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In Bihar, both BJP and Nitish Kumar camp happy. But ‘Sushashan Babu’ has invited trouble

The so-called ‘secular’ parties have found a new leader in Nitish Kumar after they lost Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray. But his folly is clear.

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Nitish Kumar creates a new record in Indian politics by becoming the chief minister of Bihar for the eighth time. In a sudden move, he broke away from the BJP and joined hands with his once-bitter opponent Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav is the deputy chief minister now. How the RJD’s return to power in Bihar will influence the state’s politics is not clear. The Congress and the Left parties also came along and lent their support to Nitish Kumar, thus forging a grand alliance—a Mahagathbandan—against the BJP.

The new political platform jointly has 164 MLAs in the 243-member state assembly. The comfortable arithmetic in the assembly is safe enough for the government to be in office till 2025. But will the single-largest party, the RJD with 79 MLAs—keep Nitish in the hot seat till then? The BJP with 77 MLAs has to lie low and wait till the tide turns in its favour.

Also Read: Nitish in Delhi, Tejashwi as Bihar CM — RJD’s 2024 plan after fresh JD(U) tie-up

Both BJP and Nitish are happy

The height of irony is that workers and leaders alike in both camps are jubilant. The Nitish Kumar camp feels that in the Lok Sabha elections, the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) would have got a raw deal like contesting lesser seats than the BJP. While the Kurmi and ‘Mahadalit’ vote bank that Nitish nurtured was intact, he was worried about the Yadav and OBC castes moving away to the RJD. With the BJP making a comeback in Bihar, the OBCs would have turned towards it and the Muslims would have deserted the JD(U) because of its partnership with the BJP. The 2020 assembly elections emphasised the power of the Muslim-Yadav (MY) vote bank combination, with 83 per cent Yadav and 76 per cent Muslim votes going to the UPA while the NDA got just 5 per cent of each.

The emerging caste calculations would have benefitted the RJD and the BJP, leaving Nitish Kumar with single-digit or zero seats in the Lok Sabha. In such a situation, the BJP cadre would begin demanding his ouster and want to anoint a BJP chief minister. By joining hands with his adversary, Nitish Kumar has pre-empted such a scenario. As for Lalu Yadav, this was his only chance to move closer to power and keep his family’s hold over politics in Bihar.

There is every reason for a large section of the BJP to feel happy that Nitish Kumar has decided to leave the coalition on his own. By playing the victim card, the BJP will be able to retain its vote share and sympathy votes. BJP’s Bihar Unit chief Sanjay Jaiswal said, “The BJP fought the 2020 polls together under NDA, the mandate was for JD-U and BJP, we won more seats despite that, Nitish Kumar was made the CM. Whatever happened today is a betrayal of Bihar’s people and the BJP”. This betrayal-by-Nitish narrative and his joining hands with “chara chor” (fodder thief) Lalu will ensure a good number of voters veers towards the BJP once the clean image of Narendra Modi is juxtaposed.

JD(U) supporters are blaming the ‘anti-federal’ attitude of the BJP for the split in the alliance. To blame the BJP in political meetings among (new) friends is one thing. But it is doubtful if such allegations will cut ice with people in the next election. The Lok Sabha elections will be held a year before the assembly elections. The real test of Nitish’s actions will be put to test then.

Also Read: Nitish Kumar to Shrikant Tyagi—TV news has no time for patriotism. But Amitabh Bachchan, CWG do

A shaky alliance

Nitish Kumar will soon realise that the coalition with the RJD is like laying a fresh foundation for Goondaraj and opening the doors of the exchequer to corrupt elements. If he tries to rein in the RJD, there will be friction leading to destabilisation of the government. If he allows them to have their way, his image as “Sushashan Babu” (good governance man) will take a beating. Nitish will realise his folly, but it will be too late.

The next Lok Sabha elections will be fought on these themes. Besides, the entire non- BJP votes scattered among nearly 150 castes will be chased by half-a-dozen parties whereas the consolidated votes of the rest will be easily mopped up by the BJP.

The so-called ‘secular’ parties have found a new leader in Nitish Kumar after they lost Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray to his party colleague Eknath Shinde. The Maharashtra experiment of keeping the BJP out at the cost of giving up one’s own ideological moorings and carefully cultivated vote bank has cost the Shiv Sena dearly. The Congress-NCP combine and non-Congress opposition parties desperately needed another willing partner who can bring a winning caste combination to the negotiating table. So, Nitish Kumar became the best bet for them, especially after the mercurial Mamata Banerjee started focussing on her own agenda. Her party abstained from voting in the Vice-President election because she was “not consulted” on opposition candidate Margaret Alva. Her lukewarm response to Yashwant Sinha’s selection as Presidential contestant proves she will have no links with the Congress-CPM strategy, her adversaries in West Bengal.

The BJP will surely recalibrate its poll strategy in Bihar to go it alone or have seat-sharing adjustments with Chirag Paswan, whose caste-based vote share is about five per cent. The party has a good ground-level cadre base and a catchy slogan “Ab ki baar BJP Sarkar (This time, BJP government)”. The BJP has never had a CM in the state since the first assembly election in 1952.

But the party will have to go beyond coalition partners and look for sufficient representation from different communities, especially the ‘Mahadalits’, SCs, OBCs and Muslims. The party will also have to extend central government schemes such as tribal welfare, women empowerment and employment guarantee to the rural population and empower local leadership to correct its “Patna-based party” image.

The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. He tweets @seshadrichari. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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