#BiharElections — Decoding the Lalu-Nitish seat sharing pact in Bihar


The much awaited seat sharing formula of the grand Janata alliance and Congress for the Bihar polls is out. Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) and Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal will fight on 100 seats each while Congress has been given 40 seats. 3 seats have been left vacant for Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party. As per news Pawar is not happy with a paltry 3 seats and his party wants a minimum 12.

A lot of hue and cry is being raised in the media and by opponents as to how Nitish agreed for fewer seats than what his party won last time in 2010. In an article as early as Jan. 2015 in Niticentral, I had predicted a 97:97:49 seat sharing arrangement vs 100:100:43 announced.

How could Nitish agree to give 100 seats to Lalu and 40 seats to Congress which won only 22 and 4 seats respectively in 2010? In this article I will attempt to unravel the mystery behind this formula.

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There are various factors which would have been considered before arriving at this formula.

1. 2010 Assembly Polls Performance

In 2010, JDU won 115 seats, but it was in alliance with BJP. It won these many seats because of transfer of BJP votes (16.5%) in favour of JDU candidates. If JDU had fought alone (I removed 16.5% vote share of JDU candidates on seats they won), it would have lost 76 of the 115 seats won.

JDU vote share was only 4% higher than RJD. Congress got 8% vote share. So this is not a perfect benchmark Lalu would have opined. It’s too old and circumstances.

2. 2014 Lok Sabha Polls Performance

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, JDU fought on its own and lead in only 18 assembly constituencies (-84%). RJD+Cong+NCP (who fought together) lead in 51 assembly segments. RJD vote share was 4% higher than JDU. Congress maintained its vote share.

Nitish would argue that 64% of Lok Sabha voters in the state, said they were satisfied with Nitish government in the state (Source: CSDS-Lokniti report). Additionally, Lok Sabha is a different ball game, fought on national issues, rather than state issues. So this is not a perfect benchmark.

3. Nitish leads popularity charts for most suitable CM

Nitish is the Chief Ministerial candidate of this alliance. He leads the popularity charts for most suitable CM. Since he is the leader, his party should fight on maximum seats to send a positive signal to voters, JDU would have argued.

However, Lalu would not have agreed to Nitish projection as CM candidate without getting a commitment for an equal no. of seats from Janata pariah Mulayam (his Samadhi).

4. Caste vote bank of each party

Lalu wields sizeable control over Muslim-Yadav vote bank (accounting for 30.5% of population). 64% of Muslims & Yadavs voted for RJD candidates in Lok Sabha. Congress too has a decent vote share amongst Muslims and a portion of upper castes. JDU meanwhile on a standalone basis doesn’t enjoy the mass support of any community except for Kurmis (accounting for only 4% of state population). This is reflected in the vote share of parties in Lok Sabha polls.

5. Development vs Caste Factor

Will people vote for development or still majority would vote on basis of caste? Caste is cast in stone in Bihar similar to other north Indian states like Uttar Pradesh. Therefore, though some people, mostly living in urban areas could vote basis development, caste will be the key factor for voter preference. Even by BJP’s own internal calculations only 15% of the state’s voters are those for whom development will be a bigger motivator than caste.(Source: Economic Times, July 27, 2015 article).

So we see that Nitish led on 2 of these factors (2010 assembly polls and Development factor), while Lalu also led on 2 of these factors (2014 Lok Sabha polls and Caste factor).

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Hence an equal distribution of seats between the two partners was logical and only way forward.

This brings us to another big question – Why did Nitish agree for less than 111 seats, JDU’s current strength in the assembly, knowing fully well it would lead to rebel candidates?

There are three main reasons for this:

1. To keep Congress happy

JDU demanding 111 seats would have led to Lalu demanding the same no. of seats as per logic shown above. This would have left only 21 seats for Congress. This would have been not a respectful tally for Congress considering it has 8% vote share.

32% of Muslims voted for Congress in 2010 assembly polls when it contested alone without RJD. Congress is the grand old party of India and still has a dedicated cadre base across most of India.

This move would have led Congress to put up candidates for all 243 seats. While it still many not win many, Congress does have the potential of spoiling Nitish-Lalu game in many seats.

2. Rebels not a big factor

JDU has been grappling with the issue of rebels for quite some time. Last year 8 rebel MLAs were expelled from the house for voting against official candidates in Rajya Sabha elections. This year party suspended 8 MLAs including Manjhi & his supporters for anti-party activities. Recently one rebel Rajiv Ranjan joined BJP. The party still has some rebels as 18 MLAs voted against party candidate in RS elections and 12 MLAs were supporting Manjhi. So all of them have not been suspended / expelled. Nitish is fully aware of this. So there are at least a dozen rebels still Nitish camp who he wants to penalize for going out of party line and deny party ticket.

3. To portray a gesture of accommodation

This also helps Nitish portray to his allies and the public that he is being accommodating and very committed to defeating so called communal forces like BJP.

Distrust between the allies (especially Nitish & Lalu) is also an underlying factor of the seat sharing formula

Whatever bonhomie Nitish and Lalu are showing to the world is all a sham. For much of their political careers they have been fighting against each other. After the results or few months down the line you never know they might break up due to personal differences. It all depends upon whether they win polls and Lalu gets a respectable share in the cabinet post that.

The fact that both fight on equal number of seats is also not to give each other chances of winning more seats. Now both of them are on an equal footing.

The seat sharing has also been crafted in such a way, that neither Lalu nor Nitish post polls can form govt. on a standalone basis with Congress support. It’s very difficult to get majority (122 seats) by contesting on 140 odd seats. So they will all live together and sink together.

In the end it is a compromise from all sides to take on the mighty Bhartiya Janata Party. Anti-BJP forces in India realize that if BJP wins Bihar, then it could go on to win Assam, Uttar Pradesh and could record considerable improvement in performance in Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. In essence it could become a much more potent force. It’s a question of their survival.

This article has been exclusively written for Niticentral.

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