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Seat sharing big headache for 2019 general elections

Saturday, November 03, 2018
By Prakash Bal Joshi

The talks for seat sharing are the first serious step towards a pre-poll alliance for political parties which believe in politics of addition and try to take maximum advantage of such alliances. However, it is not as simple as it appears as it is also first step which has to anticipate what kind of power sharing the parties will go in for after the poll is over despite knowing whether the alliance will win or loose as voters’ mood is always mercurial.

No wonder political parties preparing themselves for the coming general elections in 2019 which will decide fate of many including the Modi government in Delhi are also doing calculations to reach out seat sharing adjustments.

There is always a benefit for first movers and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has taken a first step to clinch a deal with the BJP for seat sharing for the 2019 elections. It has taken the state BJP by surprise wondering how Nitish Kumar could move fast and decide on seat sharing formula. Though the state BJP may want to contest more, the party headquarter was more keen to keep Nitish Kumar on its side and did not waste time in dilly dallying the proposal to share 50:50 seats between the BJP and the Janata Dal (United). The BJP is keen to keep its poll allies intact for the 2019 battle especially after Telegu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu has walked out of the NDA and is in the process of forming a front against the BJP led NDA.

BJP’s understanding with Nitish
The way the BJP moved in to have an understanding for Bihar with Nitish Kumar also showed its eagerness to send right kind of message for others in the NDA to toe the line and have similar kinds of seat sharing arrangements.

In the changed scenario where the Congress as well as several other regional straps are trying to hammer out a Mahagathbandhan to oppose the BJP in 2019, the BJP is more keen to retain all its NDA partners and add few more if possible. The seat sharing understanding with Nitish Kumar is considered as one major step towards the goal. With Nitish in the camp firmly, the BJP will now start putting pressure on other allies to remain united to ensure victory for 2019. Any disarray within the NDA camp will prove it very costly and the BJP is quite aware of it. BJP president Amit Shah who handles all the nitty gritty of fighting an election himself announced the decision to fight 50 per cent of seats with the JD(U) after reaching an understanding with Nitish Kumar.

Nitish Kumar, an astute politician took several steps before he joined back the NDA and now inked a pre-poll alignment with seat sharing formula.  He had left the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ led by the Congress and the RJD, removed Lalu Prasad Yadav’s ministers from his cabinet on the issue of corruption and got support from the BJP once the BJP won the assembly elections in North East Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya.

As it happens in any poll alliances between two parties which keep on vying with each other for domination, the state BJP which was always in the mode to expand its base in Bihar was weary of Nitish Kumar’s influence. However, they were told to keep a low profile by the party headquarter especially after the BJP lost   Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bye elections. Nitish also played hard politics and did not flinch to arrest Union minister Ashwini Choubey’s son for fanning communal tension in Bhagalpur. Despite all such hiccups, the two parties have decided to remain together and fight the coming general elections together as alliance of the NDA.

Nitish Kumar played very sensitive power game by distancing himself from Lalu Prasad Yadav saying he will not tolerate any corruption and at the same time kept on warning the BJP that he would not compromise his credentials as secular leader. It is not only Nitish Kumar who has put pressure on the BJP especially after party’s failure to secure power in Karnataka, but even smaller NDA allies like Lok Janshakti Party led by union minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party led by Upendra Kushwaha also put pressure on the BJP. The way Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi has put pressure on the government by criticising the Prime Minister Narendra Modi over   controversial Rafale deal, put more pressure on the BJP which was keener to have an alliance with Nitish Kumar and others. Despite reaching an understanding, the BJP had taken time to announce, but once it felt too much of heat over Rafale deal, Amit Shah, quickly met Nitish Kumar and announced the 50:50 seat sharing formula. Nitish Kumar was reassured of finality of the deal once he received an invitation for unveiling the Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat. Nitish Kumar had to do lot of hard bargaining for seat sharing arrangements and circumstances favoured him due to his quick responses and pressure under which BJP found itself just before the crucial elections scheduled in 2019.  The BJP seems to have factored the Bihar assembly elections scheduled in year 2020 when the BJP and the JD(U) will have to again go in for huddle for seat sharing formula.

Wonder boy Prashant Kishore who helped the BJP win 2014 as a strategist has now entered the active politics. Since belonging to Bihar, he has joined the JD(U) and made vice president of the party by Nitish Kumar. This is going to be advantageous for the JD(U) as well as the BJP as he has been proved effective.

Nitish knows there are many hurdles
Nitish Kumar knows that there are many hurdles and it is not going to be an easy task to work with the BJP despite the understanding reached for seat sharing. In Maharashtra, the Congress and the Sharad Pawar led NCP also is in the process of reaching an understanding on seat sharing for the coming Lok Sabha elections. There are talks going on shuffling couple of seats while retaining same seat sharing formula for the coming elections. However, the NCP has been flexing its muscle to get more winnable seats. This shows that it is not going to be sufficient to reach an understanding on number of seats to be contested but it is equally important to specify which seats should be contested by which party.  

Mahagathbandhan has received a jolt when BSP leader Mayawati decided to have an understanding with Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh and will be contesting all seats in Madhya Pradesh. She is the one leader who has been saying right from the beginning that the Mahagathbandhan leaders must think in sharing seats in the state level assembly elections as well as the Lok Sabha elections. Only concentrating and talking about the Lok Sabha adjustments will prove futile. It will be a herculean task for the Congress President Rahul Gandhi to ensure proper seat sharing in many states among its own pre-poll alliance partners. If he succeeds in balancing these contradicting forces of smaller regional parties as well as major parties in North, he can hope of putting real challenge before the BJP led NDA. Seat sharing formula is going to be the first hurdle both the sides need to cross before they prepare for the big battle in 2019.

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