In welcoming Nitish back into NDA, BJP has Lok Sabha election in mind

The BJP’s decision is based on election arithmetic, as Mr. Kumar’s votebank is significant in Bihar; it also hopes to blunt Opposition unity and the rhetoric about the caste census through this move

January 28, 2024 07:24 pm | Updated January 29, 2024 12:26 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Bihar Governor Rajendra Arlekar with JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar after the latter takes oath as Bihar CM during the swearing-in ceremony of new state government, at Raj Bhavan in Patna on January 28, 2024.

Bihar Governor Rajendra Arlekar with JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar after the latter takes oath as Bihar CM during the swearing-in ceremony of new state government, at Raj Bhavan in Patna on January 28, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has made his fifth U-turn in terms of political loyalties, taking the oath of office for the ninth time on Sunday evening. This time, he is back in the NDA fold, with the BJP embracing the renewed alliance, the upcoming Lok Sabha election very much on their minds.

While Mr. Kumar’s frequent flip-flops have now acquired cult status, his easy embrace by once-spurned allies — both the BJP and earlier, the Rashtriya Janata Dal — is also a factor. After all, newly sworn-in Deputy Chief Minister and BJP legislature party leader Samrat Choudhary had once vowed that he would not take off his saffron turban till he had “dethroned” Mr. Kumar — only to be sworn in to office alongside the CM, with his turban still on.

Poll arithmetic

According to senior sources in the BJP, there were three very clear reasons for the party’s embrace of its favourite ‘frenemy’. The first is simple election arithmetic. “If you look at the Mahagathbandhan vote bank based on the 2020 Assembly polls, that is, RJD, Congress, JD(U), and the CPI(ML), it tots up to 52.6%. And even Nitish Kumar alone, in a Lok Sabha poll with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the face [of the opposing BJP] is still good for at least 15% of the vote,” said a senior BJP leader involved in the affairs of the State. The 52% figure is almost double that of the BJP and its other allies such as the Lok Janshakti Party and Hindustan Awaam Morcha.

In 2022, after the alliance between the BJP and JD(U) had ended in that particular iteration, the BJP’s list of 144 vulnerable Lok Sabha seats saw Bihar’s share go up from four to 10. Seats like Nawada, Vaishali, Valmiki Nagar, Kishanganj, Katihar, Supaul, Munger, Jhanjharpur, Gaya, and Purnea are in the BJP’s list of vulnerable seats in Bihar.

Blunting Opposition unity, rhetoric

The other two reasons have to do with controlling the narrative around caste and identity politics. With Mr. Kumar in its camp, the BJP can expect to reap some benefits of the caste census undertaken earlier by the Mahagathbandhan government, which showed that the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) were the largest section of the State’s population. It may also help ameliorate some of the Congress’ rhetoric on the caste census.

Also Read | Bihar political crisis | After submitting resignation, Nitish Kumar says relations with RJD has not been good

The move will also dent Opposition unity and the strength of the INDIA bloc. Mr. Kumar, the main architect of the alliance, leaving midway shows a lack of confidence in a grouping he helped forge. “The INDIA group has already been unable to forge seat adjustments in West Bengal with Trinamool Congress, and has problems in Delhi and Punjab with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), seat adjustment is unlikely with the Left Front in Kerala, and now a major constituent has walked out in Bihar,” said a source.

No pushover

In their earlier alliance government, the BJP, despite holding more seats than the JD(U), had not stood up to Mr. Kumar when it came to running the Bihar government; this time, however, it has got known Nitish Kumar-baiter Vijay Sinha as a Deputy Chief Minister. Belonging to the Bhumihar community, he is also expected to bind that upper caste community closer to the BJP. Between Mr. Sinha and his fellow Deputy CM Mr. Choudhary, the BJP hopes to not be a pushover when it comes to running the State government this time.

Also Read | Congress slams ‘political opportunism’ of Nitish Kumar

The BJP’s repeated embrace of Nitish Kumar, therefore, depends on the cold calculus of real politik, with little sentiment, quite like Mr. Kumar’s own pragmatic motives.

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