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Why Nitish’s JD(U) and BJP are compelled to stay in ‘unhappy marriage’, despite public sniping

Nitish seems to be facing more opposition from the BJP than he is from rival parties, on a multitude of issues, and not much of it is being kept under wraps by either side.

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Patna/New Delhi: Marriages may be the chief cause of divorce, as the adage goes, but at times, compulsions can put the decision in abeyance. This is true in politics too. The uneasy political marriage and equally uneasy truce between ruling allies Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar has been evident for months now.

The JD(U) and BJP have been allies for most of the last 20 years, save for a four-year period of estrangement from 2013 to 2017, as Nitish Kumar has retained his hold over the chief minister’s chair (also barring a short period in which Jitan Ram Manjhi led the state).

But now, Nitish seems to be facing more opposition from the BJP than he is from rival parties, on a multitude of issues, and not much of it is being kept under wraps by either side.

Also read: From special status to namaaz ban, ally BJP is playing opposition to Nitish’s Bihar govt

BJP’s compulsions

BJP had emerged as the larger of the two allies after the 2020 assembly elections, with 74 seats to the JD(U)’s 43 (now up to 45). But it stuck to its promise of supporting Nitish as the leader of the NDA government.

Since then, the parties’ deep differences have surfaced, but if the alliance were to break now, it would mean the BJP has lost three of its oldest allies since 2019, the others being the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Besides, going into the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the party will need to have a strong regional ally like Nitish Kumar. This is the reason why it has officially maintained silence on issues like excise policy, liquor tragedies, caste census, and ‘award wapsi‘.

“We are not in sync on many issues. It isn’t unusual as we are two different political parties with different ideologies. We expect better coordination but prickly issues can be sorted out,” a senior BJP leader told ThePrint.

BJP’s co-in charge of Bihar Harish Dwivedi added: “We have differences on many issues, but it does not mean we are drifting. Our alliance is intact and the government is working for the poorest of poor in Bihar.”

Nitish in a spot too

CM Nitish Kumar knows that the BJP can’t annoy him beyond a certain point. The JD(U) leader is also aware that in an alliance with the BJP, he enjoys more autonomy than his last experience of running the government in alliance with old rival Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), when he was under constant pressure from Lalu Prasad’s family.

Last week, RJD state president Jagadanand Singh suggested that Nitish should drop BJP ministers who are opposed to the demand for a caste census. Singh then went a step further and offered the RJD’s support to the JD(U) if the BJP decides to pull out of the Nitish-led Bihar government over the issue. However, within hours, RJD chief and Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Tejashwi Yadav contradicted him, saying: “There is no question of supporting Nitish. Our support to JD(U) is limited to caste census and special status.”

According to informed sources in the RJD, any alliance with the JD(U) is possible only if Nitish accepts Tejashwi as the chief minister — a condition unacceptable to Nitish.

And thus, without the support of the single largest party in the assembly, RJD (75), Nitish can only remain CM if he sticks with the BJP.

Also read: JD(U) to fight UP polls independently after no response from BJP on alliance

Sniping in public

The alliance partners have been venting their grievances in public for the last two years. But a major trigger point came in December last year when Kumar snapped at BJP MLA Nikki Hembrom when she suggested that the government should allow tribals to brew liquor from the mahua plant, going against the prohibition Nitish imposed in the state in 2016.

This led to angry BJP MLAs holding meetings with both Deputy CM Tarkishore Prasad and the party’s state president Sanjay Jaiswal. In the meeting, the BJP MLAs charged the party leadership with being mute spectators when a leader was humiliated, not to mention party workers at the ground level.

“We were told that we should not do anything that leads to the government being toppled. But we were given a free hand to air our views on any issue against governance,” claimed a BJP MLA in conversation with ThePrint.

Another episode that drew eyeballs was the ruckus created by BJP minister Jivesh Mishra in the assembly when his car was stopped outside its premises to allow the district magistrate of Patna to pass. The matter was resolved only after the DM and the superintendent of police went to the minister’s residence and apologised.

Heated exchanges over hooch tragedy, caste census

Not surprisingly, when a hooch tragedy stuck Nitish Kumar’s constituency of Nalanda that left 13 dead, the BJP outstripped RJD in its criticism. “The Bihar prohibition laws are a joke. Only the poor are targeted. There is a nexus between police and liquor mafia,” claimed BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel.

The stand-off between the allies isn’t just limited to the liquor laws. The JD(U) has held BJP responsible for not being able to hold an all-party meeting on caste census. However, Patel said, “The BJP was party to the assembly resolution which advocated caste census. The CM does not need our consent to hold the meeting.”

JD(U)’s demand for special status for Bihar has been mocked by BJP ministers, who say that the central government has been generous on funds to Bihar. Another issue in recent times has been BJP turning down an alliance with JD(U) in the forthcoming UP assembly polls.

“JD(U) does not exist in UP. It is free to contest on its own,” said BJP spokesperson Vinod Sharma.

Recently, Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal sought to put Nitish’s JD(U) on the mat by demanding that his government arrest Daya Prakash Sinha, the Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi awardee playwright who made a controversial remark about Emperor Ashoka.

Jaiswal stressed that coalition politics wasn’t one-way traffic and 74 lakh BJP workers in the state would give a fitting reply.

(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)

Also read: Prohibition 2.0? Bihar SHOs & chowkidars face 10-yr suspension for liquor trade on their turf


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