Patna: “Bulldozer ki sarkar yaha bhi ho (There should be a ‘bulldozer’ government here, too),” chanted a chorus of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs in the Bihar assembly Thursday as the election results came in and it became evident that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — who has led a high-profile campaign of bulldozing properties belonging to alleged criminals — was storming back to power in the neighbouring state.
Leaders of the Janata Dal (United), the BJP’s ally in the government of Bihar, were not amused. “They can celebrate the victory in UP. But how does it change the equation in Bihar?” asked senior JD(U) minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav, while speaking to ThePrint.
Yadav, known to be a close confidant of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, added: “The JD(U) knows that the two persons who matter in the BJP-JD(U) alliance are PM Narendra Modi and CM Nitish Kumar. For now, neither of them wants to do away with this alliance.”
Speaking to ThePrint, JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan said, what some BJP leaders say does not matter. “The alliance between the JD(U) and the BJP, and the government in Bihar, is an understanding between leaders of both parties at the highest level. It’s an understanding reached between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi,” Ranjan said.
The BJP MLAs who raised the slogans sounded apologetic an hour later, with party sources indicating that they had been pulled up by senior state leaders for seemingly trying to create a rift between the alliance partners.
“We did not mean that we wanted to remove Nitish Kumar. Our slogans should not be misinterpreted,” BJP MLA Haribhushan Thakur told ThePrint.
“The bulldozer also represents construction and Nitish ji is known as a builder of infrastructure in Bihar,” added another BJP MLA, Murari Mohan Jha.
The JD(U) was itself contesting the polls in both Uttar Pradesh and Manipur against the BJP, its ally in Bihar and at the Centre. It drew a blank in UP, where it had contested around 50 seats, but did open its account in Manipur with six seats.
On previous occasions when the state assembly was in session and election results came in, Nitish would give instant reactions. But this time, he waited until 8 pm, and then tweeted his joy at the party’s performance in Manipur.
He then congratulated Modi for the BJP’s victories in UP, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand. “The people of these states have shown their faith in PM Modi,” Nitish remarked. There was no mention of Yogi Adityanath.
Why sloganeering touched a nerve
The MLAs’ sloganeering touched a raw nerve due to the precarious balance of power between the two allies in Bihar. In the 2020 state assembly elections, the BJP vaulted ahead to become the senior partner with 74 seats, while the JD(U) was reduced to 43.
Nevertheless, Nitish Kumar was sworn in for another term as chief minister. At the time, it was reported that he had wanted to quit, but agreed to stay on in his post at the BJP’s behest. Central BJP leaders also stated that they had committed during electioneering to making Nitish CM if the NDA emerged victorious, irrespective of the number of seats each partner won.
Nitish has had to make concessions, however, such as handing over the Speaker’s chair to the BJP.
While state BJP leaders had to accept the high command’s decision, several have expressed frustration at having to serve under Nitish.
For instance, BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan made an open plea before the 2020 election for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to be headed by a BJP leader, while state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal takes regular digs at Nitish’s governance.
“Since we formed the government with the JD(U), the highest portfolio we have managed to get is the finance department. Key portfolios like home and education still are with the JD(U),” remarked a BJP MLA who did not wish to be named.
Despite these frustrations and their increased numbers, BJP leaders still feel they need Nitish as much as he needs them.
“The fact remains that while the Bihar BJP may be the second largest party in the assembly, its state leadership is weak. The two deputy chief ministers, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, who were installed after the 2020 assembly polls to create a leadership among the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Extremely Backward Classes (EBC), have not worked out. As of now, Nitish Kumar is the best face of the NDA in Bihar,” said a senior BJP leader and member of the party’s national executive, who did not wish to be named.
“We do not have a Yogi Adityanath in Bihar, and we need Nitish for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as he is the backward-caste face of the NDA,” he added, hinting that if there is to be any change in the NDA in Bihar, it will be within the BJP and not in the relationship with the JD(U).
Nitish, Yogi, and Modi
During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, when a complete lockdown was announced and Nitish restricted entry into Bihar, there were lakhs of Bihari migrant workers making their way home on foot. But the Yogi government in UP provided them with buses to the borders of Bihar, earning praise from some migrants — who were angry with Nitish.
This frustrated the Bihar CM, who believed that other states were defying the lockdown’s purpose to curb the movement of people.
During the 2020 assembly polls, Adityanath came to Bihar to campaign for 22 BJP candidates, all of whom were victorious. But he is not known to have met Nitish at any point during the campaign, despite the JD(U) and the BJP contesting as allies.
“If Yogi Adityanath has some work related to Bihar, he telephones a BJP minister instead of the Bihar CM,” said a BJP minister in Bihar, who did not wish to be named.
Nitish’s equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is different. A few months ago, the Bihar CM inaugurated a new wildlife sanctuary in Rajgir, in Nalanda district. He telephoned Modi, asking him to send a few Gir Lions for the sanctuary, and the prime minister sent three.
In the run-up to the polls for the assembly polls in five states this year, Modi compared Nitish with the late socialist leaders Ram Manohar Lohia and George Fernandes, as leaders who did not promote family members in politics. The statement appears to have brought the open criticism of Nitish by some BJP leaders in Bihar to a standstill.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)