Chief minister Nitish Kumar at Buddha Smriti Park in Patna on Wednesday. (PTI)
Patna, May 14: Nitish Kumar is looking at five Assembly seats for a fig leaf against the massive setback in the Lok Sabha elections predicted for the Janata Dal (United) in exit polls.
Byelections to the five Assembly seats, all in north Bihar — Baisi (Purnea), Kochadhaman (Kishanganj), Sahebpur Kamal (Begusarai), Chiraiya (East Champaran) and Maharajganj (Siwan) — were held along with the parliamentary polls.
The JD(U) holds two of these seats — Sahebpur Kamal and Maharajganj. Two are with the BJP and the RJD holds one.
A credible performance in these five seats would allow Nitish to tell his legislators that the party, and he himself, still remained relevant at the state level. Also, it would give the government a cushion in the Assembly where it currently has 115 members, seven short of the majority mark of 122.
The bypolls were necessitated by a motley of reasons. Akhtarul Iman had won the Kochadhaman seat as an RJD candidate but he deserted the party to become a JD(U) nominee for the Kishanganj Lok Sabha seat, necessitating a bypoll. Similarly, the BJP’s Chiraiya MLA, Awanish Kumar, switched sides to the JD(U), becoming its candidate for East Champaran. JD(U)’s Parveen Amanullah resigned from her Assembly membership from Sahebpur Kamal to contest the Patna Sahib seat as an AAP nominee. The Maharajganj seat had fallen vacant in the wake of the death of JD(U) legislator Damodar Rawat. The bypoll has taken place at Baisi after its BJP MLA, Santosh Kushwaha, switched over to the JD(U), becoming its candidate in Purnea Lok Sabha constituency.
The grapevine has it that the chief minister will be faced with at least three major problems in the event the JD(U)’s Lok Sabha tally is reduced to single digit as predicted by the exit polls — the murmurs of dissension could get louder, restive cadres could train their guns on his “close confidant” and bureaucrat-turned-MP, RCP Singh, and the BJP with 89 members in the House is expected to go all out to foment crisis in the JD(U).
A trailer of the troubles to come was on show during the elections when JD(U) national president Sharad Yadav, contesting from Madhepura, said on record that his “two protégées — Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar — had resorted to caste politics deviating from the broader philosophy of socialism”.
Sharad later described the statement as a “slip of the tongue”, but his detractors weren’t amused. “His tongue had not slipped without a reason,” a senior JD(U) leader said under cover of anonymity. Sharad is believed to have his influence on at least 24 legislators who would side with what he decides, party insiders said.
Also, agriculture minister Narendra Singh has been training his guns on Nitish for quite some time. At an election meeting graced by Nitish, he went to the extent of threatening that it would be hard for the JD(U) candidate from Jamui, Uday Narayan Choudhary, to win without his (Narendra’s) support. He has on several occasions spoken against the JD(U) leadership for not holding consultations and dialogues in selecting candidates for the Lok Sabha polls or inducting “outsiders” in the party. Narendra wields considerable clout on the JD(U)’s Rajput MLAs.
A large section of the JD(U) cadres The Telegraph came across while travelling through the state during the polls were critical of RCP Singh for “hijacking” multiple roles at the cost of the party’s old loyalists. They complained about how RCP played a “major role” in getting tickets to “renegades” from other parties and even in making appointments and nominations in boards, corporations and committees at the district level without consulting the district presidents of the JD(U).
Given the uncertainty in case of a rout in the Lok Sabha elections, a strong performance in the five Assembly seats could give Nitish some room to hold his own in the party.