Four political alliances and a political party are vying for taking over the reins of Bihar in the ongoing assembly elections. While the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandhan are the two major players matching each other in the cut-throat struggle for power, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) led by Chirag Paswan is playing the spoilsport possibly damaging the NDA poll prospects.
But the Grand Democratic Secular Front (GDSF) led by Upendra Kushwaha and the Progressive Democratic Alliance led by Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav are two other alliances in Bihar struggling to make their presence felt and trying to cut into the votes which otherwise would have gone either to the NDA or the Mahagathbandhan. Both Kushwaha and Pappu are chief ministerial candidates for their respective alliances.
Spurned by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha forged a tie-up with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi, Samajwadi Janata Dal Democratic, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and Jantantrik Party.
Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) leader Pappu Yadav, who unsuccessfully tried to find space Rashtriya Lok Samata Party in the NDA first and then in the Grand Alliance, has cobbled up a coalition with the Azad Samaj Party led by Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, Bahujan Mukti Party, which is active in Bundelkhand and eastern region of Uttar Pradesh, and Socialist Democratic Party of India (SDPI) to contest the Bihar assembly polls.
Both these alliances are being considered as platforms of such political outfits which were rejected and could not find any place in the two major combines. Now, they are proving to be vote katwa (spoilers) for both the NDA and Mahagathbandhan candidates.
As part of the Grand Democratic Secular Front, the RLSP is contesting from 104 assembly seats, BSP on 80 seats, AIMIM 24, Samajwadi Janata Dal 25 and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party and Jantantrik Party on five seats each.
The PDA is also contesting all the 243 seats but is finding it difficult to withstand the onslaught of voters. In Madhepura, which is known as the ‘Vatican of Yadavs’, Pappu himself is facing a tough challenge from Nikhil Mandal of the JD(U). Mandal is the grandson of BP Mandal, who was chairman of the commission on reservation for the backward classes.
These two fringe alliances along with the LJP have become a refuge of the rebels of the mainline parties who have been denied tickets. Some of the discards of the mainline parties are individually strong in their respective constituencies and they have chances of emerging victorious in the multi-cornered contests.
Denied tickets by the BJP, former Jharkhand RSS head Rajendra Singh and senior BJP leader Rameshwar Chourasia are contesting as LJP candidates from Dinara and Sasaram constituencies respectively. They have the potential to trounce the sitting legislators in the keen contests witnessed in these constituencies.
The Kushwaha-led alliance has become a force to be reckoned with in the western part of Bihar along the Uttar Pradesh border due to the influence of the BSP in this region. Together, the six-party alliance is believed to have the potential to garner over 10 per cent votes throughout the state.
In the first phase, the BSP will be enough to spoil the chances of many candidates of the mainline parties in the constituencies falling under Gopalganj, Bhojpur, Rohtas and Kaimur districts. This alliance has fielded candidates in 62 out of the 71 constituencies.
Though the BSP has limited electoral presence in Bihar, the party had managed to win six assembly seats in the February 2005 polls. It had fielded candidates on 228 seats but could garner only 2.07 per cent votes in the 2015 assembly elections.
The RLSP has sizable influence among the Kushwahas (Koeris) in Rohtas, Kaimur, Buxar, Aurangabad, Jamui, Sheikhpura, Munger and East Champaran areas. It had gathered 3.6 per cent votes winning two seats in the 2015 assembly elections when it was part of the NDA.
Reiterating his wish to become the chief minister of Bihar, Kushwaha has unequivocally stated that it was now the turn of the Koeris, the caste to which he belongs, to rule in Bihar after the 15-year rule of Yadavs led by Lalu Prasad Yadav and the subsequent 15-year rule of Kurmis led by Nitish Kumar.
The AIMIM can influence about half-a-dozen seats in the Seemanchal region due to the preponderance of the Muslim votes. The AIMIM had entered the Bihar politics for the first time in the 2015 assembly elections. It had fielded six candidates but none of them could win despite getting substantial votes.
For the first time, the AIMIM got a foothold in the Kishanganj assembly constituency when its candidate Qamrul Hoda defeated the ruling BJP candidate Sweety Singh and relegated the Congress to the third position in a 2019 by-election. The Bihar chief of the AIMIM, Akhtar-ul-Iman, is contesting from Amour. The party also pins its hopes on the Bahadurganj and Kochadhaman seats.
The last two elections since 2015 have witnessed growing influence of AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi in this region as the traditional claimants of the Muslim votes – the RJD, JD(U) and the Congress – have gradually been losing strength and credibility among the minority community.
BSP supremo Mayawati and Upendra Kushwaha have so far held two rallies at Kargahar and Bhabhua while Owaisi and Kushwaha have held 20 joint election meetings. The alliance leaders claimed that they would be influencing at least 40-45 seats in the first phase.
Though Sanjay Chouhan of the Jantantrik Party is a leader from Uttar Pradesh, he claims to be wielding some influence in the Ghosi area of Jehanabad. Similarly, Omprakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party is also from UP but he claims to have a following in Rohtas and Kaimur districts, especially among the Rajbhars. Former MP Devendra Prasad Yadav, who heads the Samajwadi Janata Dal, wields influence in some pockets of Madhubani and Darbhanga.
Pappu had tried relentlessly to get into the Mahagathbandhan courtesy his wife, a Congress MP, but could not succeed. He is now in the electoral arena along with Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad and others.
With his influence in the Kosi region covering Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura and Purnia districts, Pappu has promised in his party’s manifesto – Pratigya Patra – a corruption-free state within six months and a turnaround for Bihar in three years if his party is voted to power.
Having become an MLA at the age of 22 and an MP the next year, Pappu has never looked back and went on to register three victories in a row in 1996, 1999 and 2004. He was not allowed to contest the 2009 Lok Sabha polls for his conviction in the Ajit Sarkar murder case. After his acquittal, he fought the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, trouncing JD(U) heavyweight Sharad Yadav.
He floated JAP after his expulsion from the RJD and contested the 2015 assembly polls from 40 seats but failed to win any seat even in his stronghold as the Nitish-Lalu combination swept the elections.
Amid the fierceness of the electoral battle between the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan and their thorough electoral arithmetic, the other alliances are looking at the possibility of winning in multi-cornered contests.
In case of a fractured mandate and hung assembly, the role of MLAs of these fringe alliances will become important at the time of government formation. They may be small in numbers but they will serve as missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle for the main contenders lacking the magic number.
If there is a clear majority either for the NDA or Mahagathbandhan, these smaller parties of opportunistic alliances will ultimately dissolve into the mainstream parties due to lack of political chemistry among them.
The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.