Paswan’s death puts spanner in Nitish Kumar’s poll prospects

JDU’s fate hangs in balance in Bihar assembly elections


October 10, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Paswan’s death puts spanner in Nitish Kumar’s poll prospects

The death of Ramvilas Paswan has cast a shadow on Nitish Kumar's poll prospects

Union food minister Ramvilas Paswan’s death is bound to upset Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s calculations in upcoming assembly elections.

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Three days is a long time in politics. This is a lesson that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy from Bharatiya Janata Party Sushil Modi may well get to learn soon.

On October 6, the two members of the National Democratic Alliance rebuffed Loktantrik Janshakti Party the estranged third member of the alliance and decided to divide LJP’s quota of seats between themselves, leaving JDU with 122 seats and the BJP with 121. Barely a few days earlier, leaders of both the parties shrugged off the threats by Chirag Paswan, son of the founder of the party, saying that it would not be part of the alliance and would field candidates from as many as 143 seats, notably against all the JDU candidates.

Tensions between the elder Paswan and Nitish Kumar had been rising for the past several months, especially over the handling of key issues like migrants as well as Covid-19 pandemic in the state. Paswan was also highly critical of the decision of Kumar to agree to seat sharing with another dalit leader from Bihar, Jitan Ram Manjhi, leader of Hindustani Awami Morcha, that had days earlier left the opposition alliance. But perhaps the proverbial last straw was the refusal of JDU to allocate more seats to LJP tell it to be content with 42 seats in the 243-member state assembly. JDU officials pointed out that LJP had managed to win merely 2 of the 42 assembly seats that they had been allocated in the 2015 elections.

Surprisingly, the BJP refused to intervene in the open bickering between its two alliance partners, leading to speculation that it may have tacitly encouraged Paswan to revolt against Kumar. The speculation picked up strength when Paswan announced that his party would field candidates against all JDU candidates, while exempting the BJP.

Even before Paswan’s death, this move must have made Kumar nervous. With the BJP and his party contesting an equal number of seats and his own candidates facing a difficult election due to the LJP’s opposition, it could lead to an unprecedented scenario where for the first time the BJP would emerge as the larger partner of the alliance, leaving the JDU in the second spot.

Such an outcome would give nightmares to the chief minister as it could open the pandora’s box in the post-election scenario and see the BJP push for its candidate as the chief minister being the larger partner in the alliance, as has been the case in Maharashtra.

Paswan’s death is bound to bring significant number of sympathy votes to the LJP and it could dent JDU’s numbers in the assembly, while boosting BJP’s in comparison. It is also likely to finish the prospects of HAM and other fringe parties that are members of the NDA as a large number of dalit votes could indeed consolidate behind LJP, giving it a unique opportunity to increase its tally in the assembly and may be even take it to two digits.

With the elder Paswan out of the picture, the opposition that has been sidelined and disunited could spot an opportunity to revive its own prospects on the back of dissent within the NDA. The opposition itself is however in not a good shape with the seat distribution still under intense negotiations. The departure of small parties including HAM from the opposition alliance may have demoralised the opposition camp even further.

Thus, it may make a desperate, if still far-fetched, attempt to get the LJP walk out of the NDA entirely and align itself with the opposition parties. This could definitely improve the prospects of the opposition to at least put up a credible show against the NDA, even though the latter suffers from significant anti-incumbency.

However, the most likely scenario to emerge post-poll is a strengthened BJP and a weakened Nitish Kumar who may not yet be dispensable for the ruling party, but a relatively poor electoral show could push Nitish Kumar closer to the oblivion than is apparent right now.

One scenario that currently does not look even closely realistic is that the split within the NDA could lead to a significant drop in the total number of seats for the alliance in the elections, opening the door to a fresh round of horse-trading or even allow leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Tejashwi Prasad, to dream of bagging the chair of chief minister in the post-poll equations.

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