Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has left the BJP in the lurch in Bihar by getting out of the ruling NDA alliance and opting to partner with the well-grounded RJD, currently led by Lalu Prasad Yadva’s younger son Tejashwi Yadav. In the battle for political supremacy between the two ‘Chanakyas’, Amit Shah has been made to bite dust by Nitish Kumar. He has forced Shah to abort mission Operation Lotus, an endeavour to remove him from power and finish yet another regional party, this time JD(U), just the way Shiv Sena was sidelined in Maharashtra.
It seems that it was the BJP’s expansionist tendency that led Nitish Kumar to quit the NDA on a day the country was celebrating the Quit India day. Nitish might not have resorted to this extreme move if Modi and Shah had not conspired to insult him, present him in a poor light through party colleagues and leaders and try to pull down his government.
Before handing his resignation to Bihar Governor Fagu Chauhan, Nitish had narrated the insult and humiliation that was inflicted on him by the Modi-Shah duo. He told his party legislators and MPs, at a meeting he convened at his official residence, that he had been driven against the wall by the BJP which tried to weaken the JD(U), first by buttressing Chirag Paswan’s rebellion and later through the party’s former national president RCP Singh.
The exercise to weed out former Union minister R C Prasad Singh from the party was not merely a punitive action against him. Instead, it had a wider implication, being a strong message for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to keep away from Bihar. Nitish had come to know that Modi and Shah have hatched a plot to finish his political career. They were simply waiting for the right time. Shah was following his Maharashtra script. But even before it could acquire a concrete shape, Nitish, the astute politician, torpedoed it.
It is an open secret that relations between both Modi and Nitish have been worsening for quite some time in the wake of disagreements over several issues including the caste census, population control and the ‘Agnipath’ defence recruitment scheme.
Of late, BJP legislators had made it a habit to question the decisions and moves made by Nitish Kumar and even accuse him of all kinds of wrongdoing. The worst has been the case of Assembly Speaker, who did not enjoy a good working relationship with Nitish. In fact, Nitish had asked Modi and Shah to replace him with some other leader.
Though Modi and Shah in their public postures appeared to be quite friendly to Nitish, the fact is that they were instigating their party leaders to demean him. It is not that Monday’s development was unexpected. In fact, for the last six months, they were engaged in a war of wits. It was a statement made by party president J P Nadda on July 31 that apparently compelled Nitish to finally decide to chart his own path. Nadda had claimed that only the BJP would survive and all other parties — including regional parties — would perish in the country. This was taken as a warning by JD(U).
Those who know Nadda and are aware of his style of functioning assert that he was simply delivering a dialogue tutored to him by Shah. Some people nursed the feeling that Nadda was responsible for exacerbation of the crisis, but this was not the case.
Moreover, despite claims to the contrary, the BJP’s top leadership had no idea that Nitish would react in this manner. Once Shah realised that the situation was slipping out of his grip, he reportedly rang up Nitish on Sunday night to assuage his hurt feeling. But it was too late. Nitish was ready to move ahead.
Nitish’s decision must not be seen merely as a setback for the saffron party in Bihar. It has wider implication across the country. The tweets and responses from leaders of opposition parties make it abundantly clear that this incident has enthused them to take on the saffron brigade head on. Such a political change in Bihar would invariably energise those opposition leaders who had lost hope and presumed that the electoral dynamics for the big battle in 2024 was beyond their reach with the perceived absence of a visible alternative to the domineering Modi. Nitish reviving and restructuring the Mahagathbandhan, a forum of the RJD, Congress, Left and some other democratic organisations would repudiate BJP’s move to identify itself with the aspirations of the Dalits and OBCs. The mass response and approval of Nitish parting ways with the BJP clearly underlined that the Dalit and OBC support base has started consolidating in favour of Mahagathbandhan.
BJP had conspired to damage the JD(U) by using Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan, who fielded candidates against all JD(U) contestants in the state elections in 2020. This reduced Kumar’s party tally to 43 and weakened his position in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The installation of the new Mahagathbandhan government headed by Nitish, with Tejashwi Yadav as Deputy CM, would also witness resurrection of the politics of social justice. Modi and Shah are petrified of the spectre of losing this newfound support base, which had rallied behind the BJP during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Political experts hold the view that Nitish Kumar’s decision to return to the secular fold is a big boost for it as the JDU, RJD, Congress, CPI-ML, SP and other opposition parties constitute a major chunk of vote bank in Bihar. Bihar sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha and played a key role, along with Uttar Pradesh, in making Modi the Prime Minister in 2014 and 2019. With BJP already losing ground in UP, as manifest in the Assembly elections, it may well have to bow out of the boxing ring in Bihar.