Patna: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) announcement that it would not align with Nitish Kumar in the future has somewhat queered the pitch for the Bihar chief minister and given an upper hand to his ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
Only last month, Nitish, also the Janata Dal (United) chief, announced that Tejashwi would lead the Grand Alliance in the 2025 assembly elections.
Yet, RJD national vice-president Uday Narayan Choudhary said the party wanted a change of guard in the dispensation. “The present Grand Alliance government is a langri sarkar (lame government)’. Only after Tejashwi Yadav becomes the CM, we’ll be able to fulfill the promises made to the people,” the former assembly speaker told journalists in Patna on Monday.
This came a day after BJP state in-charge Vinod Tawade told party leaders and MLAs in Darbhanga that he had a message from their national president J.P. Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. “They have told us to make it clear that there would be no alliance with either Nitish Kumar, or his party JD(U) in the future,” he said.
Nitish was quick to react, saying he would rather die than tie up with the BJP again. “They (BJP leaders) don’t have anything on their agenda except to create communal tension. The talks that I will rejoin the BJP are baseless. I will never join such people. Let 2024 (general elections) come, the BJP will be wiped out,” he said Monday on the sidelines of a function in Patna.
By announcing that it would have no truck with the JD(U), the BJP stripped Nitish of an option he could have exercised to stay in power, like he has done in the past.
Despite winning 43 seats in 2020 against the RJD’s 75 and the BJP’s 74 in the 243-seat assembly, he holds the key to forming the government. This unique position allows Nitish to change his mind about his allies which he is doing since 2013.
That very year, he broke the alliance with the BJP after winning the elections and forming the government. In 2017, Nitish did same with the RJD which helped him to retain power two years ago. He then joined hands with the BJP and won the 2020 Bihar election but again severed ties in 2022 to return to the Mahagathbandhan’s fold.
Even though the JD(U) may not make much of the BJP’s decision, its bargaining chip is gone now and Nitish may no longer be in a position to ignore the RJD’s demands.
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BJP ‘relieved’, Nitish allies fume
The local BJP unit has multiple reasons to cheer the high command’s decision. “The (high command’s) announcement was a great relief for all of us. There were regular murmurs in the political circles that Nitish would again make a U-turn and return to the BJP. That demoralised BJP workers and leaders,” BJP MLA Haribhushan Thakur Bachaol said.
“We dubbed Nitish Kumar a political liability because he has lost the ability to transfer votes to his ally. We are foreseeing a Nitish-mukt (Nitish-free) future in Bihar. Even in the 2020 assembly polls, had it not been for PM Modi campaigning extensively for the JD(U), the party would have won far fewer than 43 out of 118 seats it contested,” former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi told ThePrint,
The BJP leaders also ridiculed Nitish for swearing again never to ally with them. “I would like to remind the people of Bihar that in 2016, he declared, ‘Mitti mein mil jayenge, BJP mein nahi jayenge. (I will be ruined, but not go with BJP)’. Today, he made a similar statement. I can assure him that he will not have the opportunity to make such a statement for the third time,” BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal told ThePrint.
The JD(U) attempted to brush off the BJP’s ‘betrayer’ allegation against Nitish, reminding it of joining hands in 2017. “If they call Nitish Kumar a political turncoat, then what about PM Modi? In the 2015 assembly polls, he questioned DNA of Nitish Kumar and yet he happily joined hands with Nitishji in 2017,” party spokesperson Neeraj Kumar told ThePrint.
Though the RJD did not react to Choudhary’s critical statement about the government, it did criticise the BJP. “The BJP is out to create political instability. It is the party which breaks alliances and promotes defections. It showed this skill in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, but will not succeed in Bihar,” RJD minister Alok Mehta, a close associate of Tejashwi, told ThePrint.
The Congress, the third-largest group in the Grand Alliance, also mocked the BJP. “Nitish has not written an application to the BJP, seeking a tie-up. Every time, it was Nitish who has left the NDA, not the other way. This time, he has left them for good to become our leader in Bihar,” former MLA Harku Jha told ThePrint.
Several JD(U) leaders are not taking the BJP’s announcement seriously. “Alliances are made due to political convenience. In 2013, when Nitish left the alliance, several BJP leaders made similar statements. But they gladly accepted him in 2017. Last year, it was Nitish who left the BJP though the latter was desperate to retain him,” JD(U) state vice-president Vikram Kuer told ThePrint.
Nitish vulnerable to RJD pressure
With the BJP closing doors for him, Nitish may be no longer in a position to ignore the RJD’s demands, such as choice officers in ministries and adjustment of “its people” in government bodies.
Ever since last August when Nitish joined hands with the RJD, he has resisted any pressure from his ally over governance. Voices from within the RJD for an early installation of Tejashwi as the CM are rising. Choudhary’s statement is seemingly a reminder that his party may not have the patience to wait till 2025 for Tejashwi to take over the reins in Bihar.
The two allies have had a public spat over the statements of RJD ministers Chandrashekhar and Alok Mehta on Ramcharitmanas and upper castes respectively.
The JD(U) is also seeking action from the RJD against its leader and former agriculture minister Sudhakar Singh for publicly criticising Nitish and calling him ‘Shikhandi (a Mahabharata character)’. The RJD issued a show-cause notice to Singh but even after the 15-day deadline lapsed, there has neither been a response from the leader nor any action from the party.
“There appears to be a common goal of the BJP and the RJD. Both want to get rid of Nitish Kumar before 2025,” a JD(U) minister told ThePrint.
“The problem with Nitish Kumar is that his credibility is at an all-time low and he has not been able to earn acceptance for this government from the people,” Nitish’s former political strategist Prashant Kishor told journalists in Gopalganj on Monday.
However, a political observer feels neither the BJP’s decision nor the JD(U)’s reaction are to be taken seriously.
“Presently, it’s political opportunism that dominates (the political scene). The BJP and Nitish saying they will not tie up in the future means nothing. It only means that they might join hands if the need be. I find the BJP’s statement hard to digest because the BJP still doesn’t have a leader of Nitish’s stature (in Bihar),” D.M. Diwakar, former director of Patna-based A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, said to ThePrint.
“Incidentally, after Nitish left the Mahagathbandhan in 2017, RJD leaders, including Tejashwi, had said that there was no place for Nitish in the Grand Alliance. Yet, the situation for their realignment did arise. It’s not statements or pressure which decide the drift, it’s the arising situation,” he said.
(Edited by Smriti Sinha)
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