Patna: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar may not be in a position to arm-twist Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the centre now, but he knows that he will matter when assembly elections take place in Bihar around 17 months later. And he will bide his time.
Kumar, who played spoilsport in Modi’s oath-taking ceremony by refusing ‘symbolic participation’ in the Union cabinet, has a clear message to the BJP: don’t take me for granted and don’t dictate numbers.
“The vote NDA got belonged to the people of Bihar and not in the name of one person. They (Kumar’s supporters) are not vocal like others. But they vote overwhelmingly,” the Bihar CM remarked immediately after returning to Patna Friday from the national capital where he attended the swearing-in ceremony.
On Thursday, Kumar declared that his party would not join the Modi government as he believed in proportionate representation to allies, and not a symbolic lone berth.
Distrust within Bihar’s winning alliance
According to sources in Kumar’s JDU, the Bihar CM had asked BJP president Amit Shah to accommodate 3 ministers from his party. But the BJP stuck to its rule of one ministerial berth per ally, which was turned down.
Kumar has ruled out joining the cabinet even in the near future. But he has also declared that he was firmly with the NDA. His decision to not join the cabinet has rattled Bihar’s BJP leaders, though.
“Nitish Kumar is our chief minister and I will not comment on the issue,” health minister Mangal Pandey told ThePrint.
A usually media friendly deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi refused to comment on the episode.
“In 2013 and 2015, Nitish ji always declared that he would stick to the alliance. But he left NDA in 2013 and the grand alliance in 2017,” said another worried BJP leader who didn’t wish to be identified.
The NDA, which till Tuesday, was celebrating its victory in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections in which it won 39 of Bihar’s 40 seats (17 BJP, 16 JDU and 6 LJP) and depleted the grand alliance, or mahagathbandhan, to just one, is now nursing distrust.
The JDU leaders are declaring that “insult” to Kumar would not be tolerated. The grand alliance leaders who went underground after the Lok Sabha polls have surfaced again.
Shivanand Tiwari, RJD’s national vice-president, showed support for Kumar and criticised BJP for arrogance. Senior Congress leader Sadanand Singh said Kumar has been insulted by BJP.
Options before Nitish Kumar
At this moment, even if the Bihar CM chooses to snap ties with the BJP, his government would not fall.
“The RJD after the poll drubbing is ready to sign on any condition that Nitish Kumar dictates to them and the Congress which has 27 MLAs will be more than happy to support him. It will be the old grand alliance which will replace NDA in Bihar,” said an enthusiastic RJD MLA on condition of anonymity.
“BJP may have to face the next assembly polls with the alliance of 2015 in which it was reduced to 53 seats,” said the RJD leader.
He added that RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, who loves to take pot shots at ‘Chacha Nitish’, has remained silent on the issue.
It’s a “wait and watch” policy, the RJD MLA added.
However, JDU leaders doubt that Kumar would want to opt out of the NDA as his present government in Bihar is running much more smoothly than the grand alliance government did.
“If he does switch over, his political credibility will take a further beating which is already low after two flip-flops,” said a senior JDU leader, stressing that his last move was a message to BJP that they will need him in the assembly elections.
“The main worry of JDU is that if the seat sharing formula of Lok Sabha polls in which JDU and BJP contested an equal number of seats continues (in assembly polls)… If the BJP wins more seats than the JDU, they can stake their claim for the CM’s post,” added the JDU leader who didn’t wish to be named.
He stressed that the party would like to play the role of big brother in the assembly polls.
Issues facing JDU
During the Lok Sabha polls, JDU has been taunted for being the only party in India that contested the polls without releasing its election manifesto because its stand on issues like Ram temple and triple talaq were divergently different from BJP.
After two rounds of Lok Sabha elections, Kumar himself acknowledged that there was a Modi wave and asked for votes for ‘Modi as PM’.
JDU leaders say the situation in the Bihar assembly elections will be different in which nationalism and Modi won’t be issues and ‘brand Nitish’ would be stronger than ‘brand Modi’.
It was time to remind them of this reality and that Kumar cannot be “pushed beyond a point”, added the JDU leader.