The results of the by-polls to the Kurhani Assembly seat in Bihar being held today (5 December) will provide a strong indication of the future trajectory of politics in that state.
The by-polls were necessitated by the disqualification of incumbent MLA Anil Kumar Sahani of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) following his conviction in August this year.
Sahani was convicted for submitting fake travel bills while he was a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament in 2012. He was with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) (JDU) at that time.
This by-poll is the first time that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its former ally — the JD(U) — are facing off in a straight contest after Nitish Kumar ditched the saffron party and joined hands with the RJD-led mahagathbandhan or grand alliance a few months ago.
By-polls to two seats in the state — Mokama and Gopalganj — were held earlier last month, but the mahagathbandhan had fielded RJD candidates from both those seats.
This time, Manoj Kushwaha of the JD(U) has been fielded by the grand alliance and is pitted against the BJP’s Kedar Prasad Gupta.
Both sides are strong in Kurhani. BJP’s Gupta had won this seat in 2015, but was narrowly defeated (the margin as a mere 712 votes) in 2020 by RJD’s Anil Kumar Sahani. But in the Assembly elections in February 2005, October 2005 and in 2010, Kushwaha had won this seat.
Kurhani is one of the six Assembly segments in the Muzaffarpur Lok Sabha constituency that is represented by BJP’s Ajay Nishad. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP got 57.05 per cent votes while the Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP) which was part of the RJD-led grand alliance got only 29.01 per cent votes.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s vote share from Kurhani was 48.25 per cent, while the Congress got 27.71 per cent and the JD(U)’s share was only 9.6 per cent.
But in the 2010 Assembly elections, the JD(U)’s vote share was 28.29 per cent, followed closely by the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) at 27.08 per cent while the Congress came a poor third with 7.62 per cent votes.
The LJP did well from Kurhani in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, bagging 32.08 per cent votes and the JD(U) (which won the Muzaffarpur seat that time) trailing behind with 27.91 per cent votes.
Thus, in the last six major elections (Assembly and Lok Sabha), the BJP triumphed thrice while the JD(U), LJP and RJD won once each. This proves that all the parties are quite strong in Kurhani.
Given this past, the following factors will make this by-election an interesting one:
—Will RJD’s Votes Get Transferred To JD(U)?
The fate of the JD(U)’s Kushwaha will hinge on this. While the JD(U) has been an ally of the RJD in the past, an analysis of the results of the 2015 Assembly elections (when the RJD and JD-U were allies) shows that the RJD’s votes, especially the Yadavs, did not vote for the JD(U).
That’s because the Yadavs consider the sections of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who are the JD(U)’s core vote base, as political and social arch rivals.
In order to ensure that Kushwaha gets the support of his party’s loyal voters, Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav held joint election rallies with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
But it remains to be seen if the Yadavs can overcome their animosity towards the JD(U)’ support base of OBCs and vote for Kushwaha.
The RJD and the JD(U) were bitter rivals till a few months ago and leaders of the two parties had spewed invectives at each other very often in the past. Workers and supporters of the two parties had also been at daggers drawn.
The million dollar question is, if they (workers and supporters of the two parties) will forget their past animosity and work unitedly to ensure Kushwaha’s victory.
—Will The AIMIM Corner Muslim Votes And Harm The JD(U)’s Prospects?
Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has fielded Mohammad Ghulam Murtaza from Kurhani. If Murtaza corners a sizeable number of Muslim votes, it will harm Kushwaha’s prospects.
That’s why RJD and JD(U) leaders have been urging Muslims, who form 15.8 per cent of the electorate, to remain united and vote for Kushwaha.
The mahagathbandhan has been alleging that the BJP and AIMIM have a secret understanding and that’s why the AIMIM has thrown its hat into the ring in order to mar the JD(U) candidate’s chances.
RJD and JD(U) leaders fear that the Kurhani by-elections can be a repeat of last month’s by-polls in Gopalganj where the AIMIM candidate Abdul Salam polled 7.25 per cent of votes.
The BJP’s Kusum Devi defeated the RJD’s Mohan Prasad Gupta in Gopalganj by 1,794 votes. The RJD believes that had the AIMIM not fielded a candidate, its candidate would have cruised to an easy victory.
—Will VIP Mar The BJP’s Prospects?
Mukesh Sahani’s Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP) has fielded Neelabh Kumar, a Bhumihar. Bhumihars form a strong support base of the BJP and the saffron party fears that Kumar may take away a chunk of the community’s votes, thus harming the prospects of the BJP candidate.
Kumar is also banking on the support of the Sahnis (6.1 per cent of the electorate) and the fishermen community (2.3 per cent of the electorate).
Wary of Kumar’s presence in the fray, BJP leaders have been openly alleging the VIP has been propped by the mahagathbandhan to harm the saffron party’s electoral prospects.
—Will LJP Votes Get Transferred To The BJP?
Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) had a sizeable vote base in Kurhani, as is evident from the results of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the 2010 Assembly elections.
In 2009, the LJP got 32.08 per cent votes while in 2010, it got 27.08 per cent votes.
But the LJP had recently split into two factions headed by Ram Vilas Paswan’s brother Pashupati Kumar Paras and son Chirag Paswan. The BJP got the two on the same platform recently and both Chiran Paswan and his uncle (Pashupati Kumar Paras) campaigned jointly for the BJP candidate.
But what remains to be seen is how intact and cohesive the LJP vote bank remains after the split that the party had suffered. If the LJP’s vote bank is intact and its votes get transferred to the BJP’s Gupta, the latter’s prospects obviously brighten.
—Will The Contentious ‘Caste Census’ Be A Factor?
The mahagathbandhan had campaigned vigorously against the Union Government’s refusal to conduct a caste census and tried to portray it as the BJP’s indifference towards OBCs.
JD(U) and RJD leaders have been vocal in condemning the BJP’s opposition to the caste census and have tried to portray the BJP as an upper caste party that is anti-backward caste.
But the BJP has countered this campaign by strongly highlighting the work it has done for backward castes, particularly the many central schemes that have benefited the backward castes.
It has highlighted its many schemes aimed at Dalits, and showcased the strong representation it has given to Dalits at various forums, including elected bodies.
The results of this by-poll in Bihar will answer these, and a few other questions. And these answers will shape Bihar’s future political landscape.
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