With the Bihar Assembly election scheduled for October, political parties are busy staking claim for a greater share of seats within their own alliances. While the Congress has made it clear that it will enter into an alliance only if offered an “honourable” number of seats, the Janata Dal (United), reacting to attacks by Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) President Chirag Paswan on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has said its alliance is with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
A greater share of seats
Do Mr. Paswan’s repeated attacks on Mr. Kumar signal a possible change in alliance in Bihar? Given the fact that the LJP’s unease with Mr. Kumar is not on any ideological or policy issue, the strategy seems to be to demand a larger share of seats. The LJP has six members in the Lok Sabha and its leader, Ram Vilas Paswan, holds a ministerial post, but in the State Assembly, the party has only two MLAs, so it is in a very poor bargaining position for seats. While it is fine for parties to devise bargaining strategies, like the LJP is doing, they also need to be mindful of how far they can stretch their demands. In the past, whenever the LJP went overboard in its demands, it suffered.
Chirag Paswan has been very critical of Mr. Kumar over the last few months. He created ripples when he said that the BJP would decide who the face of the coalition will be. The JD(U) reacted sharply to this saying that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s top leadership had already decided that the Assembly election would be fought under Mr. Kumar’s leadership. Chirag Paswan also went to the extent of saying that the LJP is prepared to contest all 243 Assembly seats alone. While one cannot rule out the fact that he has his personal ambitions, Mr. Paswan’s aggressive posturing shows an attempt to have multiple gains. Knowing well that being inexperienced, he may not be chosen to replace Ram Vilas Paswan in the Union Cabinet once the latter retires, Mr. Paswan wants to stake claim to a greater share in State politics. Demanding a substantial number of seats is the first step towards that.
There is another reason for his attacks on Mr. Kumar. The LJP contested the 2015 Assembly election in alliance with the BJP in 42 seats. It managed to get a sizeable number of seats as the JD(U) was in alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. Now, with the JD(U) back in the NDA, the LJP is likely to get far fewer seats compared to the previous election. What makes the LJP’s claim even weaker is its strength of two in the current Bihar Assembly, whereas the JD(U) had won 71 seats and the BJP, 53.
Mr. Paswan would be mindful of how the party suffered a severe setback during the October 2005 Assembly election. In the February 2005 Assembly election, the LJP won 29 seats, but it refused to extend support to anyone or join any coalition to form the government. Thus a hung assembly forced the State to go to polls again in October, in which the LJP won only 10 seats. The tough posturing of Ram Vilas Paswan in February 2005 did not pay any dividends. The party would need to be careful in this balancing act of making demands and making concessions.
Importance in the State
In spite of its poor presence in the current Assembly, the LJP still enjoys some bargaining power as it has a reasonable support base across the State. The BJP and the JD(U) are mindful of the fact that the LJP may not be able to win a large number of seats on its own, but the party’s popularity amongst Dalit voters in general and among the Paswans in particular could be vital for helping the NDA partners win closely contested elections.
Knowing well the importance of the LJP in the Bihar election, Congress leaders invited the LJP to join their alliance. Mr. Paswan has time and again talked about his ambition to become Chief Minister. The question is, will Tejaswi Yadav and leaders of the UPA alliance be ready for this?
Sanjay Kumar is a Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, and Neel Madhav, a student of journalism at the University of Delhi, is associated with Lokniti, a research programme of CSDS. Views are personal
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