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Bihar: What Nitish Kumar's Volte-face Means for Him and His State

His return to the NDA gives the JD(U) a strong electoral advantage, but not without its risks.

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Nitish Kumar's decision to rejoin the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) marks a significant shift in Bihar's political landscape, with far-reaching implications. While it secures his position as the chief minister (CM) for an unprecedented ninth term, it also raises questions about his political credibility and future.

His repeated flip-flops underscore the volatile nature of Bihar's politics and the challenges of coalition governance. While the BJP may currently support his leadership, there's speculation that they may seek alternative leadership in future elections. Moreover, Nitish's move has severed ties with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), diminishing his options for future alliances.

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It's evident that his decision isn't driven by Bihar's development but rather by his political relevance and survival. This raises concerns about his commitment to governance and the welfare of Bihar's citizens. Instead of focusing on the state's progress, his actions seem geared towards securing his political future.

Ultimately, Nitish's decision highlights the precarious balance between power and principles in Indian politics. While it may offer short-term gains, it risks alienating both allies and voters in the long run.

Bihar's electorate deserves leaders who prioritise their interests over political expediency. As he embarks on this new phase of his political journey, he must demonstrate accountability and integrity, ensuring that Bihar's development remains paramount amidst the everchanging political alliances.

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A Decade of Flip-Flops and Declining Popularity

In Bihar's political theater, Nitish's tenure as CM has been marked by a paradoxical mix of resilience and decline. Despite his adeptness at clinging to power, his party, the Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)], has witnessed a steady erosion of electoral support and public confidence. Once hailed as the harbinger of good governance, Kumar's image as 'Sushashan Babu' has been tarnished, replaced by the epithet of 'paltu Kumar' - the one who constantly switches sides.

The JD(U)'s electoral slide is starkly evident from the dwindling number of seats it has secured in successive Bihar Assembly elections. From a formidable presence of 115 seats in 2010 to a meager 43 in 2020, the JD(U)'s strength has plummeted, relegating it to the status of the third-largest force in the Assembly. Despite his continued occupancy of the CM chair, his party's diminishing influence has rendered him increasingly reliant on coalition partners for governance.

This dependency has significantly undermined his autonomy within the Bihar government, as allies like the RJD and the BJP wield greater numerical strength.

The BJP, in particular, stands to benefit from this arrangement, enjoying enhanced leverage over government decisions while allowing Nitish to serve as a figurehead. For Bihar's electorate, his leadership represents a conundrum—a leader who holds onto power despite waning popularity and diminishing autonomy.

As the state grapples with pressing issues of governance and development, political leaders must prioritise the interests of the people over partisan gains. His tenure serves as a cautionary tale, underscoring the pitfalls of political expediency and the need for principled leadership in Bihar's tumultuous political landscape.

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What Nitish Wants From the BJP

Nitish's return to the NDA underscores a symbiotic relationship driven by electoral and political imperatives. Kumar's aspirations for leadership transcend mere kingmaking; his dwindling voter base necessitates relevance, prompting a strategic realignment.

The move offers electoral advantages, particularly in a crucial state like Bihar, enhancing the party's momentum and optics ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. In exchange, he seeks autonomy in state governance and a future promise of leading the BJP-JD(U) alliance in assembly elections.

While he may be promised leadership roles, past instances, like the BJP's actions in Maharashtra with Shiv Sena, indicate that he should tread lightly because his importance to the saffron party lies merely in fracturing the opposition to bolster its own electoral prospects.

Ultimately, his gamble on the BJP carries risks, as his demands may not be reciprocated in the future. Despite this, the BJP recognises his value as a strategic asset, willing to leverage his clout for short-term gains while retaining the flexibility to adapt its stance as circumstances evolve.

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Implications for Bihar

Nitish Kumar's departure from the I.N.D.I.A. bloc has significant implications, both politically and electorally, and its repercussions are likely to reverberate throughout the state. His decision has effectively reshuffled political alliances and consolidated the NDA's dominance while fragmenting the opposition.

This raises pertinent questions about political opportunism overshadowing principles, potentially leading to voter polarisation and eroding trust in political leadership.

Electorally, his once untarnished image as a harbinger of development now faces the risk of being tainted by allegations of political expediency. This could energise disillusioned voters and breathe new life into opposition movements as Bihar comes to terms with the implications of his political realignment.

The impact of his volte-face extends beyond mere electoral arithmetic, delving into the core of Bihar's governance and development trajectory. The crucial question arises: will his return to the NDA pave the way for progress or plunge the state into political turmoil?

In conclusion, Nitish's recent political maneuver has redefined the dynamics of Bihar's political landscape, posing formidable challenges and opportunities. As the state grapples with the repercussions of this seismic shift, it is imperative for both the political class and the electorate to critically evaluate the long-term implications of such a momentous decision.

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What About Nitish's Future?

This is Nitish's fifth volte-face in a decade, this one coming mere months ahead of the impending Lok Sabha polls, and it underscores a remarkable shift from Union Home Minister Amit Shah's categorical declaration a year prior that the BJP had shut its doors to him and his party.

Nitish's political acrobatics, while securing him a ninth term as CM, have come at a steep cost. Each flip-flop has eroded his popularity and the electoral prowess of his party. By cozying up to the BJP once more, he has gambled his credibility and relevance on the altar of expediency.

His decision appears motivated not just by electoral calculus but by a desperate bid for relevance on India's political stage. He seemingly believes that aligning with the BJP offers him a semblance of political security, even if it means sacrificing his principles and integrity.

However, his alliance with the BJP isn't without its ethical quandaries. It not only betrays the trust of Bihar's electorate but also underscores the BJP's willingness to discard prior assurances for political gain. This betrayal of the people's mandate is a mockery of democracy, tarnishing the very fabric of Bihar's political landscape.

While it may be premature to write a political obituary, his series of flip-flops jeopardises his long-term prospects. The electorate, disillusioned by political opportunism, may soon tire of his maneuvers, leaving him bereft of both voter support and political legitimacy. In this high-stakes game of power, Nitish risks becoming a casualty of his own ambition, condemned to the annals of political history as a cautionary tale of expedience over principle.

[The author teaches journalism at St. Xavier's College (autonomous), Kolkata, and is a columnist (He tweets at @sayantan_gh.) This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.]

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Topics:  Nitish Kumar   Bihar 

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