Foes join forces

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:33 pm IST

Published - August 18, 2015 01:07 am IST

Nothing brings political rivals together as a bigger, common rival does. With the BJP emerging as the front runner in the approaching Assembly election in Bihar, the old foes, Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, >have joined forces with the Congress in a grand ‘secular’ alliance. The RJD was the common enemy that unified major opposition parties more than a decade ago; it is the BJP in that role now. All three parties, the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress, have formed governments in Bihar independently of one another, but the recent shifts in electoral fortunes mean they are fighting for the same anti-BJP political space. With Mr. Prasad no longer in contention for the Chief Minister’s post — given his conviction in a corruption case and disqualification from contesting any election — what remained to be settled was the number of seats for each party. In any case, Mr. Kumar, as the sitting Chief Minister, could not have been expected to step aside in a race for the leadership of the alliance. The two main parties agreeing to fight in the same number of seats must have been a solution that suggested itself. However, after they split 200 of the 243 seats between them, and apportioned 40 for the Congress, Mr. Kumar and Mr. Prasad had only three seats to offer to the Nationalist Congress Party. Not surprisingly, the NCP opted out.

This was not the scenario that Mr. Kumar envisaged >when he broke his ties with the BJP after Narendra Modi’s rise to national prominence ahead of last year’s Lok Sabha election. The JD(U) leader must have been hoping to do a repeat of what Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik did: he dumped the BJP as an ally at no political cost. However, Mr. Kumar has had to seek the help of the RJD and the Congress to stay in power. After the JD(U)’s heavy defeat in the Lok Sabha election, he had to quell an inner-party revolt as his hand-picked successor, Jitan Ram Manjhi, defied him repeatedly. By all accounts, Mr. Kumar is worse off now than when his party was in alliance with the BJP. By entering into a poll pact with Mr. Prasad, the JD(U) leader risks alienating sections of his own core constituency, which was built up over the years on an anti-Lalu Prasad platform. After campaigning against Mr. Prasad for years over issues such as corruption and law and order, Mr. Kumar will have to fight off the perception that his new alliance is motivated solely by his desire to stay in power and keep the BJP out. In electoral arithmetic, two plus two plus one is not always five.

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