With the grand Janata alliance finalizing its seat sharing arrangements, pressure is now on Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to finalize the same at the earliest. With the polls due in Oct-Nov 2015, there is not much time left. Additionally the allies of BJP, Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) are applying pressure on BJP for more seats to brighten their chances of winning maximum of these seats. The entry of HAM in the picture has complicated matters for the alliance.

Both Paswan and Kushwaha have indirectly hinted at their desire of becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar. They are in the hope that BJP will commit the same mistake as they did at the time of NItish, made him CM when he had lesser number of seats than BJP.

While LJP wants to fight on 75 seats (the same number of seats it fought in 2010 in alliance with Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal), RLSP wants to fight on 66 seats. These two regional satraps have indicated that BJP should fight on 102 seats (same as it fought last time in 2010). HAM wants to fight on 40 seats as per news reports. BJP has indicated fighting on 150-160 seats. This makes it 340-350 in total. However, there are only 243 seats and it seems difficult to satisfy everybody.

What should be the basis of seat distribution?

1. Lok Sabha Arrangement

Logically, the parties should agree to the Lok Sabha formula. In Lok Sabha elections held in May 2014, BJP contested on 30, LJP on 7 and RLSP on 3. BJP won 22, LJP 6 and RLSP 3 seats. Both LJP and RLSP strike rate was high riding on BJP-Modi wave and transfer of BJP cadre vote to their candidates.

On this basis BJP should contest on 180 seats, LJP on 40 and RLSP on 23. BJP could show a big heart and allot seats to HAM from its quota. So essentially it could be 150 (BJP) – 40 (LJP) – 25 (RLSP) – 25 (HAM). Talks are also afloat that BJP could leave a few seats for party floated by Pappu Yadav to cut into Yadav vote bank.

2. Assembly Elections of 2010

BJP had fought on 102 seats in alliance with JDU and won 91 of these. LJP had fought on 75 seats in 2010 assembly polls with a dismal record winning only 3 seats. RLSP was formed only in 2013 and hence didn’t fight 2010 polls. LJP and RLSP would argue that assembly polls are fought on local issues and they settled for less seats in Lok Sabha because it was national elections and there was BJP-Modi wave.

BJP could counter argue that it is the leader of the coalition and hence it is very important for it to contest the maximum no. of seats. To Manjhi, BJP’s message would be that his popularity has not yet been tested hence BJP can’t afford to give him more than 25 seats.

3. Command over vote share based on caste

Caste could play a key role in seat distribution. BJP commands the highest vote share consisting of a social combination of upper castes and a section of Yadavs and MBCs. Manjhi could argue he commands the highest vote share (10%) among allies so his party should get more seats than Paswan (6%) and Kuswaha (8%). There are 38 seats reversed for SC/ST category. Both LJP and HAM would fight for these seats. There are 25 odd seats where Mahadalit population is more than 15%. Manjhi would be eyeing for these seats.

4. Winnability factor

LJP and RLSP would argue that their strike rate in Lok Sabha polls is higher than BJP and hence this factor also points to the fact that they should get more seats. BJP counter point could be the fact that most of LJP / RLSP candidates would not have won without BJP support. Alternatively, BJP could have still gone ahead and won a few seats without Paswan / Kushwaha support. LJP has a poor record in assembly polls. It won 3 / 75 in 2010 and 10 / 203 in 2005 assembly polls. BJP has a better strike rate. RLSP and HAM have no track record yet.

Will Paswan and Kushwaha not budge from their demands and will this turn into a Maharashtra like situation?

Paswan and Kushwaha both are cabinet ministers and they may not like to jeopardize their position. However, this does not mean they will not bargain hard. Both are powerful leaders having significant influence over their communities Dalits and Koeris accounting for 14% of state population. Their support is crucial for BJP win in the state. BJP which is already fighting a united Janata-Congress alliance which is ahead in terms of vote share (at least arithmetically and based on Lok Sabha results) can’t afford to lose their support. Paswan and Kushwaha know this and will play this card to their favour.

In a nut shell BJP can’t afford a Maharashtra like situation. Nor can Paswan and Kushwaha afford to lose ministries. They know BJP is not dependent upon their support in Parliament.

Manjhi is very important from Mahadalit vote bank point of view. Additionally his party could attract a lot of rebel candidates from JDU who are denied tickets. Talking to people on the ground suggest that Manjhi is pretty strong in 15 odd seats. He doesn’t enjoy any ministerial position at the center so HAM could be accommodated in cabinet as well. This could help BJP temper down Manjhi’s demands for seats.

Litmus list of Amit Shah

In all of this Amit Shah’s negotiation skills will be at test. He has to play the carrot and stick approach to get allies to agree to a respectable seat sharing formula. Apart from 150-40-25-25 option the other alternative is that BJP keeps half of the seats for itself and distributes the rest, something like 120-50-40-30. LJP could be given 50 based on the fact that its candidates occupied the Top 3 slots in 51 seats in 2010 assembly polls. So it could be 130-50-30-30 as well.

Higher seats means higher probability of MLAs and resultantly higher number of miniseries in the government. It’s all a fight for Kursi – Kissa Kursi Ka – in the end. One thing is for sure, BJP under Modi-Shah Jodi is pretty aggressive and won’t accede to the arm twisting tactics of allies. Paswan, Kushwaha and Manjhi are aware of this. The fact that Bihar polls is very important for BJP and the way national polity will shape if it loses, makes the stakes very high.

Can BJP amicably solve the seat sharing formula in Bihar? Will it be able to keep all its allies happy? Will it concede too many seats making its own cadre unhappy? Will some partner leave the alliance unhappy over seat distribution? Can all this be done as soon as possible to waste little time for polls preparation? All this will be known in the coming weeks. So stay tuned…..

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