Analysis: Can Nitish Survive After The Parliamentary Polls?

Analysis: Can Nitish Survive After The Parliamentary Polls?

Nitish today is a pathetic shadow of his earlier avatar. The entire drama which he has enacted this time to join hands with the BJP has permanently tarnished his image

AshutoshUpdated: Monday, January 29, 2024, 10:34 PM IST
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Had Nitish Kumar ever participated in the Olympics then no one would have ever beaten him in the game of gymnastics. He is a genius in political gymnastics. It is ironic that the man who has the elephantine ambition of one day becoming the prime minister could never form the government on his own, in his own state of Bihar. The closest numbers that his party could muster in Bihar assembly were 115 in the 2010 Assembly elections. Even then his party was short of seven seats to touch the magic figure of 122 out of a total 243 Assembly seats. He then formed the government with the help of the BJP which had bagged 91 seats. This was the summit of Nitish’s political career.

In his first term as CM, Nitish not only controlled the law and order in the state but also developed road infrastructure across the state. His special drive for girls’ education was the high point of his tenure. During this time, primary health care centres also improved tremendously. This was the time when it was perceived that Nitish Kumar would be the ideal candidate for the top job in the country but with the rise of Modi as the prime ministerial candidate in 2013 for 2014 parliamentary election, his decline started.

Nitish today is a pathetic shadow of his earlier avatar. The entire drama which he has enacted this time to join hands with the BJP has permanently tarnished his image. Nitish this time had no overt reasons to switch sides. No wonder he could not openly accuse the RJD of any wrongdoing. He and his team are busy telling the world that since things were not moving in the right direction in the I.N.D.I.A alliance, he decided to jump ship. This shows that all the grandstanding that he did while leaving the BJP in January 2022 to align with RJD, about the BJP and Modi having no ideological inspiration, was just a power play for him. He probably felt then that since people had no hope from Rahul Gandhi, and no one in the Opposition was big enough to emerge as the prime ministerial candidate, he could fill that void and emerge as a natural leader of the alliance. No wonder he projected himself as an architect of Opposition unity and started meeting Opposition leaders.

The first meeting in Patna was another high point of his career but he failed to fathom the mood of the Opposition leaders. After Patna he became desperate to become the convenor of I.N.D.I.A. He was hugely disappointed when, in subsequent meetings of I.N.D.I.A leaders in Bengaluru and Mumbai, his name was not considered for the job. The final nail in the coffin was hammered by Mamata Banerjee when, at the Delhi meet in December 2023, she proposed the name of Mallikarjun Kharge as the prime ministerial face. This proposal was seconded by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. Now Nitish was convinced that his ambition was not going to be fulfilled. In between, it was speculated in the power corridors of Bihar that his party might implode as some JDU MLAs were in touch with the RJD leadership; whereas a section of JDU MPs were reluctant to contest parliamentary elections with the RJD, they were more keen to go with BJP. Now Nitish was caught between the devil and the deep sea. To save his party he decided to go with power and junked the road of uncertainty.

The present BJP led by Modi is made of a different mettle. It is ruthless to the core and pragmatic to the last. BJP was working on a twin strategy. Firstly, BJP knew that since Nitish had left the BJP and joined RJD, the BJP was in no position to repeat its electoral performance of 2019 when BJP along with JDU and others had won 39 Lok Sabha seats out of a total of 40. Maharashtra was another state in which BJP was shaky due to Shiv Sena forming the government with the support of the Congress and NCP. These two states together have 88 Lok Sabha seats and BJP along with its allies had won 81 in 2019. BJP alone had won 40 seats. BJP knew that without Nitish in Bihar and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, it would be difficult for the BJP to repeat 2019. In that situation, BJP would struggle to reach the majority mark in the 2024 general elections. So Operation Lotus was unleashed. First the Shiv Sena and NCP were broken, and now with Nitish on their side the BJP could breathe easy.

Secondly, Nitish walking out of I.N.D.I.A has dealt the Opposition a psychological blow which the alliance will find it difficult to get over. Now the perception has been created that the Opposition is imploding and disintegrating; the image of a united Opposition has gone down the drain and the possibility of resurrecting a viable alternative political formation is dim; even if it comes into existence, the common man will not believe that there won’t be another Brutus in the camp. With Nitish walking away, BJP has re-created the aura of its electoral invincibility in the general elections.

But the bigger question is, can Nitish survive after the parliamentary elections? It is common knowledge that in the 2020 Assembly elections, the BJP tried to weaken JDU with the help of Chirag Paswan. JDU was reduced to 43 seats, much below the seats of the RJD and the BJP. This was done with a long-term plan. BJP knows that as long as JDU is a significant player in Bihar politics, BJP cannot grow enough to form its own government with its own chief minister. BJP has been piggybacking enough on JDU to remain in power, and now since BJP has outgrown JDU, why would it suffer and accept Nitish as the chief minister?

In Bihar, like in other North Indian states, the upper caste is overwhelmingly with the BJP. It has tried to make inroads in most backward castes (MBC) within the OBC and also among Maha Dalits. Nitish has been the leader of Kurmis and Koeris. He has also cultivated MBCs and Maha Dalits. BJP can become a pan-Bihar party only if Nitish loses support among the MBCs and Maha Dalits. In the past whenever BJP has contested elections alone it has successfully emerged as the biggest party in terms of vote share. In 2014 general election it has even got 29% vote with 22 seats. If the BJP under Modi can dispense with its mass leaders like Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Vasundhara Raje then why should it suffer Nitish? The appointment of two aggressive leaders, Samrat Chaudhary and Vijay Sinha, as deputy CMs is a pointer too that the BJP has its plan ready for the future. These two are aggressive leaders who had confronted Nitish head-on in the last few months. Nitish should know better than anyone but such is the time that he can do nothing while he waits for the final blow.

The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B

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