In the politics of this country where caste is a prime poll factor, Nitish Kumar, despite coming from a numerically small caste with not much muscle, is at the helm of politics in the state of Bihar for last two decades. During all this time, he required support from other parties to get majority in the state assembly, and one or the other of the two bigger parties in the state - RJD and BJP - have been happy to support him and be part of his governments. Such prominence he has in the state politics that even his strong critics and political opponents agree that he is the inevitable power center of Bihar politics.
He is probably the only leader in the country who swifts complete 180 degrees in the political space but continues to retain the confidence of the people of his state. In last more than two decades, he has done it so many times that the leaders across parties tag him as ‘PaltuRam’ of the Indian politics. But this is also true that the same leaders are always so keen and happy to welcome him on their side whenever he decides to do so.
One obvious question arises – why he does so? And while he does so, how he has been able to retain the confidence of the people of the state?
In last two decades, Nitish Kumar has built and maintained image of an able administrator and of a leader with strong secular credentials. While administrating the Bihar government, he has never comprised on either of the two. This is despite of being with the right-wing party and being with the party whose top leader(s) have been convicted and are still being trailed for serious corruption charges and disproportionate assets charges.
During 1993-97, when Nitish had changed side for the first time, he had broken out of Janta Dal on the issue of lawlessness in Bihar to form Samta Party in 1993-94 and had later joined hands with the other pole of Bihar politics – BJP in 1997. BJP which at that time was not able to go beyond a level in Bihar politics had warmly welcomed Nitish Kumar. Along with the BJP, he was able to drive Lalu Prasad and the RJD out of power in Bihar. In 2000, he became chief minister for the first time. Later in 2005, the JDU (In 2003 Samta Party was merged with Sharad Yadav led JDU)- BJP alliance swept the state election and from then he continued to lead the coalition government till June 2013 when he had broken ties with the BJP because the later had declared the current Prime Minister and the then Gujrat chief minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate despite his strong objection to it. Lalu Prasad was quick to offer unconditional support to JDU. RJD joined the Nitish Kumar government, later together they won the next state election and Nitish Kumar led JDU-RJD government continued in the state. While heading this alliance government, Nitish Kumar had ensured any doubts of revival of jungle raj proved wrong. Later RJD leaders started taking him for granted, his criticism by the RJD leaders had become an everyday affair, there were demands by RJD leaders and cadre and endorsements by RJD top leadership to make Tejaswi chief minister of Bihar. RJD leaders were under the assumption that Nitish had no choice but to stay with them and that too on their terms. Nitish proved them wrong; he came out of the alliance on July 26, 2017, and within a few hours he formed a new government with the BJP which was so keen to join him back.
In 2020 Bihar state election, JDU numbers went down drastically, but BJP numbers were on rise. Nitish seems to have believed that the BJP conspired this with keeping Chirag and LJP in the front. After results were announced, BJP leadership suggested that Nitish Kumar should head the government as he was the alliance face in the election, which he agreed to after initial hesitation and a Nitish led JDU-BJP government was once again formed. To put a psychological pressure on Nitish two deputy chief ministers were made from BJP. Going forward, BJP state leaders started speaking against Nitish Kumar and the desire to have a BJP chief minster in the state. It seemed that this had the silent support of the BJP central leadership. This made Nitish Kumar uncomfortable. There were strong assumptions by the BJP that Nitish cannot go back to RJD, and he would have to stay with it to stay in power to save his party. Nitish proved them wrong; he left the BJP and once again within a few hours formed a new government with RJD as its partner this time.
As known in the public space, it seems that there was an understanding between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad to help create space for Nitish Kumar in the opposition politics at the national level and Nitish to make space for Tejaswi Yadav for the bigger role in the state politics. Nitish Kumar successfully put his efforts to bring together the opposition parties on one platform and later a nation-wide alliance (INDIA) was formed. But even after months of formation of the alliance, Nitish was not offered any role in this alliance. It seemed that Lalu Prasad who has good terms with the Congress leadership and some prominent regional party leaders, didn’t put honest efforts to help Nitish Kumar get a leading role in the alliance.
On a side note, Lalu Prasad seemed to be in hurry to bring his son in the top spot probably because he might be not sure of a favorable post 2025 state election scenario. If media reports to be believed, the RJD leadership conspired a coup in JDU to bring down the Nitish Kumar government and form a RJD government with Tejaswi Yadav as the chief minister. Nitish could sense the plot in time and failed it. And since then, the RJD leadership and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) leaders seems to be deeply concerned of the possibility of Nitish Kumar abandoning them and returning to NDA. Till a few months back, no one would have even considered such possibility, but in the current situation this seems very much possible.
For the BJP central leadership who is aiming for a 400+ Lok Sabha seats in 2024 general election, the first challenge is to repeat its 2019 performance in states where it along with tis partners had almost swept. Among such states, Bihar is the one where it must be worried of losing quite a few seats in the current situation. And it must be having a sense that it can repeat the 2019 performance provided Nitish is back in its side.
If you listen to the regular statements of the BJP state leaders against Nitish Kumar and for that reason believe, a comeback of Nitish to NDA will not be acceptable, you need to understand the motivation of the BJP for the 2024 general election and the current structure of BJP’s party leadership. All such state leaders would fall in line as soon as BJP central leadership and Nitish Kumar decides for a realignment. It will not only bring relief to BJP in Bihar, but it will also demotivate and demoralize Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) as Nitish is the one who had brought the opposition parties together to form the nation-wide alliance.
If you have looked at Nitish Kumar’s political journey and his major political decisions in last two decades you will agree that once he makes up his mind, he stays firm on it. In the current scenario, he seems to have made up his mind, and this reflects in the statements of his party leaders where they downplay a possible proposal of convenor role for Nitish Kumar in Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), and they are asking to rather make him face of the alliance. Another reason to believe so is the recent development in Arunachal Pradesh where his party JDU has unilaterally declared candidates for the two Lok Sabha seats in the state, in 2019 BJP had won both the seats and the Congress party had come second.
* Rahul Vatsa is an IT professional from Bihar. He can be reached at email@example.com