the BJP and the prime minister not to consider Manjhi lesser than the other allies.
The allies have shown their hands, now it's Modi and Amit Shah's turn. How they play will determine, to a great extent, who takes Bihar.