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February 6, 1998


BJP's opponents divided in Bihar

E-Mail this story to a friend Shaji Joseph in Patna

Even though the first phase of the election in Bihar is just ten days away, the various parties within the two broad formations -- the Jan Morcha and the United Front and its allies -- continue to bicker over the sharing of seats. Only the third alliance, the Bharatiya Janata Party-Samata Party combine, is free of such wrangles. As in 1996, the BJP will contest 32 of Bihar's 54 Lok Sabha seats, leaving 22 seats for the Samata Party. The latter party, however, will not contest from Hajipur and will instead back the Janata Dal candidate, Railways Minister Ram Vilas Paswan.

Sharad Yadav's Janata Dal leads the United Front while Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal heads the Jan Morcha. With no seat sharing arrangement in sight, analysts expect a multi-party fight in most constituencies. Only a few seats will witness a straight contest. One such seat is Madhepura, where Sharad Yadav is pitted against Laloo Yadav. The other is Hajipur, where Paswan will fight former Bihar chief minister and Samajwadi Janata Party leader Ram Sundar Das.

The RJD, formed by Laloo Yadav after he quit the Janata Dal, has joined hands with the Congress, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Shankarsinh Vaghela's Rashtriya Janata Party, and Chandra Shekhar's Samajwadi Janata Party. The Bahujan Samaj Party walked out of the alliance since its demand for at least three seats was not acceptable to the others. It appears quite likely that the alliance will never fructify as the constituents resent Laloo Yadav's domineering attitude.

The RJD unilaterally announced its decision to contest 38 of the 54 seats, leaving only 16 for its allies. The move upset the Congress rank and file, which intended to, and has, put up candidates in 22 seats. The Congress contested all the 54 seats in the last election and was almost decimated, winning just two seats -- Katihar and Rajmahal.

In a bid to rebuild its fast-eroding base and improve its Lok Sabha tally, the Congress leadership decided to ally with the RJD. Thus, the Congress supported Laloo Yadav when he broke away from the Janata Dal and supported his wife Rabri Devi's appointment as chief minister, claiming it was the only way to stop "communal forces." Laloo Yadav had stepped down from office pending his arrest in the animal fodder scam case.

Revealing the Congress pique with Laloo Yadav, Bihar Congress chief Safraz Ahmad says, "We wanted to contest 22 seats in alliance with the RJD, but we are prepared to go it alone. Our concern is to re-establish our party in the Hindi heartland." Another Morcha ally, the JMM, has decided to contest at least six seats in south Bihar, including some where the Congress has its candidates.

Congress cadres blame chief Sitaram Kesri for the current mess which finds the party allying with the RJD in eight seats, but opposing it in 13. Many question the wisdom of an electoral association with Laloo Yadav, who stands chargesheeted in the fodder scam.

The other broad alliance, the 17-party Left Democratic combine, comprising the United Front and its allies, is also struggling to come up with a solution to satisfy all its constituents. The Janata Dal, the strongest of the United Front partners in Bihar, had suggested 37 seats for itself; 17 for the CPI; 9 for the CPI-M; and 13 for Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party. But this was unacceptable to the others.

Today, the JD has fielded 38 candidates, the SP 30, the CPI 15, the CPI-M 4, and the People's Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) 16. Thus, the UF constituents have, for all practical purposes, decided to chart an independent course in the election.

Analysts said last year's split in the Janata Dal, leading to the RJD's birth, would affect both the UF and the Jan Morcha. Both alliances share a common electoral base. Comparing the present situation in Bihar to the electoral conditions that existed in 1980, they mention that then too, the split in the socialist front benefited its opposition; 1998, they say, is likely to witness an encore.

In the 1996 Lok Sabha election, the Congress won 12.99 per cent of the vote and two seats. The Janata Dal and its allies won 31.8 per cent and 26 seats: the JMM winning 3.01 per cent of the votes cast and one seat, and the Samajwadi Party getting 1.34 per cent votes and one seat.

In 1991, the Janata Dal, allied with the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist, and JMM won 31 seats of the 35 it contested and 33.19 per cent of the votes polled. Thus, though in 1996 it lost just 1.31 per cent of the vote, it lost six seats.

The BJP, which went to the hustings alone in 1991, won five seats and 17 per cent of the votes polled. But an alliance with the Samata Party changed its fortunes radically. In 1996, it contested 32 constituencies, won 18 and 20.54 per cent of the vote. Its ally secured six seats and 14.45 per cent of the votes.

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