Bihar bypoll test for new alliances

Nitish Kumar

Patna: As the mercury rises, so will Bihar's political temperature with the Election Commission announcing dates for byelections to the Araria Lok Sabha seat and two Assembly constituencies - Bhabua and Jehanabad.

The bypolls will be held on March 11 and the counting will take place on March 14.

The bypoll to the Araria Lok Sabha seat was necessitated by the death of RJD MP Mohammed Taslimuddin, who had won in 2014 despite the "Narendra Modi wave". Elections will also be held in the Assembly segments of Bhabua and Jehanabad to fill the vacancies caused by the passing of their legislators, Anand Bhushan Pandey (BJP) and Mundrika Singh Yadav (RJD), respectively.

The Bihar bypoll assumes significance as this will be first election after chief minister Nitish Kumar jettisoned the Grand Alliance with the Congress and the RJD, and joined hands with the BJP in July last year. The polls will also be seen as a prestige issue for jailed RJD chief Lalu Prasad as questions have been raised about his political future after his sentencing in the fodder scam cases. Also on test will be the ability of Lalu's political heir Tejashwi Yadav to lead an election campaign.

Nitish has already hinted that he did not consider the results of byelections as an indication of the popular mood. He has cited the byelections in the state just before the 2010 Assembly polls in which the NDA lost badly to the RJD-LJP-Congress alliance in 18 Assembly segments, but won a spectacular victory in the state elections a year later.

RJD faces a challenge retaining the seats won by the party's old warhorses Mundrika Singh from Jehanabad and Taslimuddin in Araria. Even when the NDA was sweeping the polls in Bihar, Taslimuddin won as he had appealed that it would be the last electoral battle he would contest due to his advanced age. Araria is located in the Seemanchal zone which has a large population of Muslims and the BJP wins owing to consolidation of the non-Muslim vote. It was Taslimuddin who managed to get the non-Muslim votes to the RJD.

RJD leaders confessed that it would be hard to get a candidate of Taslimuddin's stature.

Similarly, finding a replacement for Mundrika Singh, a veteran socialist, would also be a challenge. For the BJP, it will be a tough battle to retain Bhabua, a seat in south Bihar which they won in spite of the wave in favour of the Grand Alliance in 2015.

The Opposition sees the bypolls as a semi-final ahead of the general elections scheduled next year. "A lot of local factors come in to play in bypolls, but the results will indicate if the BJP-JDU is as invincible as they claim to be," said an RJD leader who spoke under cover of anonymity.

The process for filing the nomination papers will begin on February 13 and will conclude on February 20.


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