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Bengal Polls and 2024 Lok Sabha Elections on Mind, BJP's Smart Play Behind Picking Nitish as CM Despite JDU's Poor Bihar Show

File photo of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar greeting BJP president JP Nadda, in Patna. (PTI Photo)

File photo of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar greeting BJP president JP Nadda, in Patna. (PTI Photo)

Though the BJP has emerged as numero uno of NDA in Bihar, it plans to use Nitish as a mascot and appropriate the votes of the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) in the West Bengal elections and 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Bengal has substantial population of people from Bihar especially the EBCs in tea estates and other industries.

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Ashok Mishra

By all accounts, the mandate of the 2020 Bihar assembly elections has gone against Nitish Kumar. The tag of Sushasan Babu has been dented and his stature has been reduced from the position of ‘Bade Bhai’ to a ‘Chhote Bhai’ (junior partner) in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

From Munna (His childhood calling name) to epitome of Bihari identity, the journey for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been arduous — full of ups and downs. His relatively poor electoral performance has shaken his position as the next chief minister as voices have been raised against him by a section of the state BJP leaders after declaration of the poll results.

The top BJP leadership, however, ruled out any change at the top level in Bihar. It is presumed that Nitish Kumar will continue to remain the chief minister till the West Bengal elections wherein the BJP has a bigger stake. The BJP, which is on an expansionist mode, will not like to alienate Nitish - its only ally after the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) decided to quit the NDA over Centre’s ‘unilateral’ decision to push agricultural reforms.

Though the BJP has emerged as numero uno of NDA in Bihar, it plans to use Nitish as a mascot and appropriate the votes of the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) in the West Bengal elections and 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Bengal has substantial population of people from Bihar especially the EBCs in tea estates and other industries.

His status has been compromised as he was beaten by his rivals downright in the keenly-fought 2020 Bihar assembly elections. It is for the first time that Nitish Kumar has suffered such a crushing defeat in the state elections after 1995 when his Samata Party had won only seven seats in the 324-member Bihar assembly. Of the 115 seats which his Janata Dal (U) contested this time, he could win only 43 seats reflecting the ire of the people against him for myriads of reasons.

His political blunder was to alienate the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan from the NDA. He had prevailed upon top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) not to concede more seats to the LJP. Chirag reacted by fielding candidates against the JD(U) and successfully sent across the message that he had no rivalry with the BJP. “Bhajapa se bair nahin, Nitish teri khair nahin (No grudge against BJP but Nitish will have to bear the brunt),” he averred.

In fact, his party’s position would have hit the rock bottom had not been Prime Minister Narendra Modi bailed him out and rescued in the last two phases of Bihar elections. The Prime Minister successfully instilled the fear of return of the ‘Jungle Raj’ among people during the last two legs of his election campaign in Bihar using sobriquets like ‘Yuvaraj (Prince) of Jungle Raj’ for the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Prasad Yadav.

On the contrary, senior BJP leaders claimed that the strike rate of BJP would have been better had it not aligned with the JD(U). Of the 110 seats the BJP contested it had won on 74 seats. “We lost on many seats because of our association with the JD(U), which had alienated the Dusadhs (Paswans),” said Ajit Choudhary, president of the BJP SC and ST cell.

Once a challenger to Narendra Modi for the post of the prime minister, Nitish has come to a stage where he badly needs Modi’s 'stay relevant' support in politics. Nitish has been forced to face tumultuous ups and downs ever since he severed relationship with the BJP after projection of Modi as the next prime minister in 2013.

Often referred to as ‘Chanakya’ of Bihar politics for his deft political moves, Nitish had shaped the formation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1999 by forging electoral understanding with the BJP, till then considered as an ‘untouchable’ outfit by the rivals. His mission was to extirpate the then Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi regime in Bihar.

Kumar, who was the mascot of NDA’s fight against 15-year of RJD rule (five years with Congress) in 2010 state polls, whipped up a new caste configuration that led to electoral meltdown of the RJD. By giving job reservation to the EBCs and offering sops to the Mahadalits, Nitish did the delicate balancing act keeping the votaries of both hardliners in BJP and JD (U) together.

He had not allowed the BJP hardliners like the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to enter Bihar for campaigning and steered the NDA ship almost single-handedly.

As Chief Minister he changed the face of Bihar, which was hitherto synonymous with despondency and lawlessness. He first focused on improving the law and order situation with speedy trials and convictions. Crime rates plunged by 50 percent straightaway, and the number of kidnapping for ransom, which was once considered to be the main vocation in Bihar, plummeted drastically.

But his popularity started waning due to his frequent shifts from one alliance to other especially after he quit the NDA in 2013. He fought the 2014 alone but could win only two seats. Realizing that he would not cut much ice alone despite his good image, he joined hands with his old friend Lalu Prasad to become the chief minister in 2015. Soon, he deserted the RJD to join the NDA bandwagon in 2017 again.

He may be taking oath as chief minister for the seventh time but his role will be limited this time in governance and overall political strategies of the NDA. On the moral front, Nitish will be down for at least for some time till he plans his another political move.

However, the BJP will tread with caution in handling Nitish Kumar as the saffron party is also apprehensive about his next political manoeuvres. With 43 seats in his kitty, he may again switch sides and join hands with the RJD which has won 75 seats in the keenly-contested elections.

Disclaimer:The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.


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