As Nitish slips, BJP’s win lies in becoming senior NDA ally in Bihar

National parties often use tactics to become the senior partner by weakening stronger regional allies

Nitish and Modi
Nitish Kumar will take oath as Bihar chief minister on Monday (November 16). He is likely to have two deputies from the BJP.

Nitish Kumar’s assertion at a campaign rally that 2020 was his last election provided enough ammunition to the Opposition to claim a final showdown to the veteran’s 15-year rule, which was fuelled further post elections by exit polls predicting his exit and a Mahagathbandhan government helmed by Tejashwi Yadav.

Interestingly, even KC Tyagi, spokesperson of the JD(U) which is contesting the election in alliance with BJP, conceded defeat in an interview to a news channel just after the counting had begun at 8 am on Tuesday, citing the challenges posed by the pandemic and dismissing any Tejashwi factor.

In the end, the NDA won the elections, with the BJP bagging 74 seats and the JD(U) 43. The smaller allies, Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and Vikassheel Insaan Party, won four seats each, taking the total tally of the alliance to 125, past the 122 required for a majority in the 243-member Assembly. In the opposition, the LJP won one seat and Mahagathbandhan ended up winning 110.

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Though the victory triggered celebrations in the Janata Dal (United), the chief minister would certainly not be happy with a dip in the number of seats his party won. How does that matter? That has everything to do with the power dynamics that had glued Nitish to his seat for the last 15 years.

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The JD(U)’s win in 43 of the total 115 seats it contested is a major dip from the 2015 election, which it had fought as part of the Mahagathbandhan. In 2015, the party had secured 71 out of the 101 seats it had contested.

Winning the election, the RJD+JD(U) combine had formed government in 2015 with Tejashwi becoming the deputy to Nitish. This despite the fact that RJD was the senior ally in this arrangement. In 2017, friction between the two parties and pressure due to corruption charges against Tejashwi led Nitish to break up with RJD and form a new government in alliance with the BJP. With 53 seats they had won in 2015, BJP was the junior ally to JD(U) in this arrangement.

Now, though the BJP has projected Nitish Kumar as the face of NDA, JD(U)’s performance will certainly trigger uneasiness. With seats fewer than the BJP, to stick to the top post, Nitish would have to swallow the BJP’s generosity by abandoning his pride and thrive at the saffron party’s mercy. This would again be like 2015, when a senior ally allowed a junior ally leader to take the top post. This may not go down well with the leaders and result in frequent exchange of words and fears of rift in the alliance, like 2015.

But the biggest winner here would be the BJP, which will win on multiple fronts at once. Having won more seats than the JD(U), it will clearly enjoy an upper hand over Nitish Kumar. Besides, this would act as a painkiller for the losses the saffron camp suffered in the last few elections — in Maharashtra, Delhi, and Jharkhand.

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Being the senior ally, whether or not the BJP will keep its promise of having Nitish as its chief minister depends on the post-poll churns that are soon about to kick in with senior leaders chalking out a possible working chemistry.

But, as we revisit history, the Maharashtra episode would remind us of an alleged betrayal on the CM-candidate front. Though national parties often use tactics to become the dominant partner by weakening stronger regional allies, attempts that had resulted in breakups of BJP with Shiv Sena and Akali Dal in the past, the saffron party would be cautious enough with its actions this time. With major Assembly elections lined up for next year, it cannot afford to lose another ally this year.

Meanwhile, in the Opposition camp, Tejashwi Yadav has to wait for another five years and work harder to white-wash the “jungle raj” image of the party and the Congress should introspect what went wrong that the results were so disastrous. It may be noted that the Left parties, part of the Tejashwi-led alliance, have put up an impressive performance.

The dark horse in this Bihar race that helped the BJP was the Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party. Earlier an NDA ally, Chirag went for the elections alone this time, riding on a pro-BJP and anti-JD(U) stance. He had even declared BJP and LJP would form government in Bihar, though his party was not even projected to cross single-digit.

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Chirag’s move was widely seen as BJP’s ploy to cut Nitish to size and emerge as the senior ally in the pact. If so, it certainly seems like a successful plan now. Like his father former Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, whose recent death was seen as a factor that would swing votes in his favour, Chirag was expected to play it all for an Union ministry rather than aiming for the state’s throne.

However, with just one seat, Chirag’s big talks on government-forming now seem to be in vain. Taking upon himself the challenge against battle-scarred Nitish, Chirag is being seen as the biggest loser though he have succeeded in cutting votes for the JD(U).

But, safely, one party that has no reasons right now to be disappointed would be the BJP, even though it didn’t become the single largest party in Bihar. Its biggest victory was in  becoming the senior ally to Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) that would change the Bihar equation for the BJP forever.

Bihar Analysis | Chirag lives up to his promise to ‘hurt’ Nitish’s prospects

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