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Bihar: Will Nitish Kumar Sever Ties With BJP This Time?

Uncertainty surrounds the BJP-JDU relationship; Kumar is reportedly expected to take a decision in the next 48 hours.
Bihar: Will Nitish Kumar Severe Ties With BJP This Time?

Nitish Kumar. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Patna: All eyes are set on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, following some unusual political developments in the last two days and his growing bitterness with the ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Will Kumar dump the BJP or not this time? He is known for taking such decisions based on his conscience (antaratma) in the past. This has become a hot topic in political circles. 

In recent days, the uncertainty in the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and BJP relationship has surfaced in the open. Kumar’s party JD-U expressed its differences with ally BJP in public over several issues and Kumar has been seen distancing himself from the top leaders of the saffron party. The latest was on August 7 when he did not attend a NITI Aayog meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But the main reason for his likely move is more than the differences on issues and unhappiness over statements of some BJP leaders. Ironically, BJP leaders in Bihar insist that all is well in the National Democratic Alliance and that there is nothing to worry about.

Sensing the Machiavellian game plan of its ally BJP to oust him from power by using former Union Minister and former JD-U national president Ram Chandra Prasad Singh, popularly known as RCP Singh, to repeat the “Shinde formula of Maharashtra” in Bihar, Kumar, who is de facto chief of the party, forced Singh to resign from the party on August 6. This was the night after the JD-U sought an explanation from him over allegations of corruption. Early this month, Singh resigned from the Union Cabinet as India's steel minister after the JD-U denied him a Rajya Sabha nomination.

Sources in JD-U said that the party got information about the BJP possibly using Singh to split the JD-U to weaken Kumar like the split of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. “BJP was grooming and backing Singh to replace Kumar as both belong to the Kurmi caste, a powerful OBC (Other Backward Class) and Nalanda is their home district. The only difference is that Singh is an IAS officer-turned-politician and Kumar is a seasoned leader.”

According to some JD-U leaders, Kumar was shocked on July 31 when BJP president JP Nadda in Patna claimed that only the BJP would survive and all other parties- including regional parties -- would perish in the country. As JD-U is a regional party, this message was taken like a warning.

However, JD-U national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh announced that the party will not join the Union Cabinet. This is another signal that JD-U is no longer comfortable with BJP. He further stated, without explicitly naming BJP, that there was a conspiracy against Kumar in the 2020 Bihar Assembly polls.

It is a widely reported fact that BJP damaged the JD-U by using Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan, who fielded candidates against all JD(U) contestants in the state elections in 2020. This reduced Kumar's party tally to 43 compared with 71 five years ago and weakened his position in the National Democratic Alliance or NDA.

A senior JD-U leader told NewsClick that there were clear indications that Kumar may take some sudden political decision in the next 48 hours based on his conscience as he has taken in the past which surprised everyone. “Something big will take place in state politics, everything is possible in politics,”  he said.

This JD-U leader’s claim assumes importance in the view that JD-U national president Lalan Singh on Monday confirmed that Kumar has called a meeting of all party MLAs and MPs on Tuesday. Similarly, opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress have also called a meeting of their MLAs on Tuesday.

It has been reported that Kumar has spoken to Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav leader of opposition in the Bihar assembly, in the last few days. It is widely seen as his move to seek their support in case he says goodbye to NDA.

A Congress MLA Shakeel Ahmad Khan said, “this time it appears a big setback for BJP. We will welcome Kumar if he decides to dump BJP and the party will support him.”

Ever since the victory of the NDA in the Bihar Assembly elections in 2020, it has been more or less clear that Nitish Kumar was set to play second fiddle to his powerful ally BJP. Later, it was reported that Kumar was not happy as the Chief Minister with the BJP in full control of politics and government.

Political watchers in Bihar believe that after the ruling BJP allegedly engineered a split of its ally Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) early this year, it went on to fulfil its long-awaited dream of becoming the single largest party in the state Assembly, with all three VIP MLAs joining the saffron clan. Till March 23, the BJP was the largest party in the ruling coalition with 74 MLAs, after that, it has become the single largest party with 77 MLAs after three VIP MLAs defected to it in the 243 members House. On the other hand, Nitish’s JD-U has only 45 MLAs, and it is the third-largest party in the Assembly. Before the last assembly elections, Nitish’s JD-U had more MLAs than the BJP in the state Assembly.

In June 2022, RJD again became the single largest party in the state Assembly following 4 AIMIM MLAs joining the party.

Now, everything depends on Kumar and his ‘conscience’. If sources within the JD-U are to be taken seriously, Kumar is set to take a decision either on Tuesday or Wednesday. He will not resign as he did in 2013 but is likely to sack BJP ministers from his cabinet.

In 2015, both RJD and Kumar's JD-U joined hands and contested the Assembly elections. They won and formed the government, but it did not last as Kumar dumped RJD in July 2017 and once again joined hands with BJP and formed the government. Earlier, Kumar dumped BJP in 2013, an ally of 17 years.

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