Small parties emerge as a big draw for the BJP in Bihar

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addressing a joint rally of the Mahagathbandhan in Purnia.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addressing a joint rally of the Mahagathbandhan in Purnia.
| Photo Credit: File photo: PTI

With the Lok Sabha elections barely a year away, smaller parties that are often lumped together as ‘others’ have attained the ‘significant other’ status for the BJP to take on the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) in Bihar.

The BJP is now looking at these parties to upstage the ruling coalition led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal (United). They include Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal (RLJD), Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), which is presently a part of the grand alliance.

The BJP has a history of such alliances in the past. In the 2014 polls, the party won 31 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in alliance with the then Rashtriya Lok Samata Party led by Mr. Kushwaha and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP. While Mr. Kushwaha’s party won all three seats it contested, the LJP won six out of seven. In 2019, the BJP and its then allies — the JD(U) and the LJP — mopped up 39 of the 40 seats.

But times have changed, as have its allies.

Often accused of stealing the mandate by dividing parties and alliances in State after State, the BJP is smarting from the jolt delivered by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar last August when his JD(U) dumped it and joined hands with the RJD.

Threatened by the formidable social alliance of the RJD-JD(U)-Left-Congress combine that enjoys strong support of the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Muslims, the BJP is reaching out to the four main smaller parties. In turn, these parties have started to throw their weight around.

Slice of the pie

“I want the same number of seats as Chirag Paswan if the BJP wants any pre-poll alliance. Without the mallah (boatmen community) vote, no alliance can win Bihar,” Mr. Sahani, who calls himself “the son of Mallah, told The Hindu. Mallahs are an EBC and a decisive presence in about a dozen Assembly constituencies of the Mithila and Tirhut regions in north Bihar.

Mr. Sahani’s party contested 11 of the 243 seats in the 2020 Assembly polls as part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. While the party won four seats, he himself lost from Simri Bakhtiyarpur. He was made an MLC from a seat that had its tenure ending in July 2022, and a Minister in the Nitish Kumar government. At present, he is neither a Minister nor an MLC. As if on cue, he was recently accorded Y-plus category security by the Centre.

The latest face on BJP’s radar is Mr. Kushwaha. A week after he floated his new outfit, the Centre provided him Y-plus security. “I had Y-plus security even when in the JD(U) [during its alliance with BJP]. But no one made it an issue back then,” said Mr. Kushwaha, whose community represents the largest group among the OBCs after Yadavs.

The Dalit factor

Mr. Paswan, who represents the Jamui Lok Sabha seat, is important because of his late father’s legacy. The senior Paswan, a Dalit icon, enjoyed a major chunk of the Paswan vote bank. In the 2020 Assembly polls, the LJP won only one seat but got more than 5% vote share.

The self-proclaimed Hanuman (devotee) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Paswan’s security too has been upgraded – from Y-plus to Z category.

Mr. Manjhi, a known ‘party hopper’, is another prominent Dalit face. He recently said his son Santosh Manjhi would be a better CM candidate than many in contention, in a veiled reference to speculation about RJD leader and Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav being groomed as Mr. Kumar’s successor.

While the BJP eyes these assorted caste- and community-based groupings, the mahagathbandhan is equally mindful of the importance of the smaller pieces that can help solve the poll jigsaw. Not for nothing did the CM say in his February 25 rally in Purnia that Mr. Manjhi does not need to go anywhere. “The mahagathbandhan will take care of him.”

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