Why the BJP Is Likely to ‘Dump’ Bihar CM Nitish Kumar in 2020

BJP can take the risk of going alone without a chief ministerial face, like it has done in other states. 

5 min read
Image of Bihar map and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar used for representational purposes.

The COVID-19 distress has caused immense hardship to the lakhs of Bihari migrants. And this may just be the kind of opportunity the BJP was looking for to break the alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JDU and go alone in the Bihar Assembly elections, due in November this year.

BJP has already started needling Nitish Kumar through the central government’s decision to shift the famous Indian Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, from Jamalpur in Bihar, to Uttar Pradesh. And Nitish has already shot a furious letter to the Centre, asking it to revert this decision.

Why Did BJP Declare Nitish Kumar As CM Face So Much In Advance?

But before going further it is important to recall why BJP decided to declare Nitish Kumar the chief ministerial face of the alliance so much in advance. There were broadly four reasons for that:

  1. First, because brand Nitish Kumar is seen as a no-nonsense clean administrator who got rid of the ‘jungle raj’ of Lalu Yadav and put Bihar back on the development and governance map of India.
  2. Second, the BJP realises that it does not have a chief ministerial face.
  3. Third, if BJP broke the alliance, Nitish Kumar would have the option of getting back his alliance with Lalu Yadav’s RJD.
  4. And fourth, after its unprecedented victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP suffered a series of unexpected setbacks in state elections like Delhi, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. Clearly, BJP did not want repeat the mistake of 2015 of going alone and yet again losing Bihar.

Now that the COVID-19 crisis is unfolding, Nitish Kumar’s brand of ‘Susashan Babu’ stands completely dented. Unlike many other chief ministers, he is rarely seen in media. And when he does address media, he comes across as a hapless administrator.

Nitish Kumar’s Failure to Implement Prohibition in Bihar – And Other Failures

Conservative estimates say that over 10 lakh migrants are set to return to Bihar. This is bound to create massive misery in Bihar which is hugely dependent on remittances that migrants send back to their families. The impact of pain will get exaggerated because Bihar was already suffering from an unemployment rate of over 10 percent before the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the latest CMIE data, the national job loss rate is now at 23.91 percent.

The brand value of ‘Sushasan Babu’ had started taking a beating even before COVID-19. His failure to implement the much-advertised Prohibition, which was seen as his personal project, has not only become the butt of jokes, but has given rise to a rampant black economy and corruption for everyone to see. The death of over 100 children due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in Muzzaffarpur, and the girls’ shelter home rape case is still fresh in public memory.

He also failed to provide adequate relief and rehabilitation to the the Kosi flood victims last years.

This was in contrast to the praise he received for the management of relief during the devastating 2008 floods. The Kosi floods are an annual feature and in three-months time they will again displace large number of people. This is bound to cause pain in districts that are going to be the hub of the largest reverse migrations due to the lockdown.

Will BJP Walk Alone As it Did in 2015 Assembly Elections?

BJP is also aware that the main opposition coalition, Tejashwi Yadav and RJD-led Mahagathbandhan is in shambles. Tejashwi has disappeared from the political map of Bihar after RJD failed to win even a single Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 parliamentary elections, and his party secured a meagre 15 percent votes. There is an ongoing family feud in the Lalu Yadav household, and Lalu is too ill to resurrect the party. Tejashwi is also an accused in scams related to ‘benami land transactions in Delhi, and the IRCTC-related money laundering fraud.

The BJP can activate the ED any time to remind the people of the corruption of the Lalu era.

Other caste-based parties who were part of the Mahagathbandhan – like Jiten Ram Majhi’s Hindustani Awam Party and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party – have never been comfortable with Tejashwi’s leadership and are looking for an option to exit. The Congress in Bihar does not count at all.

It is in this backdrop that the BJP may see an opening in Bihar and decide to go alone, something which it did in the 2015 assembly elections but failed miserably.

2020 is very different from 2015. Not only has the brand ‘Sushasan Babu’ eroded considerably, and RJD is in tatters, there are many other factors that the BJP can exploit in its favour.

JDU’s Electoral Handicap

First, by the time the COVID-19 crisis ends, it will be very close to November 2020. The BJP at the Centre can delay the much-needed financial help to the Nitish government to overcome the distress caused by the return of migrants, unemployment and rural distress. That will create further resentment amongst the people and further dent the political appeal of Kumar.

Second, BJP knows that JDU, unlike the RJD, has a major electoral handicap in that it has a very weak organisational machinery.

That is one of the reasons Nitish has always aligned with either the BJP or RJD, both of whom have a strong grassroots organisation. BJP has the option of breaking its alliance with Nitish Kumar just a couple of months before the elections. That will not give him enough time firm up an alliance with RJD. The JDU-RJD alliance in any case looks unlikely given the mistrust between Tejashwi and Nitish Kumar.

ED Can Reopen Cases Like the ‘Srijan Scam’ Against Nitish Kumar

The other smaller parties like the HAM and RLSP, with their own caste bases, are looking for survival – and they will be happy to be part of the BJP-led alliance. That will give the BJP the much-needed access to Dalits and OBC communities along with Paswan’s LJP.

Third, the BJP can take the risk of going alone without a chief ministerial face, like it has done in other states.

It has the backing of very compliant and aggressive media, agencies like the ED that can open cases like the Srijan scam against Nitish Kumar, and of course, its most potent electoral strategy of Hindu-Muslim polarisation.

Finally, the success of taali-thaali and diya-mombati events and the growing stature and ratings of PM Modi will also encourage the BJP to go all alone. No one can match the stamina which Modi combines with his oratory skills to win elections.

(Jamal Kidwai is the founder of social enterprise ‘Baragaon Weaves’. He tweets at @KidwaiJamal. This is an opinion piece, and the vews expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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