Pushed to 3rd position in 2020, JDU eyes gain from LJP split

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Ever since Narendra Modi held the reins of the BJP in 2013, the saffron party has had a love-hate relationship with its old ally JD(U). Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has only been driven by political compulsions to continue ties with the Modi-led BJP. After being reduced to a junior partner in the NDA in Bihar in the 2020 assembly elections, Kumar has been trying to regain his erstwhile strength.

The recent coup in the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) is said to have the blessings of Kumar and his party. Kumar and LJP founder Ram Vilas Paswan maintained a healthy working equation as they understood the need for each other’s vote-base. However, Paswan’s son Chirag was openly critical of Kumar in the 2020 elections and the two parties have been at loggerheads with each other.

JD(U) leaders maintain that Chirag was instrumental in the defeat of its candidates in 46 seats in the 2020 elections. The party also believes that Chirag was egged on by a section of BJP to bring down JD(U)’s tally to 43 in this election from 71 in 2015. Ending up in third position behind BJP (which went up from 53 in 2015 to 74), Kumar had begun clawing back soon after the election results were declared.

Paswans constitute 6% of the electorate in Bihar and have stayed loyal to LJP since its formation. Kumar had initially refused to give Mahadalit status to the caste as they have always been dominant. He did so at Ram Vilas Paswan’s behest only in April 2018. After the passing away of the veteran leader, Kumar would like to have Paswan voters on his side. Head of the breakaway group of LJP Pashupati Kumar Paras is inclined towards Kumar.

Non-Yadav OBCs, the Most Backward Caste category created by Kumar and the Mahadalits constitute the major chunk of JD(U) vote-base. With BJP also eyeing the OBC votes, there has been a conflict between the two allies. Since there are only 16% upper caste votes in Bihar, BJP has turned to OBC (including Yadavs in the name of Hindutva) voters to bolster its electoral prospects.

MBCs constitute around 30% of the electorate while Mahadalits (barring Paswans) form 10%. In addition, Kumar has aggressively wooed the Koeri-Kushwaha votes by getting RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha to join his party. He also made Umesh Kushwaha the JD(U) Bihar unit president. The name of Purnia MP and JD(U) leader Santosh Kushwaha for the post of union minister as and when an expansion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s team takes place is also doing the rounds.

Kumar has consolidated his position since the setback in the 2020 elections which would be a cause for concern for the BJP. The emergence of Tejaswi Yadav as a strong leader during the Assembly elections has rallied most of the 11% Yadav votes behind him while RJD’s alliance with CPI(ML) and other Left parties will consolidate the Dalit votes in its favour. RLSP had walked out of the NDA before the polls and both BJP and JD(U) lost the support of the Kushwaha voters in 2020.

JD(U) also gets the support of women voters due to prohibition and various welfare schemes for girls, dashing hopes of BJP getting their support on the basis of Modi’s central schemes which have won the support of this segment in other states.

In such a scenario, it would be interesting to see which way the 6% Paswan votes swing. Both Chirag and Paras have said they will stay with NDA and have hopes of occupying the cabinet slot lying vacant since Ram Vilas Paswan’s death. With Paras having an upper hand, it is likely that this is Advantage JD(U).

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