Giriraj Singh ko jitaeeyega na? Pucca na? Hath utha ke bataiye. To mala pehna dein inko (Will you vote for Giriraj Singh? Raise your hands. Should we garland him then)?” addressing the crowd at an election meeting, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar turned towards the BJP candidate for the Begusarai Lok Sabha seat and greeted him with a marigold garland.
It was a mark of Nitish’s approval, which is crucial for Giriraj. Locked in a triangular contest against the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tanveer Hasan and Communist Party of India’s Kanhaiya Kumar, the BJP hopes Nitish’s campaign will help Giriraj, the Union minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises, bag the votes of the extremely backward castes (EBCs) and Dalits.
Sources in the Janata Dal (United) say that 30 per cent of the EBCs and 15 per cent Mahadalits form the party’s core vote bank. Together, the two sections have over 150 castes, constituting nearly 45 per cent of the voters in Bihar. The BJP’s top leadership is believed to have requested Nitish to campaign for Giriraj. And the CM was in Begusarai on April 22 and 27 to canvass for him.
For Nitish, campaigning for Giriraj was part of a political tradeoff he couldn’t avoid. The two are poles apart in their ideology and methods, and canvassing for Giriraj would appear to be at odds with Nitish’s core values. While Nitish has been a vocal advocate of social harmony and secularism, Giriraj is known for his hardline Hindutva stance and has often generated controversy, courtesy thanks to his public statements. In fact, a day after Nitish campaigned for him, on April 23, Giriraj was at it again, saying that the Election Commission should ban the use of the green flag, like the one seen during the nomination of Congress president Rahul Gandhi at Wayanad, as it gives an impression of the election being held in Pakistan.
A senior JD(U) leader says, “The CM has walked the extra mile, addressed more than a hundred election meetings organised by the NDA, attended all the five rallies addressed by the prime minister, and travelled to Varanasi for Narendra Modi’s nomination. The BJP has given 17 Lok Sabha seats to a party that has only two MPs. The BJP has dropped its five sitting MPs and the traditional seats of Bhagalpur to accommodate Nitish’s wishlist. The CM has to reciprocate.” A section of JD (U) leaders, however, is apprehensive that it may go against the secular character of the party. The JD (U)’s manifesto-yet to be released though four phases of polling are over-seems to be one of the casualties of its alliance with the BJP. The draft manifesto is said to contain the party’s known opposition to a uniform civil code and the removal of Article 370, which is against the BJP’s position. “Winning votes is more important than secularism,” adds the JD (U) leader.
As part of the NDA, the JD(U) and the BJP are contesting 17 seats each while Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party is fighting in six. It has been a decade since the JD (U) last contested the Lok Sabha poll in alliance with the BJP. This is also the first test of the alliance since Nitish rejoined the NDA in July 2017.