The return of Nitish

With Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar being sworn in Chief Minister of Bihar, a phase of political uncertainty has come to an end in the State. But his return to power also kicks off another phase of political realignment in the run-up to State Assembly elections due before October. The political churn is likely to be more intense than what has just been witnessed, and that ended with the resignation of Jitan Ram Manjhi who had earlier refused to step down in favour of Mr. Kumar, who had won the 2010 popular mandate. Mr. Manjhi had hoped for more active support from the Bharatiya Janata Party to split the JD (U), without which he could not have sustained his claim to remain in power. But the BJP limited its support to merely pledging the votes of its own MLAs to him.

The three strands in the drama that just concluded, namely Mr. Manjhi’s defiance of his one-time mentor Mr. Kumar, the BJP’s eagerness to goad Mr. Manjhi on, and Mr. Kumar’s insistence on reclaiming the chair he had abdicated in 2014 ostensibly as a matter of principle, hold out the factors that will play out in the coming weeks. Mr. Manjhi, opportunistic as he was, also represents the ambition of the Dalits, who have not yet emerged as a class in themselves in Bihar, unlike in the neighbouring State of Uttar Pradesh. If the appointment of Mr. Manjhi, a Mahadalit, as Chief Minister was in furtherance of Mr. Nitish Kumar’s politics at the time, his rebellion was an inevitable outcome of the same politics. The BJP finds an opportunity here, as the empowered Dalits may not play second fiddle to backward caste leaders and may look for greener pastures. The BJP will, therefore, try to attract Dalits, as it successfully did in Maharashtra and Haryana in Assembly elections in 2014. Mr. Manjhi’s role in the BJP’s scheme of reaching out to Dalits is yet to evolve, but his outbursts against Mr. Kumar will certainly help the BJP’s Hindutva politics. The BJP, which was a junior partner to the JD (U) in Bihar until the 2010 Assembly elections, will lead an alliance of smaller parties this year and will have more than a hundred Assembly seats to offer to aspirants. That makes Mr. Kumar’s task of keeping together his flock, comprising backwards, Dalits and Muslims, an uphill task. By allying with Mr. Lalu Prasad, Mr. Kumar has laid the foundation for building a social coalition of the backwards, which is an attempt to revive Mandal politics with the support of Muslims, as a bulwark against the BJP’s Hinduvta push. It is clear that Bihar in the coming weeks will witness an intense battle between Hindutva and Mandal.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 7:23:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-return-of-nitish/article6922441.ece

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