Once a potential rival to Modi, why Nitish now strives to keep his CMship intact

Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi, Bihar, Chief Minister, JD(U), alliance
The monetary benefits that Nitish Kumar continues to shower on his ministers and lawmakers comes despite the fact that many hail from affluent families. Photo: PTI.

The shift has been unpredictably very fast. The man who was once widely perceived as a potential challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi now appears to be battling hard for survival with very few options left.

Well, that sums up the fate of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who faces an uncertain future for his highly “unpredictable nature”. Although Nitish is known as a “no-nonsense” politician, the problem with him is that he has been found switching sides all too frequently. But what’s even more alarming is his habit of dumping allies and forming government with parties which were given the mandate to sit in the opposition.

Beginning of the tempest

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But, this time he seems have been got caught in his own trap. While the BJP, Nitish’s NDA ally in Bihar, is facing severe pressures from within to project its own chief ministerial candidate for 2020 Bihar Assembly elections, the main opposition RJD has shut the door on him. This has left Nitish in a critical situation as his party, the JD (U), doesn’t have enough support base to form government on its own. Past records too have proved the JD (U) has performed better only when it had fought the elections in alliance—either with the BJP or the RJD. The lone option left for Nitish right now is to ally with the Congress but it doesn’t have the strength to vote him back to power.

Trouble started for Nitish earlier this month when a section of BJP leaders pitched firebrand Union minister Giriraj Singh as the NDA’s chief ministerial candidate and urged the central BJP leadership to respect their demand. Hardly had the matter settled down when a senior BJP leader and former Union minister Sanjay Paswan suggested the chief minister to vacate the throne for the BJP and shift to national politics.

Also read: With a friend like BJP pressing for NRC, Nitish doesn’t need enemies

“We have stood by Nitish Kumar for three consecutive terms and now it is time, he reciprocates the same by giving BJP a chance in the Bihar Assembly polls scheduled next year,” remarked Paswan, kicking up a tempest in the state politics.

The situation took a new turn with senior BJP leader and deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi throwing his full weight behind the chief minister saying “Nitish Kumar is Captain of the NDA and will remain so during the 2020 Bihar Assembly polls”. But very strangely, Modi has been left alone in the matter with just none from the BJP endorsing his stand. Instead, most of the party leaders have been found supporting the demand of Paswan. As such, the BJP which got a huge mandate in the national elections just doesn’t want to be a “pillion rider” anymore, confided sources.

 Perils of over ambitions 

What is further worrying for Nitish is that the RJD too has slammed its door on him this time, saying he can’t be trusted anymore. “There is just no question of entering into alliance with Nitish Kumar. He is not reliable and can’t be trusted. He ditched the BJP, he ditched us,” RJD leader and Bihar opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav said. He alleged the chief minister doesn’t have any ideology. “The only ideology Nitish Kumar does have is how to save his throne,” he alleged.

Political experts said Nitish himself is responsible for the predicament. “Nitish Kumar has suffered serious credibility crisis over the past few years and hence no party looks to rely on him,” explained political commentator Sachindra Narayan. He says the masses gave Nitish a huge mandate in 2010 when he was heading the NDA, but he dumped the BJP to form government with the Opposition. He committed the same blunder again after getting a huge mandate in 2015 when he headed the three-party Grand Alliance. “Barely two years after winning elections, he broke alliance with the RJD and formed his government with the BJP against which he had fought elections,” Narayan said.

Also read: No end to corruption in Bihar, even CM Nitish Kumar looks helpless 

Others say over-ambitiousness of Nitish has spoiled his political career. “You can see Nitish remains only the chief minister even after switching sides so quickly. So where has he gained?” asked another political expert wishing not to be quoted.

“Had he been with the opposition, he would have been the prime ministerial candidate today, but he acted very fast and switched over to the BJP camp,” said professor DM Diwakar, another political expert.

Fall from grace 

Strangely, things have never been smooth for the chief minister since he returned to the BJP camp in July 2017, setting aside his prime ministerial ambition. Perhaps he wanted to enjoy power both in Bihar and New Delhi but this dream has proved to be a mirage so far.

Nitish faced the first major setbacks when his demands for granting special category status to Bihar and central status to Patna University were rejected outright. The biggest loss of face came when his party, the JD(U), was not only denied representation in the Modi government during its cabinet expansion in September 2017—a little over a month after Nitish had returned to the BJP camp—but was also not extended invitation to attend the swearing-in ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Also read: Probe against RSS could be last straw that may break Nitish’s ties with NDA

What added insult to the injury was when Nitish’s party was not given adequate representation in the Modi cabinet 2.0, prompting him to announce that his party would not join the government in the future. But, the BJP didn’t look any bothered about his declaration. The last hope of the JD (U) apparently was that there would be no problem for the BJP in declaring Nitish as the NDA’s chief ministerial face for the next year’s Assembly polls but, the ongoing developments seems to be saying otherwise.

The general argument in the BJP camp is why should Nitish be allowed to be the CM when he has lost his own “charisma” and now seeks votes in the name of PM Modi and his achievements. What also has pitted the BJP against the JD (U) is the latter’s constant opposition to the its agenda – banning triple talaq, revocation of Article 370 which granted special status to J&K, implementation of National Register of Citizens in Assam and construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya despite being in the NDA being a few to name.

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