Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has resigned, announcing the end of his party JD(U)’s alliance with the BJP. The current phase of the coalition lasted for five years, from July 2017 to August 2022.
The Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party began their political journey together in the 1990s with JD(U) getting the “big brother” status in Bihar, something that also reflected in portfolios given in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre. The number of assembly seats for both BJP and JD(U) since 2005 depicted it. The alliance got its first successful five-year term in 2005 and Nitish has been the state’s chief minister since then. JD(U) was the natural claimant of the CM post as it was consistently winning more seats than its alliance partner BJP in the assembly elections.
Nitish was out of the BJP-led NDA between 2013 and 2017, but his party’s assembly election performance remained better than the BJP. JD(U) won 71 seats against BJP’s 53 in the 2015 assembly elections where both parties fought as rivals.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise in Bihar began with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections under Narendra Modi, the very factor that was behind the JD(U)-BJP split in 2013. BJP won 22 seats while JD(U), which chose to end the decades-old alliance, with BJP nominating Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate, could win just two. The NDA in Bihar won an additional nine Lok Sabha seats, with the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) getting six and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) three. Nitish wanted to be a viable PM choice of the opposition camp but JD(U) and UPA saw a humiliating defeat in the state.
Though JD(U) scored much better in the assembly polls next year, in 2015, where its tally was more than the BJP’s numbers, it was no longer the largest party in the state. The election actually started the script of Nitish’s political downfall. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) emerged as the largest party, winning 80 seats, with Lalu Prasad Yadav emerging as the kingmaker.
In 2017, Nitish made a U-turn and again came back to the BJP-led NDA as he could not continue in the alliance with the RJD wielding more influence. With more seats, he remained the CM and fought the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with the BJP as an ally.
The parliamentary polls saw an even stronger Modi wave in Bihar than in 2014 with the NDA winning 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP was the driver here, bagging 17 seats. The JD(U) got 16 and LJP, another NDA ally, won 6 seats riding the Modi wave.
The 2020 assembly elections actually made it clear that the fortunes had changed and the BJP was now politically JD(U)’s “big brother” in the state. JD(U), once the largest party in Bihar, was now at number three and its base had shrunk to just 43 seats. The BJP, scoring more since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, now did better even in the assembly and it was twice as large as the JD(U) in terms of the number of seats and just one seat less than the largest party RJD.
The BJP, in fact, was the only large party to register spectacular growth while the RJD saw its 2015 tally of 80 seats reduced to 75 in the 2020 assembly elections. But the saffron party kept its word and the CM chair remained with Nitish.
But inside, the BJP believed that the Bihar results were a reflection of the Modi factor, as senior party leader Kailash Vijayvargiya indicated, saying, “Modi’s image had led NDA to sail through this election”. It was reflected in the ground realities. JD(U) got just one cabinet berth at the Centre. The BJP also wielded more influence in the Bihar cabinet, with two deputy CM posts and speaker of the assembly. Nitish wanted the speaker removed and questioned the two deputy CM posts.
The last straw
Nitish was upset over the BJP’s increasing influence in the alliance and the “Shiv Sena effect” only added fuel to the fire. Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde along with the majority of the party’s MLAs revolted against Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, who was also the Sena chief, while bringing down the government. The rebel Shiv Sena leaders claim to be representing the real Shiv Sena and have formed a government in alliance with the BJP. The matter of who inherits the Shiv Sena is now in court.
Nitish was irked by the possibility that the BJP was using RCP Singh, former steel minister of India and national president of JD(U), to create a Shiv Sena-type situation in his party even if the BJP vehemently denied it. He was convinced that the BJP used the LJP to hurt JD(U)’s performance in the 2020 assembly polls and soon his party could be sliced up like the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena.
The JD(U) has also not been pleased with raids by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on alleged terror modules in Bihar suspected to be linked with the controversial Popular Front of India (PFI). For JD(U), this was all done by the BJP to show Nitish Kumar in a poor light to shape its future plans to uproot him as it has done with Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray. The Nitish-led JD(U) was upset over party supporters of RCP Singh presenting him as Bihar’s future CM.
The indications were always there. Nitish was silent on the Centre’s promoted Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces, demanded a caste census, opposed the National Register of Citizens (NRC), said there was no need for an anti-conversion law or a population-control law in the state, and, according to him, the row over loudspeakers at religious places was a non-issue.
It can be said that Nitish, who resigned on Tuesday, may have gone ahead with the BJP’s increasing influence but probably was not at ease with the possibility of JD(U) becoming another Shiv Sena.