Nitish Kumar and BJP

Several by-elections are going to be held in Bihar and UP on March 11. In Bihar, by-polls for Araria Lok Sabha and the Jerhaanabad and Bhabua Vidhan Sabha seats will be held on March 11. On the same day by-polls will be held also in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha constituencies in UP. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) has sprung a big surprise by deciding to stay away from the by-polls. What is more, a JD(U) MLA has resigned from Nitish’s party and joined Kumar’s arch rival Lalu Prasad’s RJD to content the Araria seat, much to the embarrassment of Nitish. JD(U)’s decision not to contest means that the fight will be directly between  the BJP and the RJD. Speculation is rife whether this is Nitish’s subtle message to the BJP that he is not happy with the way he has been treated by the BJP after he broke the Mahagathbandhan and embraced the BJP to form a new government in Bihar.
That a sitting JD(U) MLA resigned to contest on RJD ticket suggests that he thinks he has a better chance of winning as an RJD candidate than as a JD(U) candidate. This should be a matter of worry for the BJP, as these by-polls are being held soon after the Gujarat State Assembly polls and three by-polls in Rajasthan. In Gujarat, the BJP has been able to hold on to power by a thin majority while it has lost all the three by-polls in Rajasthan. Coming before the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, the results in these by-polls will indicate whether Narendra Modi still retains his hold on the electorate or whether the BJP’s popularity is on the wane.
Nitish Kumar is in a tight corner. He ditched the Mahagathbandhan with RJD and Congress without any qualm of conscience after running a coalition government for a short period and embraced the BJP against which he had formed the alliance. Whether he still retains his credibility as before would have been tested had the JD(U) taken part in the by-polls. But his ally BJP’s performance in the by-polls will also, in a way, reflect the mood of the electorate. As things stand now, the Opposition is likely to present a more united face to the BJP than in 2014. The result of the by-polls in Bihar and UP will be a foretaste of the things to come in 2019. Herein lies their importance.

Thursday, 22 February, 2018