THE BATTLE OF ALLIANCES
India Today|September 28, 2020
THE BATTLE OF ALLIANCES
The NDA goes into the Bihar election as the clear favourite, buoyed by Nitish’s credibility and thanks to the disarray in an RJD-(mis)led opposition. But it needs to quickly iron out differences among its two main constituents over seat distribution
Amitabh Srivastava

On September 10, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi digitally launched the Rs 20,050 crore Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana, a central governm­ ent scheme to boost production and exports in the fisheries sector, he began his address in Bhojpuri—“Rauaa sabe ke pranam ba (Pranam to all of you)”. Minutes into his address, Modi picked “Nitish babu” for special praise, laud­ ing, among other achievements, the Bihar chief minister’s success in bring­ ing piped water to nearly 70 per cent of homes in the state. On September 13, while inaugurating three petroleum projects in Bihar, Modi endorsed Nitish again and said that his 15­year rule had shown how development could be fast­ tracked by adopting the right gover­ nance model.

These were official programmes, but Modi’s efforts to connect with poll­bound Bihar and hardsell old ally Nitish were more than obvious. Five years ago, the Bihar assembly election scene was altogether different. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had then run a determined campaign, led by the prime minister himself, against the grand alliance of Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress—and failed. The BJP had contested 157 of the total 243 assembly seats—drawing over 9.3 million votes, the highest among all parties in that election—but could win only 53. The other three constituents added just five seats to the NDA tally.

Much has changed since then. Nitish is back in the NDA fold, since August 2017, and is seeking a fourth term in office with the help of the very party that had unsuccessfully chal­lenged him in 2015. The last time the BJP and the JD(U) contested Bihar assembly elections together was in 2010, gliding to power with a tally of 206 seats between them.

The current term of the legislative assembly ends on November 29 and Bihar’s parties and alliances are in poll gear. BJP national president J.P. Nadda met Nitish in Patna on September 12 amid speculation about seat distribu­tion within the NDA. The other two NDA constituents, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and new entrant Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, were not part of the meet­ ing. For the Lok Sabha election last year, then BJP chief Amit Shah and Nitish had met as early as in October 2018 and declared that their parties would contest an equal number of seats.

THE POWER OF TWO

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September 28, 2020