Bihar polls: Political compulsions force Lalu to accept Nitish
Patna: Political compulsions, not secular values, forced RJD chief Lalu Prasad to accept JD-U leader Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate in the coming Bihar elections, realizing that this alone could check the BJP in the politically crucial state.
Lalu Prasad, those close to him say, realized after the 2014 Lok Sabha election that it was division of anti-BJP votes that routed his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U).
This was proved more or less correct when the RJD and JD-U together bagged six of the 10 seats in assembly by-elections after the Lok Sabha battle, leaving the BJP with just four seats.
That further cemented the ties between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, who for years had been at each's other throats after once being together in the erstwhile Janata Dal.
But it wasn't all cosy though. With assembly elections approaching, Lalu Prasad -- who has been chief minister and so has been his wife Rabri Devi -- wanted to fight the polls with the JD-U but wasn't keen on accepting Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate.
That is when Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav intervened. On Monday, he announced that Lalu Prasad had accepted that Nitish Kumar would head the Janata Parivar's charge in Bihar.
The elections are most likely in September-October.
For both Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, defeating the BJP is their priority -- for political survival. Nitish Kumar has ruled Bihar for about a decade from November 2005 with a short break.
"Lalu understands more than anyone else that a split in anti-BJP votes will result in his party's defeat again like in the Lok Sabha polls," JD-U leader Nihora Prasad told IANS.
"Lalu was forced to accept Nitish as captain after the Congress and NCP announced their support for Nitish.
"If Lalu had not changed his stand over Nitish, his party would have been left alone to fight for political survival."
The RJD and JD-U, fighting separately, garnered nearly 20 and 16 percent votes respectively in the Lok Sabha election. The Congress got another eight percent.
This amounted to 44 percent of all votes -- despite a Modi wave. The BJP and its allies together secured 38 percent.
Lalu Prasad then publicly blamed the split in "secular votes" for his party's defeat.
Till last Sunday, however, he was reluctant to accept that Nitish Kumar should be projected as the chief ministerial candidate of the alliance.
Lalu feared that Nitish Kumar's projection would reduce his bargaining power during talks on seat sharing.
Political analyst Nawal Kishore Choudhary, who teaches in Patna University, said seeking votes in the name of secular values may be a part of the Janata Parivar's strategy.
"The real issue is survival in politics," he said.
With Modi appeal seemingly on the wane, the BJP won't find it easy going if Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar join hands along with the Congress and the NCP.
Despite the Lok Sabha loss, Nitish Kumar's image as one who has tried to develop Bihar and provide good governance remains, said Congress leader Ashok Choudhary.
According to political circles here, the JD-U and RJD are expected to contest at least 100 seats each and leave 43 seats for the Congress, the Left and the NCP.
The JD-U won 115 seats in the last assembly polls when it was allied with the BJP. The BJP won 91 seats. The RJD got 22 seats and the Congress only four.
Differences over Narendra Modi's elevation in the BJP led to the JD-U walking out of the alliance in 2013.
The Bihar election will be the biggest popularity test in the country after the February election in Delhi when the Aam Aadmi Party routed the BJP.