NEW DELHI: Even before the grand alliance led by Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) announced its candidates and seat-sharing formula in Bihar, the tensions between the partners were clearly visible.
Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s son who is in charge of the party while his father is in jail, had become suspiciously inaccessible to his party workers and the media in the days leading to the crucial election.
Senior RJD leader Manoj Jha had to face angry journalists in Patna when Tejashwi did not turn up for a press conference to announce the alliance’s seat-sharing formula.
And when Tejashwi finally emerged and addressed a press conference in Patna to declare who the alliance’s candidates would be, the absence of senior Congress leaders was conspicuous.
There were also murmurs about the RJD scion’s reluctance to back CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar from Begusarai as the grand alliance’s candidate, leading to the former student activist and his party going it alone. The election results showed how foolish a decision this was, as RJD’s Tanveer Hasan placed third, after BJP’s Giriraj Singh and Kanhaiya. Singh’s total votes—almost 7 lakh—was more than the sum of the votes received by both Kanhaiya and Hasan, but a united candidate would have no doubt given a much tougher fight to the BJP.
The BJP, on the other hand, was extremely pragmatic when it came to accommodating alliance partners. The saffron party ceded 17 seats to Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and six to Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) out of a total 40 seats. It also contested in only 17 seats, despite winning 22 in the state in the last Lok Sabha elections. The saffron party also promised a Rajya Sabha berth to LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan.
As per the latest count, the BJP-JD(U)-LJP alliance is set to win 39 out of the 40 seats in the state, while the Congress is ahead in one. This is the first time the RJD hasn’t won a single Lok Sabha seat in the state since it was formed in 1997.
“The real issues of unemployment, corruption, and inflation were overshadowed by Modi’s pitch around nationalism and national security and public emotion was centered around it,” said Manjeet Anand, a Congress leader from Patna.
But he also admitted that the alliance was hobbled by a lack of coordination.
“It was visible when Kanhiaya Kumar was not declared as the grand alliance candidate from Begusarai. There was a lack of understanding between RJD and the Congress on seats like Supaul and some other seats. When Modi was leading an alliance of 36 parties, we should have been more pragmatic,” he said.
The RJD was contesting on 20 seats in this election, while its alliance partner Congress was fighting in 9 seats. Eleven seats were left for smaller parties such as Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awami Morcha and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party.
“He (Modi) was successful in keeping grand alliance divided. Tejashwi worked hard. It would be wrong to say he didn't work. But Lalu’s absence was a factor
What next for Tejashwi?
The absence of Lalu, who is currently in a Ranchi jail after being convicted in a corruption case, took a toll on the party. His two sons were openly battling each other through the campaign.
The RJD founder’s elder son Tej Pratap openly campaigned against his party’s candidate in the Saran Lok Sabha seat. Tej Pratap was unhappy over his estranged father-in-law Chandrika Rai being given ticket from this seat.
Thrice in the run-up to the election, Tej Pratap called press conferences, reportedly to announce his decision to quit the party, but each time, his mother Rabri Devi managed to convince him not to turn up. But even Rabri could not control him for long and Tej announced his resignation as the patron of RJD’s youth wing in March. He also announced the formation of Lalu-Rabri Morcha and declared support for two independent candidates from Jehanabad and Saran, which sent the wrong message to RJD cadre, who were already unhappy with Tejashwi’s handling of party affairs.
RJD leader Manikant Yadav, however, said that this loss would not raise questions about Tejashwi, who was chosen by Lalu to lead the party over both his elder siblings Misa Bharti and Tej Pratap.
“This country is an emotional country. Modi did not let real issues like an agrarian crisis, unemployment and price rise come up in this election. It was not Tejashwi’s election alone. Congress and our other alliance partners’ votes did not get transferred to our candidates, which is why this result came,” he contended.
The Congress’s Manjeet Anand blamed BJP and Modi for conspiring to create rifts in the grand alliance.
“He (Modi) was successful in keeping grand alliance divided. Tejashwi worked hard. It would be wrong to say he didn’t work. But Lalu’s absence was a factor. But we think Bihar will come back to hound BJP again next year like 2015,” Anand added.
BJP’s spokesperson in Bihar also said that his party was helped by the lack of unity in the grand alliance.
“There was a strong undercurrent in favor of Modi. The grand alliance was not united. They gave a very conflicting message. They also targeted each institution including Army, which did not go down well with the public everywhere, including Bihar. OBC, EBC, and women voted overwhelmingly for Modi who generates a lot of hope,” he told HuffPost India.