Bypoll results further squeeze Nitish with assertive BJP lurking around

Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Deputy Sushil Kumar Modi at the birth anniversary celebration of socialist leader Jaiprakash Narayan, in Patna, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (PTI Photo) (
On October 17, Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah declared that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will contest next year’s Bihar Assembly polls under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s leadership, ending speculation about the alliance in the state. Leaders of the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) erupted in joy. “It is a slap on the face of the opposition, which was enjoying (the bickering),” tweeted state minister Shayam Rajak. 

However, their joy was short-lived — the ruling alliance received a drubbing less than a week later in the by-elections held for five seats of the Assembly. The JD(U) lost the previously held seats of Belhar (Banka), Simri Bakhtiyarpur (Saharsa), and Daraunda (Siwan); it retained Nathnagar in Bhagalpur.

The saving grace for the NDA was the Samastipur Lok Sabha constituency, where Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party retained the reserved seat, which fell vacant after the death of party MP Ram Chandra Paswan. His son, Prince Raj, defeated the Congress candidate by over 100,000 votes.

For the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), demoralised by a dismal performance in the Lok Sabha election and the infighting in its first family, the results were a shot in the arm. But the biggest surprise came from Kishanganj, where Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) opened its account in Bihar. 

JD(U) in a fix

The results of the by-polls were particularly damaging to the JD(U) as the party contested four of the five seats but won only one. The defeat also reduced the NDA’s tally to 129 MLAs from the previous 132 in the 243-member Assembly. The by-elections were held amid growing tensions between the leading NDA partners in the state, and therefore the results would likely increase pressure on Nitish, with the JD(U) struggling to manage the assertive BJP state leadership. 

Senior leaders said because of a loss of trust between the lower-ranking leaders and cadres of the two allies, the campaigning was severely affected. “There was no cooperation between JD(U) and BJP workers. In Daraunda, most workers openly defied the party diktat and campaigned for BJP rebel Karanjeet Singh against the JD(U)’s Ajay Singh. In Nathnagar, the JD(U) could win only because Grand Alliance votes were split. JD(U) cadres sat home in Kishanganj and did not mobilise support for the BJP candidate,” said a JD(U) leader. 

Later, state BJP President Sanjay Jaiswal reversed Karanjeet Singh’s suspension and invited him to rejoin the party. Several BJP members and one JD(U) MLA joined Singh’s victory procession. The JD(U) MLA from Barharia, Shyam Bahadur Singh, rode an elephant to reach Daraunda to congratulate Singh.

Morale booster for RJD

The RJD reinforced its prominance in Bihar politics by capturing the Belhar and the Simri Bakhtiyarpur seats. The JD(U)’s Laldhari Yadav was defeated by the RJD’s Ramdeo Yadav in Belhar. Zafar Alam of the RJD defeated the JD(U)’s Arun Kumar in Simri Bakhtiyarpur.  Tejaswhi Yadav was quick to take credit, saying “I raised issues relevant to the common man during the campaign, and I am pleased that people have taken note of it.”

However, many within the RJD claimed otherwise. “The RJD won because Lalu’s family was not actively involved in these elections. Grassroots leaders were given tickets and the freedom to run their campaigns accordingly. The Grand Alliance was in tatters,” said one RJD leader.

Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insan Party and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha put up their candidates. “They ate a considerable number of our votes in Simri Bakhtiyarpur and Nathnagar. Zafar Alam is a strong leader, so they failed in Simri Bakhtiyarpur. But, we lost narrowly in Nathnagar because of them,” he added. 

New sun in Seemanchal

The AIMIM sprung a surprise in the Kishanganj Assembly constituency where Muslims comprise more than 70 per cent of the population. Its Qamrul Hoda wrested the seat from the Congress. Hoda defeated the BJP’s Sweety Singh; the Congress’ Sayeeda Bano — mother of party’s Kishanganj MP Mohammad Javed — was pushed to third place.

The growth of the AIMIM in Seemanchal, since its debut in Bihar five years ago, has been remarkable. The victory means the party will expand its presence in neighbouring Araria, Purnea and Katihar.

Many in the RJD and the Congress view the rise of the AIMIM in Bihar as a threat. “Muslims and Yadavs have been traditional supporters of the RJD. The BJP has attempted, even succeeded in some places, to woo the Yadavs. Now, the victory of the AIMIM means trouble for us. Our leadership needs to develop a strategy to counter it,” a Muslim RJD leader said.

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