Nitish Kumar’s U-Turn: His Own Political Suicide?

Nitish Kumar swearing in

Who and which party should really be on guard given the ease with which Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar tends to turn his back towards the very politicians and parties he earlier claimed to be in “alliance” with and close to? If this had happened just once or even twice, this may have been dismissed or taken mildly as moves he had perhaps been forced to take because of others having pushed him to such politicking. But in his case, the initiative has been primarily from his side – that of changing political camps. It is fairly evident that his prime concern is his own political standing in Bihar- associated with his command over the state’s chief ministerial chair. Kumar has no inclination to abandon his hold of Bihar’s chief ministerial position though the state’s assembly elections are scheduled for 2025. Secondly, he has his eyes set on taking the stage as the country’s key leader, according to certain reports, as the prime minister. Given predictions being made about Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its prime leader – Narendra Modi’s return to power in the coming Lok Sabha elections, the coveted prime ministerial chair may still be viewed as quite out of reach for Kumar as well as several other aspirants. But in lieu of grand predictions being made about Modi’s Lok Sabha “victory,” Kumar’s immediate concern apparently is not losing his political hold in Bihar. Clearly, he is well aware of his own and his party- Janata Dal-United (JD-U)’s weak ground in Bihar. It is no longer what it was around a decade ago. JD-U won 115 seats in 243-member Bihar Assembly in 2010, was reduced to 71 in 2015 and only 43 in 2020.  

At present, Kumar’s primary concern is probably not the next assembly election in Bihar but his party’s position in Lok Sabha. Recent political developments as well as predictions have probably cautioned him about not going against BJP at least during Lok Sabha elections. It seems, he is concerned about JD-U faring dismally on its own and/or in alliance with opposition leaders. Bihar has 40 seats in Lok Sabha. During the 2019 elections, JD-U won 16 seats – that too in alliance with BJP, which won 17. Lok Janshakti Party secured six while the Congress could win only one. Clearly, the party has learned a strong lesson by its dismal performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when it could win only two seats despite having contested from 93. JD-U was not in alliance with BJP for those polls. Modi had then just stepped onto the national stage. The scenario is totally different now. 

Nevertheless, the alacrity with which Kumar has shifted camps demands deliberation on what prompted him to display his commitment to anti-BJP rivals not too long ago. In all probability, this move was strategically directed towards the step he has just taken. In other words, his key motive was to raise his political credentials as a leader at the “national” level for all parties, then allies as well as rivals. Without his taking this move, his political “value” may not have been given much importance by BJP. Thus, an alliance with JD-U became important not because of Kumar’s own standing, but as per calculations of BJP master strategists to shatter their rivals’ alliance. Think of it, if Kumar had maintained a distance from INDIA bloc and not shared stage with them, he may not have been given any political importance by BJP at present. BJP’s “doors” remained “opened” for him not to help him out or because this party needs him, but to use his services to stab INDIA alliance from back. And BJP seems to have succeeded on this front.  

True, speculations about Kumar’s move having a major impact at national level cannot be sidelined. Yet, it cannot be ignored that his political importance is limited to Bihar. He cannot be expected to win votes for any other party from any other state. Besides, as mentioned earlier, the decline in his party’s strength cannot be missed. Another split in his own camp cannot be ruled out. The fact that Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad commands greater political strength than Kumar cannot be ignored. The manner in which RJD leaders exercise their campaign strategies against BJP for Lok Sabha and later Bihar elections may prove to be more crucial than expected at present.

Now, a question which probably has not been deliberated upon by Kumar is that of his political gains from his own move? Or maybe, his losses?  Given the hard political reality that as an ally, Kumar cannot be trusted by any camp- whether that of BJP or the opposition, why would the former be keen to reach a deal on sharing Lok Sabha seats with him as well as ensure him his chief ministerial berth? As suggested earlier, priority is being given by BJP to shatter the INDIA bloc. But this is perhaps a part of their game-plan. BJP strategists are not oblivious of weakness of Kumar’s political standing in his home state. Irrespective of however many seats are conceded to JD-U, chances of BJP using other strategies to ensure that Kumar’s party performs dismally cannot be dismissed. Prospects of Independent candidates being strategically fielded to “win” and latter being attracted to BJP cannot be ignored. Besides, in forthcoming Bihar elections, even if Kumar retains his party’s alliance with BJP, the latter may be expected to try its hand at tactics to head the state government on its own strength. In the present assembly, BJP has 78 members, while RJD has 79. JD-U’s political standing may be described as fairly weak against that of RJD and BJP in Bihar. Now, why would BJP promote a weak party without deliberating on what it can benefit from this exercise? Simply speaking, Kumar appears to have walked into a political trap out of his own choice. The chances of this spelling his political suicide cannot be ruled out. BJP may be expected to try all strategies to push him out of the political stage, nationally and regionally. Kumar himself needs to be on guard for the impact of the “suicidal” step he has taken now! 

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).  

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