How Bihar mandate could impact slew of state elections next year?

The BJP acquires pole position in Bihar for the first time in its history, is notionally placed to call the shots in the NDA
The posters that surfaced in Patna on the morning of November 11, when it was clear that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had won the assembly election, spoke of a narrative that was symbolically and substantively different from the script that unspooled during electioneering. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar, the JD(U) president, shared equal space on the victory banner; before the elections, their mugs were not juxtaposed although they jointly addressed a few rallies. “It was intended to dispel a notion that henceforth the JD(U) would be the junior partner. We wanted to reiterate our commitment to the coalition ‘dharma’,” a BJP office-bearer said.

Having won 74 seats against the JD(U)’s 43, the BJP acquired pole position in Bihar for the first time in its history and is notionally placed to call the shots in the NDA. The other NDA constituents — the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) — picked up four seats each. “However, because it was the BJP that reached out to them (after they shown the door by the ‘Mahagatbandhan’), we can legitimately add these parties to our kitty,” a Bihar BJP source said.

Without ado, the BJP high command decided that Nitish would be sworn in as chief minister for a fifth term (in his first shot in 2000, he resigned before proving his majority in a hung assembly). The Bihar BJP harboured the old reservations over “yielding” the leadership to a party that significantly dropped seats because of perceived popular resentment against the incumbent chief minister. The reports emanating from the JD(U) made out that Nitish himself was “unwilling” to accept the top job but was “persuaded” by the BJP, especially his old friend, Sushil Modi, tipped to become deputy chief minister and finance minister again. “The whole thing seems drawn out to please Nitish,” a former associate said.

Nitish Kumar (right) will take oath as Bihar CM for a 4th straight term on Monday afternoon, the NDA said after a meeting of its legislators.

However, a central BJP functionary said there were two reasons why his party did not wish to “disturb the present order”. “We don’t want to repeat the Maharashtra experience when we lost an old ally over the CM dispute. Also, it was a victory that was hard won. We don’t want to fritter away the gains over power tussles,” the source said.

In Maharashtra, after the last Assembly polls, won by the BJP and its former partner, the Shiv Sena (SS), SS leader Uddhav Thackeray staked his claim to the CM’s post whereas the BJP had an incumbent in Devendra Fadnavis. The long-standing arrangement fell apart after Thackeray teamed up with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress and got what he wanted.

Simultaneously, BJP sources stressed the point that being the larger party “entitled” them to a “proportional” share of the ministerial berths as well as a claim to the weightier portfolios than what was parcelled out last time. As for pursuing an ideological agenda with the latitude enjoyed in Uttar Pradesh, the source said, “We will go easy on this initially. Governance problems have to be straightened out first.” The BJP was aware of the reservations Nitish expressed when Yogi Adityanath, UP chief minister, spoke up in favour of the amended citizenship laws in the last phase of campaigning in Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region, where the electorate reportedly got communally polarised. The BJP directed its central ministers Ashwani Choubey and Giriraj Singh to “lie low” during electioneering because of their predilection to make communally sensitive remarks.

The BJP was clear that the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) would be accommodated in the ministerial council because it viewed them as “long-term” allies. However, on the troubled question of retaining or discarding the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and its leader Chirag Paswan, a source said: “We are clear there is no place for Chirag in the NDA. He’s already out of it. He burnt himself out in the very first election he led.” The reiteration was required mainly to appease Nitish after the JD(U) emphasised that the LJP and its “virulent” campaign against him cost them “between 20 and 30” seats. The JD(U) suspected the BJP had “nurtured and put up” Chirag to undermine Nitish and reduce the party’s tally.

Asked how the Bihar mandate could impact the slew of state elections in 2021, a source said West Bengal would be the “first test case”. The Seemanchal belt, which shares a border with West Bengal, turned in the BJP’s best showing because it was traditionally the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD’s) fief. In particular, the BJP closely watched Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the five seats it won in this region. “Obviously the AIMIM had cut the ‘Mahagatbandhan’s’ minority votes. A weakened secular vote consolidation suits us,” a source said. The AIMIM planned to contest in West Bengal as well as Assam. The Congress will likely join hands with Maulana Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front in Assam to keep the minority votes together. Should the AIMIM step into Assam, it might upset the Congress’s game plan and tangentially help the BJP, which is looking to retain its government.

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