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What Explains Intense Speculations About Bihar CM Nitish Kumar

Nalin Verma |
The claims about Nitish Kumar returning to the NDA fold reflect the BJP’s restiveness to split the INDIA bloc.
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Nitish Kumar with Tejashwi Yadav. Image Courtesy: PTI

Why are you raking up pointless issues? I am busy uniting opposition parties in the national interest,” Nitish Kumar said on Monday, September 25, after paying his tributes to the Sangh Parivar ideologue, Deen Dayal Upadhaya on his birth anniversary at Patna.

The Bihar Chief Minister’s response above was to a question from journalists about whether he would return to the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) fold. Nitish was accompanied with Bihar Deputy Chief Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, whose father Lalu Prasad Yadav is known for his relentless war against communalism and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The government events are above party lines. Don’t read too much into it,” Tejashwi also clarified.

But Nitish’s visit to the late Upadhyaya’s statue on Monday, one he had inaugurated in 2020 when his party was with the BJP, has fuelled speculations about his future moves. Many TV channels, digital channels and newspapers from Patna to Delhi are devoting lots of time and space to “decode” if he would return to the BJP fold.

The news channels and papers cite Nitish attending the G-20 dinner hosted by President Draupadi Murmu and his getting photographed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Rashtrapati Bhavan also as indications of his “possible flight” to the BJP. They are also citing Nitish “escaping” from attending the rally organised on former Haryana Chief Minister Devi Lal’s birth anniversary at Kaithal in Haryana on September 25. The senior Janata Dal (United) leader KC Tyagi attended the event.

What has really fuelled all the speculations about Nitish is the soft stance some central ministers and senior Bihar BJP have recently adopted towards him. Union Minister RK Singh said the BJP’s “door is still open” for Nitish. Another minister, Giriraj Singh, has said, “Those who have faith in the ideals and ideology of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya do remember him on his anniversary.” Yet another central minister, Pashupati Kumar Paras said, “In politics it is not the individual but the time that is powerful... There is no permanent enemy.”

The Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and veteran BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi said, “Whatever efforts Nitish makes won’t work—the BJP’s doors are shut for him.” While Sushil Modi’s words may seem to contradict what his other party colleagues say, they actually serve to strengthen the speculation about Nitish’s ‘ghar wapsi’, for they suggest that the Bihar Chief Minister himself is eager to return to his old ally.

BJP’s Restlessness

In fact, it is not the Bihar Chief Minister who is “eager” to join the BJP. It is the other way round—the BJP has been excessively restless ever since Nitish dumped it in August 2022 and joined the Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandhan with the RJD, Congress and Left parties.

What has increased the Hindutva party’s restlessness is Nitish becoming an architect of bringing the West Bengal and Delhi chief ministers, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, and the Samajwadi Party chief and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav—who previously opposed the Congress joining the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA)—with the grand old party as its largest stakeholder.

The INDIA bloc has at least 28 parties from the North and South of the Vindhyas working in unison to defeat the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. They have acted as one in attacking the Prime Minister and his government on the issues of protracted ethnic violence in Manipur, caste census, preferential treatment to crony capitalists and corruption, weakening of democratic institutions, subverting the Constitution and its failed promises on providing employment, curbing price rise and reducing inequality and poverty.

The articulate Bihar Chief Minister has also hinted at the reasons for the BJP’s restiveness when he spoke to reporters on Monday. “We will make the report of caste survey in Bihar public as soon as it is complete. I have asked my party members to work for INDIA’s victory. Some people describe me as ‘PM material’ but the only desire I have is to unite the opposition parties. I have no other interest. INDIA is doing great work,” Nitish categorically said.

A day before paying tributes to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, he also called on Rabri Devi and Tejashwi at her residence. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD boss was off to Rajgir on that day.

Why Speculations

The speculations about Nitish on daily basis reflect the BJP’s restiveness to split the INDIA bloc. Nitish Kumar has been pivotal to the formation of INDIA. Most importantly, his flight from the NDA has broken the back of the BJP, at least in Bihar and Jharkhand, which account for 54 Lok Sabha seats. The NDA with Nitish on its side won 39 out of 40 and 12 out of 14 seats in Bihar and Jharkhand respectively in 2019. That is, 51 out of 54 seats, a whopping number.

Recent “internal surveys” said to have been conducted by the BJP in Bihar and Jharkhand have presented the saffron party’s bleak prospects in both states. Surveys conducted by some media houses, too, have given INDIA the upper hand in Bihar and Jharkhand—and Nitish as its “key strategist”.

Unlike the leaders of many other regional parties now in the INDIA bloc, Nitish has been in the alliance with the BJP for a long time. He struck a friendship with the BJP in 1996 and stayed with it until 2013. He rejoined the NDA in 2017 and again left it in 2022. “I respect all,” Nitish said at the Upadhyaya event. He also paid tributes to the former prime minister AB Vajpayee on the latter’s death anniversary last month.

Honoring Sangh Parivar icons is, apparently, a strategy to occupy space in the Hindutva voter base of the BJP. Nitish does not want INDIA or his own JDU to be recognised only as the party of the OBCs. And Tejashwi’s ideas are in sync with Nitish on this, which explains his presence at the event. Lalu aggressively champions social justice, and it worked in his time and beyond. The effort in Bihar is to keep an eye out for new political realities.

How this will play out in the future is to be seen, but it must be working, for the BJP, even under the centralising leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, has kept trying to weaken and break the JDU—on the lines of the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra. Now, the Hindutva party is doing all it can to question Nitish’s credentials and bring him down in the eyes of the INDIA bloc members, and also the people.

Pro-BJP media houses and journalists have amplified the BJP leaders’ chorus in creating confusion about Nitish on numerous occasions. Well, Nitish Kumar has been critical of the mainstream media’s negative role: “The BJP has captured the media. The media will be free and media professionals will express themselves freely after their [the BJP’s] exit from power in 2024,” he said at the INDIA meet at Mumbai on September 1.

The author is a senior journalist, media educator, and researcher in folklore. The views are personal.

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