NEW DELHI -- Following intense negotiations driven by strategic caste calculations, the Bharatiya Janata Party announced its formula to share 243 assembly seats for the upcoming Bihar state election which kicks off on October 12.
Holding on to 160 seats, the BJP has allotted 83 seats to its allies who are expected to rake in the Dalit and MahaDalit votes. Noticeably absent was an announcement on BJP's chief ministerial candidate in the election.
So far, the BJP has failed to agree on a leader strong enough to challenge Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to be the face of the party for the state polls.
“We have decided on a seat sharing deal with our allies. We have decided to fight the election shoulder-to shoulder," BJP president Amit Shah said at a press conference on Monday.
Shah announced that Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party would contest 40 seats, Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party has 23 seats, and 20 seats went to Jitan Ram Manhji's Hindustani Awam Morcha.
BJP and its allies are contesting against the anti-BJP alliance of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United), Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and Sonia Gandhi's Congress Party.
"Nitish Kumar is thinking of himself as Bihar but Bihar does not think of itself as Nitish Kumar," said Shah, appealing to voters in Bihar to give "one chance" to the NDA alliance.
The Bihar elections will be conducted in five phases from October 12 to November 15.
While Paswan and Kushwaha did not voice any dissatisfaction while the seat sharing deal was being finalised, Manjhi refused to settle for 15 to 17 seats, and an additional five HAM leaders to run on a BJP ticket.
Manjhi, who was the first MahaDalit chief minister of Bihar before he was unceremoniously ousted by Kumar in February, dug in his heels for 25 seats, and he has emerged with a few more than were originally planned for HAM. Shah also said today that Manjhi could also nominate other leaders of his choice to run on a BJP ticket.
While holding his peace during the negotiations, Paswan is now reportedly unhappy about his share. Citing sources, TV news channels said that he was counting on 42 seats for LJP.
Strategic Caste Alliance
While a recent HuffPost C-Voter polls shows "development" to be the top priority for voters, the seat sharing calculations in Bihar are still largely driven by caste calculations.
The same poll suggests that its strategic alliance with Manjhi for MahaDalit votes is working out for the BJP. The survey projects that 40 percent of Dalits will vote for BJP and its allies, and 37 percent will vote for the anti-BJP alliance. But 42 percent of MahaDalits will vote for the BJP and 29 percent will vote for the anti-BJP alliance.
"While the Dalit votes are more or less equally split among the two alliances: the NDA is clearly making huge inroads into the "MahaDalit" segment," the survey said.
The survey also projects that 51 percent of the Musahar/Manjhi social group will vote for the BJP and its allies, while 36 percent will vote for the anti-BJP alliance. will vote for the BJP and its allies, while 36 percent will vote for the anti-BJP alliance. It says that 46 percent of the Paswan group will vote for BJP and its allies, and 35 percent of the anti-BJP alliance. It also projects that 44 percent of the Kushwaha group will vote for BJP and its allies, and 26 percent for the RJD.
Manjhi vs. Paswan
Meanwhile, BJP's key allies are clamouring to be regarded as the true representative of the state's Dalits. Manjhi, observers said, felt slighted at not being offered even half the seat allotted to Paswan during the seat-sharing talks. Going forward, the BJP will have to guard against infighting which its political rivals are likely to pounce on.
"There is no fighting. Look, they are both sitting on stage and smiling," Shah said at the press conference today.
Last week, Manjhi took serious objection to Paswan's remarks that he was on trial in the alliance, and warned his poll-partner against claiming to be a leader of Dalits in the state.
"How could he (Paswan) claim to be a national leader of Dalits when he did not utter a word on several issues plaguing the Scheduled Castes (SC). He didn't even protest when his own castes of Paswan and Dusadh were not included among 'mahadalits' by the Nitish Kumar government," said Manjhi, according to PTI.
Shaibal Gupta, a social scientist at the Asian Development Research Institute in Patna, attributed Manjhi's outburst to a show of "brinkmanship" to appear more influential than Paswan, and put pressure on BJP to allot him more seats.
Gupta said that JD(U)'s alliance with the Yadav's RJD fundamentally differed from the BJP and its allies because the former were far more evenly matched than the latter. "Nitish and Lalu are evenly matched," he said. "BJP is a towering presence."
While the BJP's seat sharing formula was finally settled today, the anti BJP alliance announced in August that JD(U) and RJ(D) would contest 100 seats each, and the Congress Party has 40.
The JD(U) accused the BJP of treating its allies as "dispensable accessories."
"The BJP treats its allies with contempt. They were dispensable accessories," Pavan Varma, JD(U) spokesperson, told HuffPost India, suggesting that the party was hogging on its allies' Dalit votes, but strategising to keep the majority of seats for its own candidates in the upcoming polls. "It is a clinically planned strategy to postpone the seat sharing plan till the last minute."
Meanwhile, Varma insisted that the flight of Samajvadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav from their alliance has not been demoralising.
"We respect Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav but SP hardly has any electoral basis. The electoral impact of him leaving will be minimum," he said. "How will they fight for 243 seats in Bihar?"