The loss of the Jokihat seat suffered by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) at the hands of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal has sparked off speculation over the longevity of the NDA government in Bihar. Previously, JD(U) had held this seat.
The result came on the day when JD(U)’s national general secretary KC Tyagi was quoted in the media as saying: several parties, “such as the Congress and the Left Front have kept channels of communication open with us.” Tyagi was also quoted by ANI News, blaming fuel price rise for the bypoll loss. “There is outrage across the country due to increase in price of petrol and diesel. Constant rise in the price of fuel is also a reason for such poll results. Therefore, hike should be immediately rolled back.” He, however, added: “We want to remain part of the NDA. We do not want to join rank with any anti-BJP front. But we would not compromise on the issue of self-respect.”
Tyagi’s remarks on the eve of bypoll results across the country––in which the BJP has performed very poorly––came as a big surprise as on July 27 morning last year, he had made a similar statement. Hours later Chief Minister Nitish Kumar quit the RJD-JDU-Congress Mahagathbandhan and joined hands with the BJP.
In Jokihat, RJD’s Shahnawaz Alam expectedly trounced JD(U)’s Murshid Alam by a margin of 41,225 votes. Now the number of seats JD(U) has in the state assembly come down to 70 from 71. In contrast the tally of RJD has gone up from 80 to 81.
However, there is a small consolation for Nitish Kumar as his party’s candidate managed to reduce the margin of defeat. This was largely because the JD(U) also put up a Muslim candidate in the constituency which has overwhelming minority population. In the by-election held for the Araria Lok Sabha seat on March 11, last the BJP candidate Pradeep Singh trailed behind RJD’s Sarfaraz Alam by a margin of 81,248 votes.
The bypoll was necessitated after Sarfaraz Alam, then a JD(U) MLA, resigned and joined RJD to contest the Araria Lok Sabha seat, which was vacated after the death of his father Mohammad Taslimuddin. The latter was then an RJD MP.
The curious aspect of the politics of Bihar in the recent past is that there are very few who would shed tears at the defeat of Nitish.
It is understandable for the RJD to celebrate the victory in Jokihat as it came soon after its victory in by-poll for an Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. But those were the seats retained by RJD while this time it has snatched Jokihat from JD(U).
In the defeat in Jokihat the BJP leaders––though themselves dejected because of the dismal performance of the party elsewhere in the country––see a ray of hope in further weakening of bargaining position of Nitish. They are of the view that a strong Nitish may seek his own pound of flesh and demand more seats in the 2019 election.
There would have been a sense of satisfaction in the BJP camp after the defeat of JD(U). But the rout of the saffron party in other states has put the Bihar BJP leaders in a fix. They can no more treat Nitish lightly as in 2019 the saffron party may have to depend on him. Tyagi’s latest remarks can be interpreted in this light.
The weakening of the JD(U) within the NDA––and that too at the cost of the BJP––is not good for the RJD-Congress alliance as well. In that case, the BJP would definitely contest in many more seats.
The RJD-Congress combine will have to concede that Jokihat Assembly seat, or for that matter Araria Lok Sabha constituency, is not the whole of Bihar. Jokihat has more than two-thirds Muslim population. So winning an election here––even though the JD(U) fielded a Muslim candidate––is relatively easy. This may not be the case in the rest of Bihar, where the fight would be tough.
However, the point of worry for the BJP is that there is hardly any likelihood of the Narendra Modi wave sweeping the state.
The defeat of the BJP first in Gorakhpur and Phulpur and now in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh have come as a big psychological blow to the morale of its workers and supporters in neighbouring Bihar too.
Besides, unlike in 2014, when the BJP did succeed in wooing some Yadav votes away from RJD, this time the scenario is not so. Thus a straight fight between NDA and Grand Alliance––unlike triangular in 2014––would be equally poised.
The biggest irony is that while JD(U) is being squeezed in its bastion in Bihar, the party is trying to expand its base in Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Manipur and elsewhere. The party’s rank and file in Bihar are feeling seriously let down by a series of by-poll defeats. Apart from this, they have got nothing after Nitish crossed over to re-join NDA.
In the Grand Alliance, the JD(U) workers were on somewhat equal term with the RJD. Now, they have no role to play. They know that the entire NDA election war-machine would be in the hands of BJP cadres.
Jokihat will most likely be the last bypoll to take place in Bihar before the next year’s Lok Sabha election.