Was Chirag Paswan The 'X-Factor' In Nitish Kumar's Bihar Election Result?

One big factor is believed to be the LJP, which fielded candidates against the JDU in every seat and wound up eating into the vote share of Nitish Kumar's party

Chirag Paswan's LJP won just a single seat and secured less than six per cent of the vote share (File)

Nitish Kumar looks set to return as chief minister of Bihar (for a sixth time) despite his party's shoddy performance in the election; the Janata Dal United's (JDU) went from 71 seats in 2015 to 43 this year.

One big factor in the JDU's downturn in fortunes is believed to be Chirag Paswan and his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which fielded candidates against the Chief Minister's party in every seat and wound up eating into the JDU vote share.

The LJP may have won just the single seat (Matihani, where Raj Kumar Singh secured 333 votes more than Narendra Singh of the JDU) but secured 5.66 per cent of the total vote share. The BJP, which emerged as the senior member in the NDA, secured 19.46 per cent, and the JDU 15.39 per cent.

In Mahnar seat, which is part of Vaishali district, the JDU's Umesh Kushwaha is still smarting from his defeat at the hands of the RJD candidate - the wife of a local strongman and politician - by fewer than 8,000 votes.

The x-factor in Mr Kushwaha's defeat - Rabindra Kumar Singh, 53, a businessman-politician contesting on an LJP ticket. He secured 31,256 votes, most of which, Mr Kushwaha claims, were meant for Nitish Kumar and himself.

"The truth is that if the NDA would have been together we would have got 200 seats. But because of the LJP factor, the JDU faced a lot of losses. This was his (Chirag Paswan's) aim," Mr Singh said, adding, "We did not have a strategy to harm the JDU.. the people were already fed up of them. We had our own campaign strategy of 'Bihar first, Bihari first."

However, Mr Kushwaha has an understandably different take and alleges conspiracy.

"The votes that were part of my calculation - for example the NDA vote - I did not get. The vote transferred to the LJP and also the RJD... if I got the whole NDA vote I would have won. The BJP vote did not transfer to me. What can I say?" he said.

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Mr Kushwaha also claimed that the LJP secured a far greater number of votes than they should have, given caste combinations and sentiments at play. "My vote has transferred to them. It could be a conspiracy," he declared.

Over in Mukundpur Bhat village, which is part of the Mahnar seat, there are further indications of how the LJP-JDU equation played out on the ground.

Ashok Kumar Singh, 62, and a member of the Thakur community, voted for the JDU in 2015. This year he voted for the LJP (whose candidate was from the same caste) - an indication of how the LJP cleverly planned and ate into the NDA's voter base.

"I used to support the JDU but now there is a difference. Earlier Nitish Kumar attacked corruption and seized properties. He tried to give seats to the LJP that were in RJD-dominated areas - what should Chirag Paswan have done?" he asks.

The BJP has denied claims that it had a pre-poll deal with the LJP to do just what it did - drastically reduce Nitish Kumar's influence and position in the NDA. The Chief Minister's poor performance has also triggered rumours he could be replaced, as the BJP looks to exert its newfound authority.

That has been ruled out by the BJP but Sunday's meeting of the new legislature will provide more concrete evidence of how the new JDU-BJP relationship will work.

The next election in Bihar is still quite some time away and, in that time, it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out.