The shape of a new opposition – States News

At his first press conference in Patna on February 18, election strategist Prashant Kishor said he was in the state to get the Baat Bihar Ki’ initiative off the ground, the centrepiece of his pitch being a developmental push to secure for Bihar a place among the top 10 states. PK insisted he was not there to form alliances or stitch election strategies, but just two days later, he was spotted in a Delhi hotel, meeting with three leaders of the state’s erstwhile grand alliance’, former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), ex-chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi of the Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) and Mukesh Sahni of the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP).

Although the three leaders have not said so on record, and PK maintained his development narrative even after the Delhi meeting, word is that the confabulations were about alliance strategies for the upcoming Bihar election. The three parties are still unproven electorally, but they have some claim to vote banks Kushwaha has influence among the Kushwahas or Koeris, a dominant OBC community that makes up 8 per cent of the population in Bihar; Manjhi feels the 4 per cent Musahar vote is his own; and Sahni counts on the support of the EBC Mallah boatmen.

But why were the three meeting without a repr­esentative of the biggest opposition player, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) around? The idea, political observers say, is to pressure the RJD to fall in line. A Nitish Kumar-led NDA will find it much easier if someone from the RJD first family [read: Tejashwi Yadav] were projected as the CM candidate, said a leader present at the Delhi meeting, on condition of anonymity. Note the JD(U) pitch: our 15 years versus the RJD’s 15 years’. Nitish wins that perception battle hands down.

The idea, then, is to deny the NDA that easy target. The RJD is the NDA’s favourite punching bag; we want to change that narrative. If it works, the NDA won’t find it so easy to take us on, he says.

The argument has some merit. The RJD with its traditional M-Y voter base of Muslims (16.5 per cent) and Yadavs (14 per cent) is no doubt formidable, but in a rainbow coalition, it is also a vulnerability, as other potential support groupssuch as the Kushwahas, Dalits and Mallahs baulk at the prospect of going with a formation where the M-Y bloc is dominant. The M-Y vote bank can be decisive in a triangular or four-cornered contest, but in a bipolar contest, it is just not enough to swing the election.

Even before meeting Kishor in Delhi, the three opposition leaders were unconvinced about Tejashwi’s leadership. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s chosen heir seems to have made up his mind against letting the three parties have a larger share than he thinks is legitimate. The RJD will fight at least 150 of the 243 assembly seats in Bihar, says a senior RJD leader. The Congress will get a larger share of the remaining seats. The other allies will get what is left. They can take it or leave it.

The aggressive posturing by the three leaders has triggered much speculation in Bihar’s political circles. Is there space for a new opposition in the state? Bihar has often been described as a state of three principal partiesthe JD(U), BJP and RJD. The Congress and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) are fourth and fifth in this pecking order, and perform well only when they back the winning horse. By themselves, the three first movers lack the necessary ballast, but they might count on PK, the ace election strategist, to help stitch a new-look winning combination. The 2019 Lok Sabha poll numbers suggest the three parties, along with Congress, can make a dent. The Congress bagged 7.8 per cent of the vote, RLSP (3.7 per cent), HAM-S (2.4 per cent) and VIP 1.7 per cent. Their combined 15.6 per cent vote plus the RJD’s 15.7 per cent add up to a sizeable vote share. But a reconstituted opposition is far from a done deal, and as Bihar Congress president M.M. Jha told INDIA TODAY on June 24, the actual seat distribution would involve many practicalities.

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Source INDIA TODAY

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