Nitish Kumar does a U-turn, what next for Bihar?

Last Updated: Thu, Jul 27, 2017 18:09 hrs
In this handout photograph by PIB Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with Nitish Kumar during a meeting in New Delhi in 2015.

With escalating tensions among the ‘grand alliance’ in Bihar, Nitish Kumar took the step that some may have seen coming; he resigned as the Chief Minister on Wednesday. He went a step further and without hesitation accepted the support of the BJP and on Thursday was sworn in as Chief Minister for the sixth time. BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi will be his deputy. This step could have bearing on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and make it difficult for opposition unity to stop the BJP in a key battleground state.

The Prime Minister welcomed the decision;

While Lalu Prasad Yadav portrayed him as opportunistic and weak;

There is history between Nitish Kumar and the BJP. He broke away from the BJP in 2013 in a stunning and surprising turn of events at the time. He then joined forces with the RJD and Lalu Prasad Yadav; putting their differences aside. However, in light of recent events, the ‘grand alliance’ as it was termed, along with the Congress, did not last long.

Earlier this month, the grand alliance was on shaky ground. The first visible cracks appeared when Nitish Kumar broke rank and supported the BJP’s nominee and eventual President Ram Nath Kovind. He also criticized the Congress for not coming up with a worthy alternative. Then there were the raids by the CBI on Lalu Prasad Yadav and his son Tejashwi Yadav. With explanations and the back and forth between the two factions, Nitish finally pulled the plug on the alliance on Wednesday.

In an obvious U-turn, Prashant Jha for the Hindustan Times writes on why Nitish took the decision he did –

“Nitish could see that in Bihar, Lalu was beginning to become a liability - and at the national level, the opposition alliance showed no signs of taking off. He had always been clear that Congress would have to play a key role in this grand alliance. But its leadership was disappointing.”

He writes on how Nitish might have been paving the way for the BJP –

“Nitish, seeing this political climate, had begun, slowly, opening the doors for the BJP. His support for demonetization, silence on Yogi Adityanath’s appointment or breaking ranks with the rest to support Ram Nath Kovind constituted a pattern.”

Seemingly left high and dry are the Congress and Nitish’s former allies Lalu Prasad Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav. The elder Yadav hit out at the Chief Minister saying he backstabbed and cheated the people of Bihar. He said in part, “But I’ll go to Supreme Court and appeal that as the largest single party, the RJD should have been invited first to form a government. His son and now former deputy Chief Minister echoed the sentiments calling the entire episode ‘low level vindictive & opportunistic politics’.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi told reporters that Nitish Kumar is unprincipled and an opportunist. A last ditched effort by Rahul to save the alliance did not work out after a meeting with Nitish last Saturday. The Congress expressed disappointment at the decision and the events that unfolded.

For the Indian Express, Jyoti Malhotra writes on how this affects the BJP in general and PM Modi in particular –

“For Modi and the BJP, this is an incredible victory… The map of India has become even more saffron with this blow. Only a few states stand in the way of the BJP’s triumphal run across the country.”

“The prime minister has clearly learnt his lessons well and read deeply from the essence of Chanakyaniti – employ all the stratagems to win, both carrot and stick, instigation and betrayal.”

The piece points out how Modi waited for his turn and played his hand; given some of the past comments Nitish has made towards Modi –

“Narendra Modi bided his time. Nitish Kumar, in fact, has not been able to resist being cut down to size by the prime minister. Perhaps Nitish Kumar’s overweening ambition, coupled with a sense of being completely alone, got the better of him — which is why he dumped the RJD and returned to the rising star.”

It seems quite clear that Nitish Kumar has kick-started the BJP’s political train towards 2019. The main point of governance of Nitish Kumar was “anti corruption”, something Modi himself expresses in rallies. This decision by Nitish has helped the BJP’s anti corruption campaign against the opposition.

It is also clear that personal ambition played a role as JD(U) spokesperson K.C. Tyagi in an interview to The Wire three weeks ago said that the party would not go back to working or aligning with the BJP. In the interview he said in part, “We were with Vajpayee’s NDA only because the alliance had kept out contentious issues like building Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Uniform Civil Code and abrogation of Article 370 out of the agenda. The present BJP, with a majority at Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, is pursuing these very aggressively. So purely on ideological principles we will never go with BJP”.

In a column for the Times of India, Jug Suraiya writes on how Nitish could’ve taken a different approach –

“By allowing the hunger for power to overcome dedication to ideological and ethical principles shows that, for all his credentials of probity and honesty, Nitish is no better, or worse, than any other neta.”

“It would have been more principled of Nitish to dissolve his government and seek a fresh mandate from the electorate rather than hang on to office with the help of those who, till now, were his political foes.”

While Nitish is the Chief Minister, this is a good sign and a win for the BJP with respect to 2019. It is a definite political gamble; it remains to be seen how much will Nitish Kumar benefit. While Lalu and the Congress are left to pick up the pieces, it is more important and pertinent than ever that the opposition come up with a sure fire strategy for this crucial state as the BJP now holds the right cards.

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