The results of the recent bye-elections in Bihar seem to have pushed BJP allies Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan to explore the possibility of forming a Third Front in the state. The results seem to have convinced Kumar and Paswan that the BJP’s aggressive pursuit of divisive and upper caste based politics was harming their appeal among their core constituencies of Other Backward Classes, Dalits and minorities.

Two Assembly seats (Jehanabad and Bhabua) and one Lok Sabha seat (Araria) were up for grabs in the bye-elections. While the Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal retained both Araria and Jehanabad, the Bharatiya Janata Party retained Bhabua.

The results also seem to indicate that despite joining hands again last year, the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) have been unable to regain the social base they enjoyed in Bihar before they parted ways ahead of the last Lok Sabha elections.

According to a senior leader of Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), the Bihar chief minister discussed the issue in great detail on Sunday with Paswan, who heads the Lok Janshakti Party, and they agreed to work together to insulate their constituencies from the BJP’s aggressive pursuit of Hindutva.

“If the BJP does not make a drastic course correction, it would be suicidal for both the JD-U [Janata Dal (United)] and the LJP [Lok Janshakti Party] to face the Lok Sabha election as part of the NDA,” he said.

The next general elections are due in 2019.

A day after speaking with Paswan, Kumar held an hour-long meeting with Jan Adhikar Party leader and Madhepura MP Pappu Yadav. Though Yadav later told journalists that the meeting was related to issues of governance, insiders in the Janata Dal (United) told that the two leaders also discussed the prospect of an electoral alliance in the future. Yadav’s decision, on Wednesday, to submit a notice to the Lok Sabha secretariat seeking an urgent discussion on granting special status to Bihar must be seen in this context.

Special status for Bihar

Hours before meeting Yadav on Monday, Kumar told reporters that he had not given up his demand for the grant of special status to Bihar “for even one second” and that his party would go to “any length” to acquire it.

That the constituents of the emerging Front are working on a plan to make the demand for special status for Bihar their focal point was underlined on Wednesday when Lok Janshakti Party spokesperson Ajay Kumar issued a statement supporting the demand, and commended Kumar and Paswan for championing it.

Aware of the brewing crisis among its partners in Bihar, the BJP has made attempts to defuse it. While senior BJP leaders Dharmendra Pradhan and Bhupendra Yadav met Paswan on Tuesday and tried to placate him, the saffron outfit’s Muslim face in Bihar, Shahnawaz Hussain, sought to gratify Kumar, saying that the BJP agreed with his statement that communal harmony should be maintained in the state. On Tuesday, a day after he raised the demand for special status, Kumar had issued a veiled threat to the BJP, saying that just as he would not compromise with corruption, he would not compromise with “divisive politics” of any party.

A series of communal incidents that followed the bye-poll results and involved senior BJP leaders – Ashwini Kumar Chaube’s son Arijit Shaswat in Bhagalpur and Giriraj Singh in Darbhanga – have complicated matters further for the BJP’s Bihar allies.

Muslims, especially the pasmanda (backward) sections, have always constituted part of the core vote base of the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janshakti Party. A complete polarisation of minorities in favour of the Rashtriya Janata Dal might jeopardise the future political options for Kumar’s and Paswan’s parties.