Once acclaimed for his effective administration in Bihar, Nitish Kumar has undergone a significant transformation, transitioning from the moniker "Sushasan Babu" to "Paltu Ram," a man known for always switching sides.
Reports on Friday suggested that Nitish Kumar is likely to quit the Mahagathbandhan and take oath as CM once again with the BJP's support, effectively rejoining the NDA. However, this is not the first time, and it might not be the last if Kumar continues such a charade of political switching.
The first switch
Nitish Kumar's first alliance switch came in 2013 when he chose to end JDU's 17-year political partnership with the saffron party, citing dissatisfaction with the BJP's selection of Narendra Modi as their prime ministerial candidate.
Similar to Kumar's role in Bihar, Modi served as the longest-serving chief minister in Gujarat, earning recognition for his governance. Kumar conveyed his dissatisfaction to the BJP regarding Modi's nomination as the PM candidate. When the saffron brigade maintained its decision unchanged, Kumar opted to exit the alliance.
After the BJP won the 2014 general elections with a thumping majority, Nitish stepped down as CM, taking responsibility for the loss, making Jitan Ram Manzi the CM of Bihar. However, he continued in his alliance with the RJD-Cong and fought the 2015 assembly elections together. As the Mahagathbandhan went on to win, Nitish became CM once again.
However, Nitish reportedly felt frustrated with RJD's upper hand in the alliance, as Lalu Yadav's son Tejaswhi Yadav was sworn in as his deputy in the government. As CBI action began against Lalu and family in a corruption case, Nitish demanded Tejashwi's resignation from the cabinet, having been named in the chargesheet. Lalu refused, and Nitish made the switch.
Back to BJP
In 2017, Nitish Kumar was sworn in as CM again with the BJP's support. With a majority in the Assembly, the BJP gained dominance in the alliance with JDU. Later, Kumar was selected as the Chief Minister for the fourth term after NDA's victory in the 2020 assembly elections. He led a council of 14 ministers, including two Deputy Chief Ministers—Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, appointed by the BJP—reflecting the saffron party's majority in seats at that time.
Nitish again grew frustrated with the BJP's upper hand in the alliance and what he later claimed was the saffron party's attempt to pull off 'Maharashtra' in Bihar, referring to the split in Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde.
In 2022, Nitish again broke up with the BJP and went back to the Mahagathbandhan fold, where he was welcomed and made the Chief Minister once again.
After sharing power with the RJD in Mahagathbandhan for almost two years, Nitish is now considering another switch again. The longest-serving chief minister of Bihar has reportedly been upset with the INDIA bloc for a lack of a position in the alliance that matches his standing. Additionally, he advocates for an early assembly poll aligned with the Lok Sabha elections. Reports also suggest that he will once again take oath as CM with BJP's support, making it the 9th time Nitish is sworn in as Chief Minister of Bihar, a record unlikely to be broken.
The numbers that help Nitish
Presently, among the 243 constituencies in Bihar, the RJD holds 79 seats, JDU has 45, and the BJP commands the majority with 82 seats. Kumar has the opportunity to form a government in alliance with the BJP, securing his position as the CM once again. The JDU's representation in the Assembly has witnessed a decline from 115 seats in 2010 to 71 in 2015 and further down to just 43 in 2020.
The unfolding dynamics of Bihar politics around Kumar remain uncertain as the Lok Sabha polls in 2024 draw near.
Disappearing political charisma
Nitish, formerly celebrated as 'Sushasan Babu,' has long departed from that image in Bihar's political landscape. Despite initial progress in his early terms as CM, his tenure is marked by inconsistencies, corruption allegations, the flawed implementation of alcohol bans, and Bihar's ranking as the poorest performer in numerous developmental indicators.
Nitish's reputation in Bihar has suffered, evident in the consistent decline of his party's numbers, weakening his hold over the eastern state. Meanwhile, the BJP and RJD have emerged as more prominent contenders. Although the current numbers allow Nitish to continue switching alliances, this may not persist after the upcoming elections. Nevertheless, Nitish is determined to retain his Chief Ministerial position for as long as possible.
While 'Nitish Sabke Hai' (Nitish is for everyone) may resonate well on political posters, the act of frequently shifting alliances with parties that hold entirely different ideological spectrums undermines credibility.
Why RJD and BJP continue to entertain Nitish?
While Nitish's credibility has taken a hit, he remains a crucial figure in Bihar's political landscape. In the current scenario, neither the BJP nor the RJD can establish a government without Nitish's assistance. Both parties acknowledge that Nitish is instrumental in securing power, as the Kurmi leader holds sway over a significant number of seats that can either enable an alliance to assume power or prevent another from doing so.
However, it is unclear how long Nitish will be in such politically advantageous position. The seats have dropped from 115 to 43. When the time comes and the political landscape shifts, will he have a reliable partner to rely on?
This might be Nitish Kumar's final chance to maintain relevance in Bihar politics.