Bihar MLC polls test NDA, gathbandhan ties; RJD leaves Cong 0 out of 24

A little over a year after the Assembly elections brought them together, political parties across alliances in Bihar find themselves in a tussle over the 24 MLC seats which have been lying vacant.

While the BJP and JD(U) are set to put up candidates for the 24 seats, denying any to partners Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and Vikasshil Insan Party (VIP), the RJD has left ally Congress out in the cold and will be contesting all.

Panachayati Raj representatives vote in the MLC elections. Postponed for seven months due to Covid, these are finally expected to be held in April.

Of the 24 seats, the JD(U) has got 11. Given the gradual diminishing of the party in the alliance with the BJP, and the recent rancour between them over issues, JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar must be relieved at the share. Of the remaining 13, the BJP will give one from its share to the Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party led by Union minister Pashupati Kumar Paras.

The VIP’s Mukesh Sahani has announced that his party will contest all the 24 seats. While he clarified that his party’s four MLAs continue to be with the NDA, he added he was not sure what would happen in the future.

“I am upset, but will not destabilise the government. However, I will continue to work for the cause of fellow Nishads (EBCs), and criticise even the Prime Minister and Bihar Chief Minister if required,” said Sahani, a minister in the Nitish government.

Muscle-flexing apart, Sahani does not have much elbow room to nudge his NDA allies. Apart from the fact that his MLAs might not want to forego the perks of being part of a ruling coalition, Sahani himself is up for re-election as MLC in July, and may not do anything to jeopardise that.

Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM (S) had been expecting two MLC seats. While Manjhi too has been known for sabre-rattling, he has so far avoided warnings like Sahani’s. While the Nitish government enjoys only a wafer-thin majority, as HAM(S) spokesperson Danish Rizwan said: “We cannot risk the NDA government for two MLC seats.”

The biggest snub of all has been dealt to the Congress. The Mahagathbandhan of the RJD, Congress and Left had only a few months ago fought three bypolls, losing all to the NDA. This time, the RJD unilaterally announced that it would contest 23 seats and give the remaining one to the CPI. RJD spokesperson Mrityunjay Tewari said: “The Congress is our national alliance partner. We have to field strong candidates to take on the NDA, and the Congress does not have winnable candidates.”

Bihar Congress Legislature Party leader and Bhagalpur MLA Ajit Sharma said the party would contest all 24 seats on its own. “We should have remained united to fight the NDA, but now that the RJD has taken its call, we will take ours and contest all the seats.”

Incidentally, the Congress is uneasy about the continued absence of its star CPI import Kanhaiya Kumar from action in Bihar. “We had expected Kanhaiya to galvanise the party and take it out of stupor, but nothing seems to be working for us, not even our alliance,” said a Congress source.

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