Bihar: Nitish Kumar Bargains Hard In What Seems a Transition Govt
The main gains for the BJP have been an additional deputy chief minister, the Speaker’s chair and a few ministries.
On the surface, the distribution of portfolios doesn’t really reflect the changed power equation between the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bihar, despite the latter having won over 30 seats more than the former.
The main gains for the BJP have been an additional deputy chief minister, the Speaker’s chair and a few ministries. But Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has managed to retain the crucial home ministry.
So what does the new power sharing arrangement in Bihar mean?
Nitish Retains Home: Crime & Communal Violence Will Be Key
Sworn in as chief minister for the seventh time, Nitish Kumar has retained the key portfolio of home. This is crucial as it would make Nitish responsible for both controlling crime as well as acting against communal violence.
As incidents of crime often lead to a great deal of bad publicity for the government, Nitish's performance on this front will be under a constant microscope.
The new government has already faced flak over the recent incident in Vaishali, in which a Muslim girl was burnt alive. Though this happened two weeks ago, one of the perpetrators is yet to be caught.
The communal question is more complex. Soon after the NDA's victory in the recently concluded elections, a mosque was attacked in East Champaran allegedly by supporters of a winning candidate.
This could well be a precursor to what lies ahead as clearly right wing forces may have been emboldened.
Nitish Kumar's handling of the anti-CAA protests was also different from most BJP ruled states. Bihar along with Maharashtra saw the highest number of sit-in protests against the CAA and barring a few incidents, there was no police crackdown as was seen in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, where several people were killed in police firing.
How Nitish Kumar handles such situations would be extremely crucial.
BJP's Gains: An Additional Deputy CM, Speaker’s Chair & a Few Ministries
The BJP's gains in terms of portfolios isn't quite proportional to the larger number of seats it has won.
The main gains are the speaker’s position and an additional deputy chief minister's post – the new government has two deputy CMs, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi – as opposed to only Sushil Kumar Modi in the previous NDA govenrments.
Prasad has retained most of Sushil Modi's erstwhile portfolios like finance, commercial taxes and, information technology and forest and environment. He has urban development as well, but this could go to another BJP minister in the eventuality of an expansion.
The other deputy CM Renu Devi has been assigned Panchayati Raj, Welfare of Backward Classes and Industry.
The BJP has gained a few ministries like Industry, Panchayati Raj (now with Renu Devi), Disaster Management (now with Tarkishore Prasad), Sugarcane industries (now with Amarendra Pratap Singh) and Law (now with Ram Surat Rai) that were earlier with JD(U).
Interestingly, the BJP has given two of its earlier ministries – Fisheries and Animal Husbandry – to Vikasheel Insan Party leader Mukesh Sahani.
What This Means
The major change from the BJP's side hasn't so much been a gain in terms of ministries but the changes it has made in its own personnel. Sushil Modi's replacement by Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi is particularly significant in this context and Modi had a good working relationship with Nitish Kumar.
The BJP clearly doesn't want to make any more concessions to make Nitish Kumar more comfortable. It has also dropped senior ministers Dr Prem Kumar and Nandkishore Yadav, though the latter is likely to become the Assembly Speaker.
Some say that the manner in which the BJP has approached this power-sharing arrangement indicates that it isn't seeing this as a plan for the next five years. Rather it appears to be a transition period for the party until it feels ready enough to either form a government on its own or fight fresh elections without the JD(U).
In the mean time, the party's main priority would be to win over much of Nitish Kumar's Non-Yadav OBC, Mahadalit and female base as well as expand its Hindutva card.
However, the crucial question is what does this arrangement mean for Nitish Kumar? Will he go for a confrontation with the BJP in a few months from now and bring down his own government to project himself as a martyr?
Or does he seriously see this as his last innings, irrespective of what the BJP has planned?
In either of the two eventualities, it would be interesting to see what rest of the JD(U) does.
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