Equal partners

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Equal partners

Monday, 29 October 2018 | Pioneer

Uncomfortable they might be but JD(U) and BJP need to stay together for 2019 elections’

JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar has proved yet again that when it comes to politics, he is quite the old warhorse, can swerve the trajectory of political discourse on his terms and has a keen ear to the ground. That’s the reason why despite being a cropper in the 2014 elections — having won just two of the 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar — he  has managed to extract much more than his pound of flesh by striking a 50:50 seat-sharing deal with the BJP. This notwithstanding the fact that the BJP, LJP and RLSP won more seats than the JD(U) in 2014. Even the BJP, which was seen to be in the driver’s seat until a couple of months ago, seemed to cede territory to a grassroot regional entity in what could be its key battleground state for 2019. The BJP, which had presumptuously apportioned a confident tally for itself, is clearly not taking any chances post-Karnataka. And while the mahagatbandhan politics is somewhat muted at the moment nationally, in Bihar it has a recognisable face in RJD supremo Lalu Yadav’s younger son Tejaswi Yadav. He has been consistently shoring up his political stock after the party’s stunning victories in three of four bypolls in March and has been spinning an anti-Modi narrative among the sizeable population of Dalits and  economically backward castes. Couple that with pictures of him challenging the solidity of the NDA alliance by courting Upendra Kushwaha of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), who can be an obstacle to both Nitish and BJP’s hopes of a clean sweep, and you know why the two must stick together. Tejaswi has already invited Kushwaha to join the RJD-led alliance and is keen to accommodate BSP chief Mayawati in the state. Enough to give jitters to both Nitish and BJP, who cannot afford a slide in caste-based support base if they are to make good in 2019.

Kushwaha is the strongest leader of the influential Koeri community, which consists around eight per cent of the population in Bihar. The Koeris are double the number of Kurmis (four per cent), whom Nitish  represents and can well make or mar the NDA’s prospects. No wonder Tejaswi has been consistently wooing him, even on the day of the NDA seat-sharing declaration. It would not be a surprise if Kushwaha does an opportunist switchover. Having nursed a grudge since the Assembly elections three years ago, when his party got a reduced seat share, he may not settle for being given the short shrift a second time. While the BJP and JD(U) have sorted themselves, they have yet to assess the fallout of leaving just six seats for Kushwaha and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP. Paswan, the leader of eight per cent Dalits, too,  seems to be cut up over the BJP-JD(U) deal. BJP's number crunching won't work amid ego battles.

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