In the next few days, Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar will be sworn in for the eighth time as Chief Minister of Bihar. It won’t be the first or even the last somersault for Mr. Kumar. Since November 2005 when he began his first full term as Chief Minister trouncing the RJD government, he has been trapesing between the allies without letting go the Chief Minister’s chair.
There are many commonalities between his relationships with the BJP and the RJD. He has been in alliance with both, though far too longer with the BJP. He has snapped ties with both and returned to them even after bitter and very public break-ups.
Association dates back to University days
Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad’s association dates back to university days. He campaigned for Mr. Prasad when he contested and won the post of president of Patna University Student’s Union in 1973. In 1989, he assisted Mr. Prasad once again, this time to take the position of Leader of Opposition after the death of socialist leader Karpoori Thakur, in a deeply divided Lok Dal in the State. A year later, Mr. Kumar was a key advocate for Mr. Prasad in a keenly contested battle within Janata Dal (JD) for the Chief Minister’s post propelling Mr. Prasad to the post in March 1990, for the first time.
But within two years of this battle, the spell had been broken, and Mr. Kumar and Mr. Prasad were no longer on talking terms. From being a cheerleader, Mr. Kumar had now taken on the role of a dissenter. In part, the disenchantment grew because of what Mr. Kumar called Mr. Prasad’s “dictatorial ways”.
The final break came only in April 1994. A group of 14 JD MPs revolted against Mr. Prasad lining up behind socialist stalwart George Fernandes - christening themselves JD (George).
While Fernandes was the face of the group, Mr. Kumar was the key creator. On 19 October 1994, this group renamed itself Samata Party with a ringing call - ‘Bihar Bachao’ (Save Bihar) from Mr. Prasad’s clutches. With this began Mr. Kumar’s 21-year-long feud with Mr. Prasad. His rebellion did not bear immediate fruit. In 1995, in the Bihar Assembly election, the newly formed Samata Party bit the dust with just seven seats
Nitish Kumar allies with BJP
It was sometime after this ignominious defeat that Mr. Kumar met then President of BJP L.K. Advani and in no time, an alliance was cemented on the foundation of anti-Lalu Prasad sentiment. While Mr. Kumar is accused of being an opportunist, it is a fact that his association with the BJP, in terms of number of years, exceeds any other political relationship. In all these years, the BJP willingly assisted him on his way to 1 Aney Marg, the Chief Minister’s residence in Patna.
The 2000 Assembly election in Bihar is an instructive example. Lalu Prasad, in 1997, after the unravelling of the fodder scam—formed his own party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) parting ways with JD. He was on a sticky wicket and the Opposition hoped that Mr. Yadav could be defeated. But they squabbled and squandered away the chance. Mr. Kumar, whose Samata Party had allied with his former socialist colleagues Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav’s JD (U) just months before the general elections, parted ways ahead of the Assembly election.
The results reflected their differences. The BJP got 67 seats, Samata Party 32, and JD(U) 22. The NDA in total received 122 seats while RJD despite the fodder scam investigations got 124. With the BJP-led NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Centre, despite not having numbers, the NDA staked a claim and anointed Mr. Kumar for the first time as Chief Minister. He lasted seven days in the post. The BJP often argues that even when they had the larger share of the electoral pie they had supported Mr. Kumar’s candidature as Chief Minister.
After the Gujarat riots in 2002, many allies quit the Vajpayee government, but Mr. Kumar was not one of them. He did not speak out against then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi but in 2005, he put his foot down and did not allow Mr. Modi to campaign for the Bihar Assembly elections. Though he did not openly repudiate Mr. Modi, he did not hide his revulsion too.
Nitish walks out of partnership with BJP
Therefore it was not a coincidence when in June 2013, just a week after Mr. Modi was named chief of BJP’s 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, Nitish walked out of the 17-year-old political partnership with the BJP. The given reason was the need to uphold “secularism”. But insiders claim that Mr. Kumar who has always nursed an ambition to occupy the national stage was rattled by Mr. Modi’s growing popularity which meant that the opportunity for him to be NDA’s Prime Ministerial candidate faded. The JD(U) paid the price for this, scoring only two seats in 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Two years later, ahead of the November 2015 Bihar Assembly elections, he was back with arch nemesis Mr. Prasad, simultaneously nursing an ambition to be the face of anti-BJP front. But when Congress refused to play ball and concede the position of helming the Opposition, the partnership with RJD started to look less than pleasant. In July 2017 publicly accusing his deputy and Mr. Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav of corruption, Mr. Kumar walked out of the much-feted ‘Mahagatbandhan’ and back to the BJP.