Nitish Kumar has done it again — a volte-face. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and now the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav, used to call the Janata Dal (U) chief, paltu chacha — ‘uncle turnaround’. In his latest U-turn, Mr. Kumar has joined hands with Mr. Yadav, five years after they parted ways, and turned the tables on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the process. According to the JD(U), the BJP was scheming to split it and sabotage Mr. Kumar’s government from the inside. The BJP has dismissed this allegation, pointing out that it could not have formed a government even if the JD(U) were to split. Mr. Kumar has won this round in the game of smoke and mirrors that he has had with the BJP, and earned himself a pat on the back from the anti-BJP camp. But his cleverness and manoeuvring skills may not be lauded by the people of Bihar whose sights might be more fixated on his political trapeze act — after being with the BJP for long, he fought the 2015 Assembly elections with the RJD, and split with it in 2017 to return to the BJP’s embrace. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, but Mr. Kumar has stretched the limits of ideological infidelity. He had accused the RJD of corruption in defence of his split with it in 2017. His explanation for walking out of the alliance with the BJP that won the election in 2020 is unlikely to convince people.
Twice in five years, Mr. Kumar changed partners, both the times trampling over the mandate entrusted to him by the people of Bihar. Those in the Opposition camp who see this blatant opportunism as hope of an anti-BJP politics ahead of 2024 are clutching at straws. At the moment, all that the new alliance of JD(U) and RJD along with the Congress and the Left parties achieves is their survival in the immediate term. The road to 2024 and beyond is a long one from here, and there is little that is predictable about Mr. Kumar en route. A lot will depend on how supporters of the individual partners of the alliance respond to this abrupt realignment, and how the JD(U) and the RJD respond to the signals from below. Though the BJP has suffered a setback, a new window has opened for it in Bihar, as the sole claimant of all anti-incumbency votes. Central investigative agencies could get active against key figures in the new ruling coalition, but a more reasonable thing for the BJP to do is to be more respectful of its partners and opponents. As the Shiv Sena and the JD(U) will affirm, the BJP as a friend is more dangerous than the BJP as an enemy. The BJP seems intent on expanding its base at the expense of friends and foes alike. While this is good as a long-term strategy, it runs the risk of undermining established power equations and coalition governments in the near term. And in politics, as in other aspects of life, there is no long-term future if one is unable to survive in the short term.