The Lok Janshakti Party’s decision on Sunday to walk out of the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar has upended conventional wisdom and thrown open new possibilities in the three-phase assembly elections starting from October 28.
The party headed by Chirag Paswan said that it will put up candidates against JD(U) but not against the BJP, an attempt to damage the poll prospects of the party headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the hope that a below-par show by it will make Kumar’s leadership of the NDA in the state untenable.
LJP sources have made it clear that they will not enter into any opposition alliance.
They said the LJP’s announcement is driven by a number of factors, including the desire of Chirag Paswan (37) to prove his mettle after taking over the party’s leadership from his ailing father Ram Vilas Paswan and the party’s wish to take on the JD(U) as it believes that Kumar had been working overtime to undercut its political standing.
However, the main rival alliance of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, the Congress and the Left will believe that its prospects have brightened with the LJP’s decision as Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s party will eat into the votes of the NDA, political watchers said.
The NDA was seen to have an edge over the opposition alliance due to its broader social coalition and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the national level and Kumar in the state, but the LJP’s decision has thrown new equations into play.
With Ram Vilas Paswan’s party constantly lauding Modi’s leadership and exhorting the BJP to lead the alliance in the state too, the development may send confusing signals to traditional NDA voters, especially in the constituencies where both the JD(U) and the LJP will contest besides the opposition parties.
A senior JD(U) leader, who did not wish to be named, noted that top BJP leaders, including party president J P Nadda and Home Ministre Amit Shah, have endorsed Kumar’s leadership of the alliance in the state, and Modi has also praised him a number of times in recent events.
“The LJP is overestimating its strength. Once Modi and Kumar address a few joint public meetings in the state during the campaign, all confusion will disappear,” he said.
The LJP believes that Kumar has waned as a political force in the state and a strong section of NDA voters wants to see his back and a new leader to emerge. It hopes to attract support from those anti-Kumar voters.
The LJP traditionally draws its support from a big bloc of Dalit voters and has in its ranks a number of upper caste leaders, who are influential in different pockets of the state.
The LJP had deployed a similar strategy in the February 2005 assembly polls in the state when it was part of the Congress-led UPA alliance at the Centre but contested against the RJD, the principal UPA member in Bihar.
Its gamble paid off initially as the party with its 29 MLAs held the balance of power in a hung assembly which was, however, dissolved and a fresh election called for.
The LJP again fought independently while it remained a member of the UPA at the Centre, but this time people gave the NDA alliance headed by Nitish Kumar a clear majority, ending Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD 15-year reign in the state in 2005.
Political watchers will be keenly watching if the LJP again manages to effect a change of government in the state under its new leader.
The nomination process for the first phase, under which 71 of the total 243 seats will go to polls, began from October 1 and will end on October 8.
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