File photo of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar with PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi
The by-polls to a Lok Sabha and two assembly seats in Bihar will be the first electoral test of the BJP-JD(U) alliance with incarcerated RJD chief Lalu Prasad making it a prestige battle to underline his party’s strength ahead of the next parliamentary elections.
Two of the three seats, Araria parliamentary and Jehanabad assembly constituencies, are particularly significant as the RJD’s so-called Muslim-Yadav (MY) arithmetic is strong there but if a traditional consolidation of JD(U) and BJP voters happen, then their candidates can fare well, poll watchers said.
Both seats were held by the RJD and deaths of Mohammed Taslimuddin, who won from Araria in 2014, and Mundrika Yadav, who was an MLA from Jehanabad, have necessitated the March 11 by-polls.
Taslimuddin had won despite a palpable ‘Modi wave’ across the state but the JD(U) had contested the Lok Sabha polls independently then after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had split with the BJP.
The RJD candidate had bagged over 41 per cent vote and the combined vote share of the BJP and JD(U) was close to 50 per cent.
In a constituency where Muslim voters are over 35 per cent, the BJP is banking on a consolidation of Hindu voters with the JD(U) in its camp now.
NDA sources pointed out that BJP candidates had won in 2004 and 2009 polls when the JD(U) was their ally.
BJP candidate Pradeep Kumar Singh, who had won in 2009, is again in the fray and is locked in a straight fight with Sarfaraz Alam, a JD(U) MLA who quit the party to be the RJD’s nominee. He is also Taslimuddin’s son.
While the RJD is confident of retaining the seat and claims to have solid backing of Muslims and a section of Hindu votes after Kumar’s “betrayal” of their secular alliance, NDA sources said the BJP can win Araria if traditional JD(U) voters back its nominee.
Out of six assembly seats in Araria, two each are held by the BJP and the JD(U) while one each belongs to the RJD and the Congress.
In Jehanabad, where Yadavs and Bhumihars are two largest caste groups and have generally supported rival parties, Dalits can tilt the balance in favour of either of the two parties, the RJD and the JD(U), in the fray, sources said.
The JD(U) had won the seat in 2010 when it was in the NDA and a win for its candidate will be a big boost for Kumar.
A majority of Dalits had said to have favoured the Bihar chief minister in 2015 but Prasad has made a determined bid to chip away at this support following Kumar’s decision to sever ties with him.
In Bhabua, where the BJP had won in 2015 amid a popular support in favour of the then grand alliance of the RJD-JD(U)-Congress, the saffron party is confident of pulling off a victory again in a contest with the Congress.