Nitish joins hands with BJP: Bihar’s political scenario

The shift in Bihar — on Mahagathbandhan break-up

Nitish Kumar’s impending split from the Mahagathbandhan, or Grand Alliance, in Bihar had been the subject of speculation for months so that when it came, the only surprise was the swiftness and finality of the separation from Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal — and of his embrace of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The sequence of events suggests that Mr. Kumar had secured the new alliance and his continuation as Chief Minister before he resigned. This is why the proffered reason for his resignation — the allegations of corruption against his Deputy Chief Minister and Mr. Prasad’s son, Tejashwi Yadav — lacked conviction. Mr. Kumar’s record of shifting fast and loose between allies is a story of political expediency and it is not entirely clear what political compulsion or personal ambition the latest move was born of. If it was naïve to believe that in 2013 he led the Janata Dal (United) away from the BJP, with which he led a coalition government in Bihar, because of a sudden aversion to prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and communalism, then it is just as ingenuous to think that his recent move is a result of a principled fight against corruption. Surely, Mr. Kumar knew he had teamed up with a party led by a man convicted for corruption in the fodder scam when he joined hands with Mr. Prasad to fight the 2015 Bihar Assembly election? The record shows that Mr. Kumar’s rallying cry changes depending on which political party he chooses to be up against.

As Mr. Kumar inched closer to the BJP, praising demonetisation, supporting its presidential candidate and even colouring a lotus at a public function, the war on corruption became his overriding theme once again. While it is likely he will steer the JD(U) on this political realignment in the days to come, a question mark remains on how long the new arrangement will last. In the BJP’s take-no-prisoners project to expand its electoral footprint, a multi-cornered contest in Bihar, on the lines of the last Lok Sabha election, could be the best-case scenario for the party in 2019. Will it have any use for the JD(U) then? As for Mr. Kumar, he has since 2005 built a constituency made up of vulnerable sub-sections of the electorate: women and the more backward among the Other Backward Classes, Dalits (Mahadalits), and Muslims (Pasmanda Muslims). These are voters he has sought to tie in to the development narrative with his various allies and forge winning coalitions. Whether this tactic has run its course will be known at the next election, mid-term or otherwise. The gains to the JD(U) from the patch-up are not immediately evident, if indeed Mr. Kumar sees something more durable than a settling of scores with Mr. Prasad. What is without doubt is that opposition unity has suffered a setback. The Mahagathbandhan was perceived as the template for taking on the BJP nationally — what’s more, there were many people who hoped, and once again naïvely, that Mr. Kumar would be at the heart of it.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 1:18:00 AM |

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