The BJP has stepped up its efforts to check the emergence of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as a ‘formidable’ national leader by denting his image as much as possible.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s scheduled visit to Jai Prakash Narayan’s birthplace — Sitab Diara in Bihar`s Saran district — on October 11, on the occasion of his birth anniversary, is seen through the prism of this post-split political optics.
“When Shah will attack Nitish during JP’s birth anniversary celebrations for joining hands with the same Congress against which the veteran socialist leader had fought, his audience will not be from Bihar only but from the entire country. The BJP is hopeful of denting Nitish’s image nationally through such means,” remarked a political analyst on the condition of anonymity.
When Nitish’s JD(U) and late Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP were allied with the BJP, the NDA had routed the RJD and its allies in Bihar by winning 39 out of 40 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. But now, the odds are stacked against the NDA with the exit of the JD(U).
Challenge before BJP
The biggest challenge before the BJP is that there is no party leader from Bihar matching the stature of Nitish. The party has to solely depend on the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as that of Shah, also called BJP’s Chanakya, for bolstering its electoral chances in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Wary of the fact that anti-incumbency — at least to some extent — may also work against it in the 2024 election, the BJP cannot take Nitish lightly as he possesses the potential of emerging as a challenger to Modi with the backing of other opposition parties, commented political analyst Indrajit Singh.
The fall of the NDA government in Bihar also reflects poorly on the BJP`s exalted position of being the world’s largest party with huge money power, as the power virtually slipped away from it under its nose. The political acumen of Shah also came under the scanner as Nitish snapped ties within 10 days of his visit to the state on July 31. Nitish had walked away from the NDA for the second time on August 9, the day Quit India Movement was launched.
Elaborating further on the BJP’s limitations in Bihar, political observer Pravin Bagi said: “Even when the BJP was in power in Bihar, it could not build its image and justify its claim of being a party with a difference.”
BJP ministers were equally corrupt or even more corrupt than their JD(U) counterparts during NDA rule in the state, added Bagi.
He said Shah will also try to compensate for the electoral losses the party had suffered in the 2015 Bihar assembly election when the Grand Alliance had formed the government with a thumping majority after Nitish had snapped ties with BJP for the first time in 2013. The BJP may like to take LJP (Ram Vilas) chief and MP Chirag Paswan and also VIP`s Mukesh Sahni on board before entering the 2024 Lok Sabha election, he added.
Grand Alliance report card
A large section of the society perceived the formation of a new Grand Alliance government in the state as part of an agreement between two senior-most leaders of the state, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Nitish. While Lalu wanted the post of CM for his son Tejashwi Yadav, presently the state deputy chief minister, Nitish craved for his (Lalu) support for playing a major role in national politics.
The bonhomie between Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav at their swearing in ceremony was remarkable, suggesting that they were already on the mark in executing the plan, prepared ahead of formation of the RJD-led Grand Alliance government.
After his swearing in as CM for the eighth time this August, Nitish even sought to get a head start on his national ambition after his sharp attacks on Prime Minister Modi resonated across the opposition camp. Later, he also visited New Delhi to meet opposition leaders and also once with Lalu to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi. But, of late, he is stuck in various state issues.
Bagi said the resignations of two RJD ministers, Kartikeya Singh and Sudhakar Singh, amply proved that point. Kartikeya is considered close to the former RJD MLA and muscleman Anant Singh, who, in turn, is known for his close proximity with the RJD’s top leadership. Kartikeya was ousted from the state cabinet after a court issued an arrest warrant against him in a kidnapping case. Still Kartikeya has to go with RJD leadership preferring to look the other way.
On the other hand, Sudhakar is the son of state RJD president Jagdanand Singh, a close confidant of party supremo Lalu Prasad. RJD’s top leadership did not even keep Jagdanand in the loop when his son was asked to resign by Tejashwi, added Bagi.
Nitish was annoyed with Sudhakar for raising the issue of alleged rampant corruption in the agriculture department, of which he was the minister, and also for criticising the state’s roadmap for the agriculture sector. He was also demanding restoration of the ‘Mandi’ system for procurement of farmers’ produce in the state.
BJP grabs at opportunity
As Lalu-Tejashwi and Nitish work in tandem to ensure that the Grand Alliance government completes its term, BJP is trying to grab all opportunities to embarrass Nitish.
The Patna High Court recently termed the current reservation of seats for OBCs and EBCs in urban local bodies’ polls “illegal”. The BJP has been trying to score some brownie points with that.
The High Court also ruled that the Bihar government had “failed” to observe the “triple test” criteria laid down by the Supreme Court in 2021 for reserving seats for OBCs and EBCs in the polls.
Retaliating after the BJP’s offensive against him following the High Court’s ruling, Nitish, while expressing his surprise over deferment of polls, said: “In Bihar, reservation in urban local bodies polls has been in practice since 1978 and reservation quota for EBCs was also added to it in 2006. Reservation for EBCs was given with the nod of BJP.”
The CM said: “Modi (former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi) was holding the charge of the department responsible for the issues related to urban local bodies.”
The Bihar government has moved the Supreme Court against the HC order.
Change of guard?
There is a growing perception that the RJD is exerting pressure on Nitish to relinquish his post for Tejashwi and move to national politics, though Nitish and Tejashwi do not seem to be in any haste on this count.
Bihar RJD president Singh Jagdanand Singh’s comment that Tejashwi would be elevated to the post of CM in 2023 as Nitish would move to national politics has apparently unnerved not only Nitish and Tejashwi but also smaller parties, particularly Left parties. The CPI(ML) was quick to demand a coordination committee comprising seven allies of the Grand Alliance to sort out any issue in closed-door meetings.
Later, Jagdanand amended his statement, claiming there is no time frame for the change of guard. But his statement created the impression that the RJD does want it to happen soon. Even as Tejashwi claimed he is not in a hurry for the CM post, Jagdanand also asked party spokespersons not to make any comment over this matter.
Since both RJD and JD(U) are moving along smoothly, the issue of change of guard in Bihar is not likely to cast any shadow over the Grand Alliance government in the state. Even though Lalu may like to see his son become the chief minister soon, it is also true that Tejashwi is being groomed as a mature minister and administrator under the guidance of Nitish, a fact that even Lalu must be acknowledging, remarked a political observer.