Bihar Elections: LJP’s Move Can Alter Poll Equations. Here’s How
Besides threat of LJP spoiling things, there’s also a chance of BJP tacitly backing Paswan’s nominees in JD-U seats.
The decision of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) to not contest the Bihar Assembly elections under the leadership of incumbent chief minister Nitish Kumar has the potential of altering poll equations.
The decision is an interesting one as the LJP led by Chirag Paswan is likely to put up candidates against Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha, but not against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is also part of the same alliance.
In fact, the LJP has said that its aim is a BJP-led government in Bihar, giving rise to allegations that the move has been masterminded by the BJP to cut the JD(U) to size.
Three questions are important here:
- How much support does the LJP have?
- How much will this affect NDA’s chances and can this help the RJD-led UPA?
- Where does this move leave the JD(U)?
Let’s look at these one by one.
How Much Support Does the LJP Have?
- The core base of the LJP is the Dusadh or Paswan Dalit community. They are considered more politically dominant compared to other Dalit communities. Dusadhs account for roughly five to six percent of the total population in Bihar and roughly 30-40 percent of the state’s Dalit population.
- The recent survey by CVoter said that 6.5 percent respondents said that they want LJP founder Ramvilas Paswan to be the CM. This may broadly correspond to the LJP’s assured base in the state.
- Though relatively stronger in the southern and central districts of Bihar, the LJP has a presence across the state, which makes it a dangerous spoiler and useful ally for any formation.
- The LJP contested the last two elections in alliance with bigger parties. It fought from 75 seats in 2010 in alliance with RJD and 42 seats in 2015 in alliance with the BJP and smaller parties like HAM and RLSP. Therefore it is not easy to ascertain the LJP’s presence in each seat or the damage it can cause now that it is likely to contest at least 100 seats.
- However, what is known is that since it became a loyal BJP ally in 2014, the support it used to have among Muslims has gone down while its acceptability among Upper Castes has increased marginally.
- LJP supporters claim that Chirag Paswan has an appeal among youth cutting across caste lines.
- LJP’s decision could also help it woo smaller parties like Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, that haven’t aligned themselves with either NDA or UPA.
Change in Equations for NDA and UPA
- Except for a few strongholds, LJP may not be in a position to win many seats. But it can play spoiler in tightly fought contests.
- The CVoter survey pegs the state-wide difference in vote share between the NDA (including the LJP) and the RJD-led UPA at around 11 percentage points. If the LJP’s five-six percent vote goes against the NDA in all JD(U) and HAM seats, this could work to the advantage of the RJD-Congress-Left alliance in those seats.
- The BJP also gains from the LJP’s move. LJP contesting against JD(U) and HAM candidates but supporting BJP candidates would mean that BJP may end up with a better strike rate than its partners. If JD(U) and BJP contest equal number of seats, the result could give BJP a higher tally than its alliance partner, thereby strengthening its claim for the CM’s post or key portfolios if the NDA wins.
Where Does this Leave Nitish Kumar’s JD(U)?
This has become a tricky election for Nitish Kumar and his party.
- Besides the obvious threat of LJP playing spoiler in a number of seats, there’s another dangerous possibility – of the BJP tacitly backing LJP candidates in seats where Paswan’s party is evenly matched with the JD(U)
- If BJP and JD(U) contest equal number of seats, in all likelihood the BJP will do better partly due to the LJP effect. This would mean that BJP would have more seats in the Vidhan Sabha than its ally for the first time since 2000, when Nitish Kumar was still in the Samata Party before the merger with Sharad Yadav’s JD(U).
- Even if the NDA wins and BJP does concede the CM’s chair to Nitish Kumar, he would probably be at his weakest politically since he first became chief minister in 2005. Then his only bargaining chip with the BJP would be the threat of striking a deal with the RJD and Congress, like what happened after he pulled out of the NDA in 2013.
- In the long run, a weakened Nitish Kumar would mean Bihar politics moving towards essentially a contest between the BJP and RJD.
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