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In Bihar, INDIA Looks On As Nitish Kumar Set To Trump BJP

New Delhi:

A tale of ‘what might have been…’ unfolded for the Congress-led INDIA bloc Monday as votes were counted for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, which has seen the opposition defy hugely one-sided exit poll claims to keep Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP’s previously massive advantages in check.

In Bihar – which sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha, is a critical part of the ‘Hindi heartland’, or Hindi-speaking belt that accounts for over 250 seats, and is seen as a bastion of the BJP – the JDU of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a founding member of INDIA, has won five seats and is set to win seven more.

But these will not count towards INDIA’s score. It will not move the opposition closer, in any significant manner, to the majority mark of 272. The BJP has enough (still) to finish with over 280 seats.

The JDU’s 12 seats won’t count to INDIA’s score as Nitish Kumar is no longer part of the group. But, were he still so, it would have slashed the BJP’s Bihar advantage and been a prestige boost.

Had INDIA retained the JDU today, it would have left the BJP with only 18 expected wins; 12 from its side and five from the LJP faction led Chirag Paswan – ex-Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s son.

Former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Manjhi’s HAM(S), also a NDA member, might win one seat.

That would have meant the BJP recorded its worst performance in a Bihar Lok Sabha election since 2004: back then it finished with just 11 seats – six for Mr Modi’s party and five for the JDU.

In 2019 the BJP – allied with the JDU then too, before one of Nitish Kumar’s infamous flip-flops drew him to return to the RJD-led Mahagathbandan – and the Chief Minister’s outfit fought 17 seats each.

The BJP won 17 and the JDU 16.

A smaller ally – the Lok Janshakti Party of late ex-Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan won six more seats to give the NDA combine a virtual sweep. The one lost seat was Kishanganj that the Congress won.

Lok Sabha Election Results: What Exit Polls Said

The NDA was projected to win 33 seats from Bihar. That prediction is likely to hold.

READ | Modi Hat-Trick, Powered By South, Bengal, Odisha, Predict Exit Polls

INDIA was expected to win six seats, which too will probably be the case. The Congress has won two and is ahead in a third, while the RJD is leading in four and the CPIML is ahead in two.

Nitish Kumar And INDIA Bloc

The JDU boss is credited with the idea of INDIA, and was among the first to reach out to the Congress and the Gandhi family to suggest a national grouping of anti-BJP parties to defeat Mr Modi.

He travelled across the country to meet senior opposition leaders, particularly those who don’t have the best relationship with the Congress and/or the Gandhi family; Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Odisha counterpart, Naveen Patnaik, were on that short but important list.

Nitish Kumar also helped pull together a motley crowd of opposition leaders, sit them down together, and get them wondering if they could, in fact, stop the BJP’s election-winning machinery.

As the election approached he was also talked about as a possible prime ministerial candidate.

All of that unraveled in a dramatic few days in January; Nitish Kumar said he had chosen to walk out of the INDIA bloc because he was “facing difficulties in working with this alliance”.

“When I explained this (to his party members), they advised me to resign,” he said.

On record Nitish Kumar quit the INDIA group because of continual delays in seat-sharing talks between leader Congress and smaller parties, including the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and Punjab, and Bengal’s ruling Trinamool.

NDTV Explains | ‘Final Straw’ – A Tweet That Led To Shock Nitish Kumar Move

Off the record, there was speculation Nitish Kumar had quit because he would not be chosen as Prime Minister should INDIA win. He was not even considered, sources had said, to lead the bloc.

Sources also said Nitish Kumar was upset with long-term frenemy Lalu Yadav’s RJD, which was an ally and member of the state government before the JDU walked out of the INDIA group.

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