New Delhi: In a surprise move, three constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar have taken the first step toward a likely merger.

Interestingly, while the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) have started meeting to discuss a possible merger, the leader of the NDA, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has not been kept in the loop by its alliance partners.

The move is significant because both LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan as well as RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha are Union ministers while Jitan Ram Manjhi-led HAM was an alliance partner in the Bihar assembly elections in November last year.

“We have heard that these three leaders have been meeting to talk about a merger or reach some kind of an understanding. The coming together will help the BJP because today we have to deal with these leaders individually but once the merger is complete, BJP will have to deal with them as one unit. So far, Ram Vilas Paswan, Jitan Ram Manjhi and Upendra Khushwaha have not communicated anything to BJP. The merger will not happen soon because there is no political situation that requires it to happen immediately," said a senior BJP leader from Patna.

The coming together of these parties is interesting because during the Bihar assembly elections RLSP and LJP won two seats each whereas HAM won only one. Overall, the three parties performed dismally, their collective vote share no more than 10% in the 243-member assembly.

On Monday, Paswan while on a visit to Bihar, held a meeting with Manjhi and Kushwaha along with his son and Lok Sabha member Chirag Paswan at the home of Brishin Patel, HAM’s state president. They discussed the possibility of a merger, specially in the view of the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections next year.

“There was a meeting that happened on Monday. The talk of a merger has been on the cards for a while and so there should be nothing surprising if a merger eventually happens," said a close aide to Paswan, requesting anonymity.

“We have been looking at the possibility of some kind of a political alliance that could translate in a merger. The talks are in an early stage right now and so nothing definitive can be said," a Kuswaha aide added.

All the three parties have an eye on the Dalit and Mahadalit votes in Bihar and are looking to join forces to test their consolidated strength in the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections next year. Interestingly, although keen on a political understanding now, Paswan was reportedly upset earlier when Manjhi had joined hands with the NDA during the Bihar polls.

Another round of meeting between the three constituents is going to be held next month in the national capital at either Paswan or Kushwaha’s residence.

“Such meetings should continue to happen. We are meeting to strengthen the NDA only. As of now, nothing on merger has come up. But, what is wrong in a merger if it happens in the interest of the nation and the NDA," Danish Rizwan, national spokesperson of HAM said.

While the flexing of the muscle has left the BJP worried, it feels that it is not happening anytime soon.

“If the talks succeed, it will be a difficult merger because all three leaders are strong in their own constituency and will find it difficult to adjust to each other. The three leaders are presidents of their respective parties, it will be difficult for them to come together and work under one leader," said a senior BJP leader from Patna.

R.N. Sharma, head of the department of sociology at Patna University, said that the strength of the merger will be significant only if the consolidation of the social bases of all the three parties happen.

“I do not see it, as of now, as a threat to the BJP but they should definitely be worried because even if the three parties do not revolt against the BJP, they would seek a bigger bargaining power within the NDA," Sharma said.

“Apart from Paswan’s votes, none of the two other parties transfer their votes in an alliance as is evident in Bihar elections last year. This merger will be successful only if the consolidation of social support groups happens and not just the leaders," he added.

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