Messages from the States

Print edition : March 21, 1998
KALYAN CHAUDHURI

Total seats 54BJP 19Samata Party 10RJD 17Congress(I) 5Janata Dal 1 RJP 1Repoll ordered 1

FORMER Chief Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav has survived a crucial test in Bihar. Although the Bharatiya Janata Party-Samata Party combine won 29 of the 53 seats where counting was taken up, its hopes of reaping a richer harvest - which was crucial to the BJP's calculations of coming to power at the Centre - were belied, largely because Laloo Prasad held the Hindutva party at bay.

The RJD and its allies - the Congress(I) and the Rashtriya Janata Party - won 24 seats. The Election Commission ordered a repoll in the Patna Lok Sabha constituency on March 30 following allegations of election malpractice.

The RJD retained the 17 seats that it held in the 11th Lok Sabha after Laloo Prasad broke away from the Janata Dal. The Janata Dal was virtually swept aside. Of the 35 seats that the party contested, it won only one: Ram Vilas Paswan retained his seat in Hajipur. Janata Dal president Sharad Yadav lost to Laloo Prasad Yadav in Madhepura by a margin of 51,000 votes. The Communist Party of India, the CPI(M) and the CPI(M-L), which once backed Laloo Prasad but parted ways with him for his alleged involvement in the fodder scam, did not win even one seat. The RJD has not only gathered a respectable share for itself but also helped the Congress(I) increase its tally from two in the 1996 elections to five this time.

Repoll was ordered in a record number of booths following incidents of violence and rigging. There are over 82,000 booths in the State, and repolling was ordered in 4,940 of them (as against 3,736 booths in 1996). Repolling was ordered in all 1,873 booths in the Patna constituency following complaints of irregularities during the first phase of elections on February 16. In the Madhepura constituency, which witnessed a battle between Laloo Prasad Yadav and Sharad Yadav, repolling was ordered in 327 booths, in all but two constituencies - Katihar and Jamshedpur.

The election results indicate that the RJD retains its support base among Yadavs and Muslims in most constituencies in north Bihar: the RJD and its allies won 19 of the 26 seats in the region. In addition, Laloo Prasad appears to have succeeded in winning over the support of upper-caste Rajputs; this has more than made up for the loss of support among the Scheduled Castes following the parting of ways with the Janata Dal and, in particular, Paswan. The RJD's Raghubansh Prasad Singh, who belongs to the Rajput community, was elected from Vaishali. The RJD-backed RJP candidate, Anand Mohan Singh, who too belongs to the Rajput community, won from Sheohar.

The RJD and its allies, however, faced a setback in central Bihar. The BJP-Samata Party combine won all the four seats in Sahabad district. Former Union Minister Kanti Singh lost in Bikramgunj in central Bihar to the BJP's Basishtha Narayan Singh. Another former Union Minister, Chandradeo Prasad Verma, who is one of the accused in the fodder scam, lost in Arra in central Bihar to the Samata Party.

The RJD and it allies also faced setbacks in south Bihar. Laloo Prasad's grand strategy to check the BJP's influence in south Bihar by floating the proposal of a separate Jharkhand state and entering into an electoral alliance with Jharkhand parties and the Congress(I) fell flat. The saffron party maintained its hold in the tribal region with its promise of a Vananchal state and a stable government at the Centre. The BJP won 11 of the 14 seats in the region, one less than in 1996. Although it lost the Lohardanga, Rajmahal and Singhbhum seats to the Congress(I), it wrested Dumka from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (Soren).

Regional parties that represent tribal communities were swept aside in the Jharkhand area of the south Bihar plateau, where the national parties - the BJP and the Congress(I) - won all the seats between them. The JMM(S), which is the most dominant party that represents the tribal communities and is spearheading the movement for a Jharkhand state, lost to the BJP the only seat that it held. Its leader Sibu Soren, who was returned to the Lok Sabha from Dumka in 1996, was defeated by the BJP's Babulal Marandi. Among the prominent tribal leaders who lost are JMM(S) vice-president Suraj Mandal and Ram Dayal Munda. Political analysts believe that the loss of credibility of the JMM(S) leaders following their alleged involvement in the votes-for-cash scandal during P.V. Narasimha Rao's prime ministership and their subsequent incarceration may have been the principal reason for their party's debacle.

The BJP increased its tally by only one over 1996. It was the Samata Party that sprang a surprise by increasing its tally from six in 1996 to 10. It wrested six seats from the RJD, including Laloo Prasad's traditional constituency, Gopalgunj.

The United Front constituents - principally the Janata Dal and the Left parties - suffered a blow. The united Janata Dal won 22 seats in 1996; the parent party won only one seat this time. For the Left parties, the end of the alliance with Laloo Prasad has proved costly. For the first time in 21 years, they will not have a single MP from Bihar. In 1996, the CPI sent four members to the Lok Sabha from Bihar, including veteran party leader Chaturanan Mishra. The former Agriculture Minister was defeated in Madhubani by the RJD's Shakeel Ahmad.

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