AFTER WEEKS of speculation and posturing, the LJP said Sunday, after a party meeting in the National Capital, that it would fight the Bihar Assembly elections next month separately — and not as part of the ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance.
However, the party founded by Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan took pains to reiterate that its alliance with BJP at the Centre was “firm”, that its MLAs would back the BJP in a post-poll scenario, and that the split for the Bihar polls was due to “ideological differences” with the JD(U).
For many months, LJP president Chirag Paswan has been attacking Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his performance over the last five years, with the party now reiterating that it was ready to field candidates against JD(U) but not BJP.
So far, LJP has floated the idea of contesting from 143 seats, but no official announcement has been made yet. Elections to the 243-member assembly will be held in three phases, starting October 28.
Given the LJP’s move, sources told The Indian Express that JD(U) and BJP are likely to evenly split the number of seats they would contest. The two allies will contest 119 seats each and give five seats to Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha, sources said.
The LJP’s decision comes two days after Chirag Paswan took part in the last of many meetings with BJP president JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. While there are indications that LJP wanted at least 36 seats in the alliance, the numbers being offered were much lower.
A senior LJP leader told The Indian Express: “Even if the numbers had been offered, Chirag Paswan’s idea has been to expand the party. He is firm in his belief that there is anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar, and always wanted to fight alone. This will now be our test.”
In an official statement, LJP’s chief general secretary Abdul Khalique said: “The LJP has its own idea of the development of Bihar, which is why the ‘Bihar First Bihari First’ vision document has been prepared. At the national level, there is a firm alliance between LJP and BJP. At the state level, and in the assembly elections, because of ideological differences with JD(U), a decision has been taken to fight the elections separate from the alliance. There will be ideological fights in many seats with JD(U) and the people can decide which candidate is better for Bihar.”
The LJP’s move is significant, with the Paswan community, which is the largest among Dalits in Bihar, thus far backing the party. In the last assembly elections in 2015, LJP won two seats, with 28.79 per cent votes in the 42 it contested — its overall voteshare for the state was 4.83 per cent. In 2010, the party won three seats, with 21.78 per cent votes in the 75 it contested, and an overall share of 6.74 per cent.
These numbers show that outside the big four parties on either side, the BJP-JD(U) and the RJD-Congress, it is the LJP that had the highest voteshare. LJP leaders have already indicated that the party hopes to play the role of kingmaker this time.
Khalique said in the statement that LJP is committed to the path of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and its winning MLAs would back the BJP. “At the Centre, we have a firm alliance with BJP, and we wanted that for the state level, too.
There is no bitterness between LJP and BJP. After the election results, the winning candidates of LJP will form a BJP-LJP government,” Khalique said.
Another LJP leader said that while it was unusual for the party to be ostensibly backing the BJP but fighting apart from the alliance, it was not unprecedented. “There may be friendly fights between BJP and LJP in some seats. Even in Manipur and Jharkhand, LJP fought separately from BJP. In Manipur, where it won some seats, we joined the BJP government,” he said.
On Saturday, the Opposition alliance announced its seat formula with RJD getting 144 seats and Congress 70. Besides, a total of 29 seats have been allocated to three Left parties — CPI-ML (19), CPI (6) and CPM (4).
The relationship between JD(U) and LJP had nosedived over the last few months, with the party taking potshots at the Bihar government over its handling of Covid and the migrants crisis that followed the lockdown.
(With Santosh Singh in Patna)
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd