NEW DELHI: BJP was working out last-minute demands and seat adjustments ahead of formally declaring a seat-sharing agreement with its allies, forcing the party to delay an announcement expected on Saturday.
Though the seat-sharing was expected to be announced on Saturday, the announcement is now likely on Sunday with JD(U) rebel Jitan Manjhi’s demand for an enhancement of his share being sorted out.
Manjhi had initially agreed to go along with BJP chief Amit Shah’s efforts to settle the seat-sharing but is understood to be looking for more than the 15 seats offered to him, seeking to compete with Ramvilas Paswan. The two Dalit leaders have been blowing hot and cold with one another.
The other allies seem to have settled for the seat shares worked out with BJP. LJP chief Ramvilas Paswan is understood to be likely to get around 40 seats, up from the 35 offered to him a few days ago.
The RLSP, led by Upendra Kushwaha, is understood to have been offered around 25 seats.
The problem with Manjhi seems to revolve around his view that his fledgling HAM party should be treated on par with Paswan’s LJP which has an older presence in Bihar politics.
The element of competition between the two Dalit leaders who are crucial to BJP’s strategy to reach out to Paswans and Musahars – politically important scheduled caste populations – have complicated the NDA’s plans.
The intense bargaining resulted in BJP holding back a formal seat-sharing announcement and a HAM spokesperson saying the party will not settle for anything less than the number of seats offered to Paswan.
The HAM spokesperson said the party will wait to hear from the BJP but will take a decision on the alliance if its demands are not addressed.
Paswan on the other hand has sealed the seat sharing on behalf of his party and conveyed his assent to the BJP leadership and said the NDA will fight the election as a united and effective alliance.
Though Manjhi’s claims do not rest on a tested election performance his “mahadalit” roots help expand BJP’s electoral appeal. Further Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly referred to his “humiliation” by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to attack the Janata Dal (U) leader as unreliable while also reaching out to the mahadalits.
BJP is willing to offer its own party tickets to JD(U) MLAs who followed Manjhi out of the JD(U) tickets but is not keen to enhance the HAM share for fear of setting off competing demands from other partners.
BJP sources said the party hoped to sort out the seat sharing muddle, pointing out the process is invariably taxing when it comes to dealing with smaller parties.