Weak at the top: On Nitish Kumar

Nitish Kumar returns as Bihar CM much weakened, and at the mercy of a stronger BJP

November 12, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:15 am IST

The NDA has won a slender victory in Bihar , with the BJP displacing the JD(U) as the bigger party within it. The HAM(S) and VIP, with four seats each, are both critical for the alliance to sustain its margin of three seats in the 243-strong Assembly . Nitish Kumar is set for a fourth straight term as Chief Minister, this time at the mercy of the BJP . His initial success in Bihar politics came from his ability to aggregate disparate communities on a promise of enhanced social justice and good governance. Diminished as he is, the fact that he survived is no mean feat, considering the popular anger against him that was unmistakable throughout the campaign. He faced the electorate with a battered image, and a partner that made its own plan and a partner’s partner who queered the pitch for him. In the end, the victory of the NDA is considerably an outcome of the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the State and the BJP’s election engineering. This victory flips the equation between Mr. Modi and Mr. Kumar. This brings a new dynamic to the alliance, and consequently governance in Bihar. As the BJP waits for the opportune time to occupy the top post, it will want to keep Mr. Kumar on a tight leash. Therein lies the paradox of this victory for Mr. Kumar. He was a trailblazer in Bihar 20 years ago when he dictated terms to the BJP, but has now been reduced to the status of a subordinate ally. He may not easily reconcile to the new situation and is likely to formulate a strategy to deal with the BJP.

Devoid of a strong governance agenda, the BJP campaign boasted about depriving Kashmir of its special status and the ongoing construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya . The BJP’s surge in Bihar is clearly indicative of the continuing resonance of its Hindutva agenda. It is also a demonstration of its election management, as it came on top even as one of its allies at the Centre, the LJP, successfully undermined another, the JD(U) . As the BJP pursues its next plan to capture power in Bihar, the State will witness new social realignments. The Grand Alliance of the RJD, Congress and the Left parties put up a spirited fight but they could not match the BJP in terms of resources and popularity. The consolation for the RJD is that it is the single largest party even in defeat and its leader Tejashwi Yadav who began as an unsure leader emerged as an authoritative one by the end of this election. But that is no guarantee of a path to power in Bihar. Mr. Yadav’s popularity still does not appear wide spectrum. The outcome will also force a renegotiation of the terms of engagement among anti-BJP parties and the role of the Congress. Also noteworthy is the performance of CPI-ML-L and other Left parties that boosted the alliance and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen that spoiled its plans. That Prime Minister Modi can still win State elections is an indication that in terms of ideology, organisation and leadership, a viable alternative to the BJP is still some distance away.

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