Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) chief Upendra Kushwaha, a former Indian cabinet minister who recently quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, joined the opposition United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and became a part of the Grand Alliance in Bihar. Kushwaha cited dissatisfaction with the NDA government’s failure to fulfill the promises made to the people of Bihar as the reason for his joining the Grand Alliance.
Although the exact reason he left the NDA was unhappiness regarding seat-sharing with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the major constituent of the NDA, no doubt this has brought smiles to the face of the Indian National Congress (INC), the main constituent of the UPA, which is now hoping to return to power in 2019.
Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, currently led by his son Tejaswi Yadav, is the main opposition party in the state. Congress, buoyed by victories in the recent state assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, is trying to flex its muscles to gain more of Bihar’s seats at the upcoming national parliamentary elections from its ally RJD. Some Congress leaders have even pitched for a 20:20 seat share just like the equal seat share of the two NDA partners BJP and Janata Dal (United).
However, Congress is aware that an equal seat share with the RJD is not possible given the INC’s weak organizational structure in the state in comparison with the RJD, which has been successful in holding its core vote banks – Yadavs and Muslims – accounting for 31% of the state population. During the last national election, out of 40 parliamentary seats held by Bihar, the RJD contested 27, leaving 12 seats to the Congress. The remaining lone seat was contested by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
But the current scenario of the Grand Alliance, which expanded with the membership of the RLSP, presents a gloomy picture for the Congress. Recently, the Vikassheel Insaan Party led by Mukhesh Sahni, an Extreme Backward Caste (EBC) member, also joined the Grand Alliance.
The INC has a task ahead to bargain with the RJD to retain the previously allotted tally of 12 seats in Lok Sabha, lower house of Parliament. The Grand Alliance in Bihar currently comprises the RJD, Congress, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), the Kushwaha-led RLSP and Sharad Yadav’s Lok Janatantrik Dal.
Besides, there are talks between RJD and the three Left parties – the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). It is to be noted that CPI (ML) and RJD have been arch-rivals in Bihar state politics but their strong opposition against the BJP has brought them closer.
According to reports, the RJD is willing to sacrifice seats to accommodate its allies but it will contest no fewer than 20 seats. The RLSP, as the reports say, is promised four or five seats by the RJD. The other parties – HAM (S), LJD, CPI, CPM and CPML – may get one seat each, although they are eager to contest more than one. Also, the RJD may concede one seat to the Samajwadi party. In such a situation, Congress is left with a smaller number of seats in its share than in 2014. The RJD is reportedly supposed to allocate only eight seats – fewer than 2014 elections – to INC.
In the present scenario, it seems that to defeat the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress has no other option but to agree to the will of its allies that are dominant in their own regions. Bihar, once a stronghold of the Congress, is a significant state for national politics and the Congress is aware of the fact that to restore its lost glory, the party has to revive in the state.
However, at present, there are no hopes of increment but rather high chances of decrement in the tally of Congress’ seat share in the Grand Alliance and it is definitely a challenge for the INC in Bihar to persuade the RJD to allow it to contest at least in 12 seats like in 2014 in the upcoming general elections.
And if the party fails, it will be a blow to the Congress, as it will continue to be dominated by regional forces like the RJD in Bihar, and this may have adverse effects in seat bargaining in the upcoming 2019 polls in other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, where Congress is willing to stitch alliances with the other regional parties to defeat the BJP.