Patna: Two days after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that this would be his last assembly elections, there is a deafening silence in the JD(U) — the party he founded and whose very survival depends on him.
There is no clamour for him to stay on, neither are there any protests against the decision.
There have, however, been some clarifications. Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and JD(U) leader Harivansh told ANI that the chief minister will stay in politics. “I’d like to clarify that Nitishji has said that this is his last election. He is and will stay in politics,” Harivansh said.
“Politicians never retire,” JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan told ThePrint.
Yet there is no confusion in the press note issued by the party Thursday. In Hindi, the JD(U) has used the word sanyas to describe the chief minister’s decision while in English, the carefully drafted press release says that “Nitish Kumar has announced that the Bihar Assembly polls 2020 would be the last election of his political career…”
“The press note leaves very little space for riders,” said a JD(U) leader not wanting to be named. He said that after the press note, it is only the CM who can clarify the matter.
Ally BJP, which has been swearing by the chief minister, has also remained mum. Even Nitish’s closest ally in the BJP, Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, has not spoken on the issue.
A few who are speaking have actually “thanked him”.
“I would like to thank CM Nitish Kumar for announcing that he was exiting from power politics. But I would like to request him to remain in party politics,” BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan told The Print.
The MLC had in 2019 gone public with his demand that Nitish should leave Bihar politics and that the NDA should have a fresh CM face.
The reluctant Margdarshak
This is not the first time Nitish has toyed with the idea of political sanyas. Right after his party’s crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, in which it managed just two of the 40 seats, Nitish quit as chief minister, taking moral responsibility for the defeat.
It was met with huge opposition from within the JD(U), with party members demanding that he should not resign.
Back then, JD(U) workers virtually stormed into 1 Aney Marg, Nitish’s official residence, to get him to change his mind.
But Nitish stuck to his ground and appointed Jitan Ram Manjhi as the chief minister, stressing that his own role would be that of a margdarshak (guide) to both the JD(U) and the government.
Within six months, however, a rebellious Manjhi attempted to marginalise Nitish, who made his way back as chief minister. “It was a phase when Nitish Kumar realised that without power, it was going to be extremely difficult to make political manoeuvres,” said a second JD(U) leader.
Nitish later conceded that handing over power to Manjhi was a mistake.
JD(U) leaders say that it is because Nitish has been reluctant to let go of power that they have remained silent. “Everybody knows that it will be Nitish Kumar who will wield power within the JD(U) and decide the power-sharing formula for the party,” said the second JD(U) leader.
Opposition leaders say the chief minister’s remarks are admission of defeat.
“If there is skepticism in the JD(U), it is because Nitish has never stuck to his words in the past,” RJD veteran Shivanand Tiwari told ThePrint. “He made Manjhi the CM renouncing power only to regain it. He declared that BJP was a closed chapter but allied with the BJP again. His credibility is at an all time low not only among opposition but also his own party. His own party leaders do not take his words seriously.”
Political analyst, Prof D.M. Diwakar of A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Sciences in Patna, believes that the chief minister has a plan in place.
“Nitish Kumar does not utter words without a plan. Perhaps he knows that the JD(U) will not perform as well as he presumed initially,” Sinha said.
“He has possibly made this statement as a pre-emptive step to make power-sharing adjustments with the BJP after the polls,” he added. “Or he may think it will be the right time to exit Bihar politics as he is unlikely to remain CM entirely at the mercy of the BJP. He must have a plan.”