Decoding Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s Return to NDA Fold
Image Courtesy: PTI
Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar, who was Chief Minister of Bihar with the support of the Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance consisting of his own party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress party and the Left parties, resigned from his office on 28 January. In a sense, Kumar has routinised his flip-flops. In 2020, he assumed office as the Chief Minister of Bihar with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and in 2022, he left that alliance for the Grand Alliance. Now, he is back to the NDA fold to become Chief Minister, despite having publicly said just a month ago that he would prefer death over returning to the NDA fold.
From the BJP side, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in February 2023, had sternly told Kumar and Lallan Singh, then JD(U) president, that the doors of his party were shut permanently for them.
Possible Reasons for Kumar Joining NDA
The frequent somersaults of Nitish Kumar and the willingness of the BJP to welcome him back have been interpreted by political commentators as a strategy to enhance the BJP’s electoral prospects in the Lok Sabha election scheduled just a couple of months from now. Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats, making it crucial to the national electoral scenario.
Other reasons can explain Nitish Kumar’s turnaround, which has become a recurring feature of his public life. It has earned him the infamous sobriquet, “Paltu Ram”, who makes frequent political u-turns in complete disregard of ideology, honour and integrity expected of public figures. The journalist Ravish Kumar has humorously stated that the BJP, which boasts that Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought Lord Rama back with the consecration of the Rama Temple in Ayodhya, has now embraced “Paltu Ram”.
The journalist and commentator Urmilesh said that some aides close to Kumar had convinced him that after the consecration in Ayodhya on 22 January, Bihar is under a ‘Rama wave’, making it extremely difficult for the JD(U) to win the 16 Lok Sabha seats it has in Bihar again. It appears these aides did not believe the caste census conducted by the Bihar government would carry enough weight against the Rama temple-Ayodhya narrative. They also argued that victory would lie in tying up with the BJP, not opposing it.
Indeed, according to commentators, the Bihar unit of the BJP does not seem to be echoing the same sense of confidence in its future performance due to events surrounding the Rama temple in Ayodhya. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Bihar, the BJP won 17 seats, the JD(U) won 16, and the RJD won none (despite a sizeable vote share of over 15%).
There are other ways to interpret the BJP providing space to Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister of Bihar. It is stated that Kumar, with the BJP’s 78 MLAs and two Deputy Chief Ministers, would enable the party to control the state apparatus completely a few months before the election. This strategic advantage to the BJP is a critical step for any regime, mainly when elections are close.
Estimating RJD’s Prospects
Nitish Kumar has lost credibility in Bihar because of repeatedly changing sides to remain in power. This might put his party in a difficult situation electorally. However, Nitish Kumar’s policy measures in favour of the extremely backward classes and Mahadalits have created an assured vote bank for the JD(U). The BJP understands this very well and uses its support to enrich itself electorally. Unless the RJD tries to dent the votes that Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) garner, its reliance on Muslim-Yadav support will not be sufficient to secure Lok Sabha seats in 2024.
However, Tejashwi Yadav’s focus on unemployment and providing government jobs has put the RJD in a comparatively better position in relation to 2019. Added to it is the caste census conducted by the Grand Alliance government, raising Other Backward Classes reservations to 65%. It might help RJD broaden its electoral base.
However, there is hardly any doubt that the JD(U) joining hands with the BJP is a massive setback to opposition unity within Bihar and the INDIA alliance for founding, for which Nitish Kumar took the initiative. He has brightened the prospects of the BJP returning to power in 2024. Opposition parties must work harder to negate that prospect and ensure their win.
The author served as an Officer on Special Duty to the President of India, KR Narayanan. The views are personal
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