Patna: One chief minister who had been closely watching the Delhi Assembly elections is Bihar’s Nitish Kumar. Despite his party, the JD(U), having contested the elections as an ally of the BJP, the defeat of the alliance only serves Nitish’s interests in his home state.
While the BJP finished a distant second to the Aam Aadmi Party, the JD(U) fared no better in the two seats it contested in the national capital. According to Election Commission data at 4 pm, the JD(U) is way behind at both seats — while party candidate Shailendra Kumar was trailing in Burari by over 50,000 votes, in Sangam Vihar, Shiv Gupta was behind AAP’s Dinesh Mohaniya by over 42,000 votes.
For Nitish, however, it is the BJP performance that strengthens his hand.
The chief minister has been under fire since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where a resurgent BJP won 16 of the 17 seats it contested in Bihar and attributed it to the ‘Modi wave’. The victory emboldened local BJP leaders, who had long played second fiddle to the JD(U), to even call for Nitish’s ouster from the state.
Now, there is an uneasy truce between the BJP and the JD(U) that was brokered by Home Minister Amit Shah. But with the high-stakes Bihar elections less than nine months away, political observers feel that the BJP’s loss in Delhi will provide Nitish the perfect opportunity to reclaim the JD(U)’s status as the senior NDA partner.
A JD(U) minister, who did not want to be named, said the BJP’s loss will help Nitish dictate seat-sharing talks, which are yet to begin for the elections. “Nitish can now dictate terms on the the number of seats he wants and also select the constituencies,” the minister said.
A rocky relationship
The JD(U) first forged ties with the BJP in 1996 and the partnership lasted until 2013, when Nitish walked to form the Grand Alliance with the Congress and the RJD. He returned in 2017 and the ties have not been the same since, particularly with the BJP now under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Before he walked out of the NDA in 2013, Nitish was always the senior partner. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, for instance, the JD(U) contested 25 seats leaving the BJP with the remaining 15.
In the assembly elections of that year, the JD(U) contested 141 assembly seats, leaving the BJP with 102 seats. Nitish had back then even forced the BJP to give up its citadel of the Patna assembly seat.
All that changed in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the JD(U) went it alone but performed disastrously, winning just two seats. The BJP, riding on the Modi wave, managed to win 22 of the 40 seats.
When Nitish rejoined the NDA in 2017, the equations had changed. In the 2019 Parliamentary elections, both the BJP and the JD(U) contested on an equal number of seats — 17. The remaining six seats went to the other NDA constituent in Bihar, the Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP.
There were fears within the JD(U) that the BJP would demand more seats ahead of the Bihar assembly elections. Thus, the BJP’s Delhi loss, only helps the chief minister.
‘In Bihar, Nitish is Kejriwal so Delhi loss wont affect prospects’
NDA leaders point out that in Bihar, Nitish is what Kejriwal is in Delhi.
“Kejriwal worked for the downtrodden in Delhi,” said BJP spokesperson Rajni Ranjan Patel. “Similarly in Bihar, Nitish Kumar has announced several schemes for EBCs and Dalits.”
The BJP and the JD(U) also feel that Delhi loss will have no bearing on their prospects in Bihar later in the year. “Delhi is Delhi and Bihar is Bihar. They are two different states and political realities,” said JD(U) minister Shyam Rajak. The NDA will gain by the work done by Nitish Kumar.”
The Opposition in Bihar, however, sees the Delhi results as a boost for the assembly polls. “Delhi should not be seen in isolation. It is a continuation of what happened in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand,” said senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari. “The trend is undeniable — the BJP is slipping after the Lok Sabha polls.”