With barely a day to go before the first phase of polling to 71 constituencies spread across 16 districts starts on Wednesday (28 October), speculation over a ‘secret’ understanding between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has peaked.
Despite strenuous denials by even the BJP top leadership, including Home Minister Amit Shah and national president J P Nadda, rumours about such an understanding refused to die down throughout the campaign.
Every move by the BJP was keenly and closely watched and scrutinised, and some moves and gestures only fuelled this speculation.
The latest such move was the putting up of huge banners and posters, and full page advertisements in newspapers, by the BJP over the weekend. The publicity materials had images of only Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but not Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
The banners, posters and advertisements, however, had the election symbols of all the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance — the BJP, Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) or HAM(S) and Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP).
But the BJP’s latest publicity materials stood out in stark contrast to the JD(U)’s which gave equal prominence to images of Prime Minister Modi and its own chief Nitish Kumar.
JD(U) leaders were upset, but preferred to remain silent. There has been a lot of talk within the party, and even among its top leaders, over the past two days over the absence of Nitish Kumar’s images from the BJP’s publicity materials and advertisements.
“On the eve of the first phase of polls, it would be unwise to comment on this. But the absence of Nitish Kumar’s image in the BJP’s posters have hurt us and can only fuel speculation about the existence of a secret understanding between the BJP and LJP,” said a top JD(U) functionary.
LJP chief Chirag Paswan was quick to highlight this and take a dig at Nitish Kumar. “I am happy that the BJP publicity materials have only Modiji’s photographs. My BJP friends have realised that Nitish Kumar is a liability,” said Paswan.
But BJP leaders have been trying to scotch such speculation. Even on Monday (26 October), BJP national president J P Nadda, while addressing a rally at Aurangabad, said: “Some people are indulging in conspiracies and are trying to harm the prospects of the NDA. They criticise Nitish Kumar but praise Modi”.
Even before announcing that the LJP would contest elections on its own, Chirag Paswan had taken care to assert that his quarrel lay with only Nitish Kumar.
He proclaimed himself a fan of Modi and asserted that the LJP would continue to be a part of the NDA at the Centre.
After the LJP broke away from the NDA in Bihar, the JD(U) had demanded that the BJP expel it from the ruling coalition at the Centre. But the BJP’s refusal to do so fuelled rumours of a secret deal with LJP.
Chirag Paswan’s bonhomie with central BJP leaders, including Modi, Amit Shah and Nadda, was there for all to see. The LJP even flaunted photographs of Chirag with the BJP central leadership.
The LJP chief has repeatedly asserted during his campaign that the next government in Bihar would be a BJP-LJP government.
The BJP’s dismissal of this claim was not perceived to be strong enough to put to rest all the speculation.
Last week, at the start of his Bihar campaign, Prime Minister Modi praised LJP founder Ram Vilas Paswan and paid rich tributes to him. But he remained silent on Chirag Paswan and on the LJP contesting the elections in Bihar on its own.
Chirag was, once again, quick to thank Modi and hint at a secret deal with the BJP. Even before Modi started his campaign in Bihar, Chirag had said he would understand if Modi criticised him (Chirag) out of political compulsions.
That Modi ultimately refrained from censuring Chirag severely disappointed JD(U) leaders and gave a further boost to the conspiracy theorists.
Chirag has given tickets to as many 21 BJP rebels — those who were not given BJP tickets since those seats went to the JD(U) as part of the seat sharing arrangement — out of the total of 134 seats the party has fielded candidates from.
Some other parties also did their bit to add to this speculation. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, for instance, said at an election rally that the BJP will remove Nitish Kumar from the chief minister’s post if the NDA wins the state elections.
“The NDA is fighting this election with Nitish Kumar as its face just to confuse voters, especially some Muslims who support the JD(U). If they (the NDA) win the elections, the BJP will replace Nitish as CM with its own man,” warned Owaisi.
The BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, which are part of the third front with AIMIM, have also spoken in a similar vein.
JD(U) leaders say that the BJP has not spoken forcefully enough to kill all the speculation about a secret BJP-LJP understanding. The BJP, however, contests that and asserts that voters will not be confused by loose talk.
What remains to be seen is how many of the 134 seats the LJP wins. If it ends up only as a spoiler for JD(U) and HAM-S candidates in the 122 (of the 134) seats, it will be handing a huge advantage to the Grand Alliance (GA) candidates and that can cost the NDA very dear in Bihar.
BIHAR POLLS 2020:
Elections to 71 seats spread over 16 district across southern Bihar
Electorate: 2.45 crore
Polling stations: 31,380
Number of candidates: 1,066
Primary contestants: JD(U)-35 seats, BJP-29 seats, LJP-41 seats, RJD-42 seats, Congress-21 seats
Winners in 2015 elections from the 71 seats:
BJP-13, JD(U)-18, RJD-27, Congress-9, Others-4
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