Bihar Polls: BJP-JD(U) Almost Seal Seat-Sharing Formula, Start Preparing Manifesto; RJD-Congress Hiccups Remain

Bihar Polls: BJP-JD(U) Almost Seal Seat-Sharing Formula, Start Preparing Manifesto; RJD-Congress Hiccups RemainBihar chief minister Nitish Kumar (Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)  
Snapshot
  • The JD(U) and the BJP have reportedly agreed to contest from 105 seats each and leave about 32 odd seats for Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S).

The Janata Dal (United) and the BJP have more or less finalised a seat-sharing formula and are moving on to the next stage of preparing a joint manifesto.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress led Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance (GA), on the other hand, is experiencing hiccups over seat-sharing and both parties are looking at Sonia Gandhi to act as the final arbiter.

The JD(U) and the BJP have agreed to contest from an equal number of seats and leave about 32 odd seats for Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S).

According to top BJP leaders, the two parties (JD-U and BJP) have agreed to contest from about 105 seats each.

The LJP has reportedly agreed to the BJP’s offer of 27 seats while HAM-S, which won just one seat in the 2015 Assembly poll, has agreed to the JD(U)’s offer of five seats.

BJP national president J.P. Nadda and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar held final consultations on seat-sharing and campaigning on Wednesday morning where the seat-sharing formula was finalised.

Both the parties also decided that their respective workers and supporters would work for alliance partners across all the 243 constituencies.

It was also decided that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar would be the two main campaigners for the NDA.

LJP chief Chirag Paswan has reportedly agreed to Nadda’s request to desist from attacking the JD(U) and chief minister Nitish Kumar and endorse the NDA’s portrayal of Kumar as the alliance’s chief ministerial face.

This is a big climbdown for Chirag Paswan who has been nursing chief ministerial ambitions and had been criticising Kumar.

Paswan had even threatened to go it alone and field candidates in all the 100-plus constituencies where the JD(U) would be contesting from

Nadda is holding meetings with party leaders from Bihar like deputy chief minister Sushil Modi and others to tie up the loose ends of seat-sharing and prepare the draft manifesto which will then be shared with the JD(U) leadership before being finalised.

The Grand Alliance (GA), on the other hand, is experiencing serious hiccups over seat-sharing. While the RJD--the GA’s senior partner--is willing to offer the Congress only 58 seats, the Congress wants at least 75 seats.

With seat-sharing negotiations between state Congress leaders and the RJD leadership reaching a stalemate, both the parties have now left it to Sonia Gandhi to sort things out.

It is learnt that RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is in prison after being convicted in the infamous fodder scam, suggested that Sonia Gandhi be the final arbiter. Lalu Yadav shares a warm personal relationship with Gandhi.

The RJD had, in the first week of September, offered the Congress 73 seats and had also agreed to allocate seats to smaller parties in the GA from its own share of seats. The Congress had, at that time, said it would get back on the RJD’s offer within a week.

But it was only on 26 September that the Congress responded to the RJD’s initial offer by demanding 75 seats.

But by then, some Congress leaders had queered the pitch by threatening to break the alliance with the RJD and going it alone in the polls.

A senior RJD leader told Swarajya from Patna that his party, angry over “inimical utterances” by Congress leaders like Avinash Pande (who heads the Congress screening committee for Bihar), took back its “generous offer” of 73 seats.

The delay in finalising this seat-sharing is affecting the GA on the ground. A lot of bad blood is being created between RJD and Congress workers and it might be difficult to get them to work together for a common candidate in the run-up to the polls.

RJD leaders feel that the Congress, which had contested 41 seats in 2015 and won only 27, does not deserve more than 58, or at best 60, seats. The Congress’ vote share in the last elections was only 6.7 percent.

The GA has also suffered the loss of a constituent--Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP)--on Tuesday.

Kushwaha had approached the NDA recently, but his demand for 25-odd seats was rejected by the BJP. Earlier, the HAM-S had walked out of the GA and joined the NDA.

A few powerful Congress leaders are not enthusiastic about Lalu Yadav’s son Tejashwi being projected as the GA’s chief ministerial candidate.

They had told the party high command that the GA should contest the polls without a CM candidate and the alliance should elect a chief minister only after winning the polls.

But the Congress high command had summarily rejected their demand, and that has left these leaders angry and hurt.

The RJD feels that these leaders would not work for the RJD candidates in places where they (the disgruntled Congress leaders) hold sway.

Sources in the GA say there are many such friction points in the alliance and these are likely to affect the GA’s electoral prospects.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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