BJP chief Amit Shah, Nitish Kumar lay ground work for 2019 Lok Sabha battle

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar (left) greets BJP president Amit Shah in Patna on Thursday PTI
If the broad understanding reached between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah and Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar over their breakfast meeting in Patna on Thursday holds firm in the coming months, the 2019 Lok Sabha polls could see the JD(U) contesting on less than a dozen of the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats.

People with knowledge of the matter said top BJP and JD(U) leaders also discussed the possibility of holding the assembly polls in Bihar more than 18 months ahead of schedule, along with the Lok Sabha polls. If the BJP gets to contest the majority of Bihar’s Lok Sabha seats, the JD(U) could get to contest the lion’s share of the state’s 243 assembly seats. The BJP leadership recognised Kumar as the leader of the coalition in Bihar.

Apart from Shah and Kumar—also the chief minister of Bihar—heading the JD(U)-BJP coalition government in the state, others present at the breakfast meeting were deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, BJP state unit chief Nityanand Rai and BJP’s national general secretary in-charge for Bihar Bhupendra Yadav.

Interestingly, Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot and party’s Bihar in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil were also in Patna on Thursday. They called on Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad. Gehlot said it was time that Kumar did penance for betraying the ‘grand alliance’ and joining hands with the BJP.

While the Congress has been open about Kumar returning to the fold of the ‘grand alliance’, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav is opposed to such a move. The RJD is upbeat about its future after the success in the recent Lok Sabha by-poll in Araria and assembly by-poll in Jokihat.

The BJP has offered the JD(U) to contest the Lok Sabha seats that the BJP and its allies had lost in 2014, apart from the two that the JD(U) had then won. The BJP is unwilling to surrender more than a couple of the seven seats it had lost.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP had contested 29 and won 22, while its allies had won nine seats. Of these, Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party had won six of the seven seats it had contested and Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) had won three of the four seats it had contested. The ‘secular alliance’ had won seven seats, and comprised the RJD, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The JD (U) had won 2 seats.

The BJP continues to need Kumar to shape its social engineering of upper castes and non-Yadav OBC votes. But there is increasing attraction among these caste groups for the BJP. 

Of late, Kumar has tried to consolidate his support base among the extremely backward, or EBCs. But Kumar's political future looks bleak for the present.

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