The bonhomie between Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav for the last few months culminated into Janta Dal (United) switching over to RJD led Grand Alliances on Tuesday. The question is how and why the two arch rivals joined hands.
The speculation for a possible change initially triggered after the two leaders met at CM’s official residence on May 11, 2022 apparently to talk on the caste-based census. Coming out of the meeting, Tejashwi announced that Nitish accepted his demand. However, the most visible sign of the friendship was displayed at the iftar party organised by former chief minister Rabri Devi at her residence.
Yet, the personal closeness was still not enough for a political alliance of the two parties considering the circumstances in which Nitish left the Grand Alliance in 2017. At this point a masterstroke by Nitish Kumar did the trick. In a surprising move Nitish prevailed over four AIMIM MLAs, who were looking for his patronage, to join RJD.
This has simultaneously achieved two objectives. First, RJD became the largest party in the state assembly pushing BJP to the second spot. It effectively eliminated any possibility of BJP staking claim to form the government for having the greatest number of legislators in the Bihar assembly.
Second, it convinced the RJD that Nitish has a bigger motive to come back to the Grand Alliance, therefore, he is looking beyond the immediate interest. Indeed, there wasn’t any immediate threat to his chair as the BJP was not prepared to take over before the 2025 assembly election or, at least, before the 2024 Lok Sabha Election.
RCP Singh episode
BJP identified an opportunity in former JDU president RCP Singh of creating a second power axis within JDU as he became too close to the saffron party’s national leadership. RCP worked closely with Nitish in various capacities for more than two decades, and for a long time he was number two in the JDU. Moreover, he made significant connections with party leaders and workers while working in the organisation. He could have been of great help for the BJP in the objective of securing the power of the state on its own.
However, Nitish did not allow the situation to spin out of control. As soon as he smelled the plot, he started clipping RCP’s wings. First Nitish replaced him with Lallan Singh as party president then denied him 3rd term in Rajya Sabha as RCP completed his second term on 7th July 2022 which effectively stripped him off form the Union Ministry. There were speculations in the political circle that BJP may send him to Rajya Sabha. This would have provided enough reason for JDU to quit the NDA.
Subsequently, JDU played a waiting game expecting a reaction from RCP. However, when he did not respond, JDU poked him through a notice over allegations of amassing properties which made him furious and led to his resignation from the party.
Chirag or Eknath Shinde Model
At this point, JDU national president Lallan Singh took the charge and targeted BJP for creating a ‘Second Chirag Model’, adding that conspiracy was being hatched to weaken Nitish Kumar. Lallan Singh was spot on when he compared RCP’s activism with Chirag and not with Eknath Shinde, the Shiv Sena rebel, unlike many observers who drew parallel with the Maharashtra’s coup.
Chirag Paswan played spoiler for Nitish Kumar’s party in the last assembly election as he selectively put-up candidates on such NDA’s seats which went to JDU. Nitish Kumar party believes that it lost more than two dozen seats due to Chirag Paswan and the latter had the tacit support of the BJP.
Yet, Nitish Kumar was more concerned about his party’s diminishing political fortune and viewed the various moves of BJP as means to systematically wipe-out JDU. In a brief interaction with the media after taking oath on Wednesday, he explicitly made this point when he reminded the sharp decline of his legislators in the present assembly in comparison with 2015.
Uncomfortable equation with BJP
Moreover, Nitish Kumar was also not happy with the BJP over the policy of giving single representation in the Union Cabinet to each NDA ally, irrespective of the strength. He was expecting much better treatment from the saffron party for being one of the oldest constituents of the NDA.
Before 2013, Nitish Kumar enjoyed great bonding with the BJP’s state leadership led by deputy CM Sushil Modi, yet after the latter’s departure to Rajya Sabha there was virtually none in the party of that stature who can negotiate and sort out differences with the CM.
On the contrary, the present state leadership frequently lashed out against Nitish Kumar and appeared on a mission to cut to the size the political stature of the Bihar CM.
Thus, an uncomfortable equation with the existing BJP leadership both on state and national level, which worsened to the extent of no return lately, proved the last straw in the JDU-BJP alliance.
(Shams Khan is a political analyst based in Patna. The views are personal)