Bihar Caste Census: Nitish Kumar’s Goal Is To Keep the BJP Guessing

Nitish hasn't yet forgotten how the BJP used Chirag Paswan in the 2020 state elections to cut him down to size.

3 min read
Hindi Female

Nitish Kumar is all set to convene an all-party meeting to reach a political consensus on the contentious caste-based census in Bihar. The meeting is likely to take place on 27 May.

While Janata Dal (United) (JD-U) ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has rejected the demands for such a census at the national level for obvious reasons, arch rival Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad Yadav has backed the census, which would enable the government to work for the development of weaker sections of society.

Both Nitish and Lalu, socialist leaders born out of the Jayaprakash Narayan movement, are stalwart OBC leaders of the state.

Speculation is rife in Bihar about Nitish making up his mind for another switch to the Mahagathbandhan camp. The recent CBI raids on the Yadav family are being linked to the growing bonhomie between the two.


Nitish Didn't Take the 2020 Experience Kindly

Political watchers and people close to Nitish consider him an egoistic person. He hasn't yet forgotten how the BJP used Chirag Paswan in the 2020 state elections to cut him down to size. In a rather bizarre move, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) put up candidates against the JD(U) but not against the BJP.

This led to the JD(U)'s tally declining from 71 in 2015 to 43 in 2020. On the other hand, the BJP tally increased from 53 to 74, thus making the JD(U), which was a senior partner for two decades in the alliance, a junior. Chirag’s party, the LJP, sabotaged the JD(U)’s prospects in 28 seats.

This significant shift has not been taken kindly by Nitish. The BJP, with more lawmakers, also doesn’t leave any chance to interfere in policymaking or governance or give him a free hand.

Nitish is only interested in remaining Chief Minister of Bihar till he retires, at any cost. With the BJP having 30-odd MLAs more than his party, it is unlikely in the next elections in 2025 that the BJP would agree to project him as the chief ministerial face. This is what is disturbing Nitish.

He will still be just over 74 years old when elections take place in 2025, younger than some of the current Chief Ministers, such as Naveen Patnaik and Pinarayi Vijayan.

With the RJD desperate to come back to power, he can bargain for being the chief ministerial face of the Mahagathbandhan even in 2025.

Tejashwi Yadav has age on his side and Lalu may still concede because it is very difficult to maintain and sustain a regional party when it has been out of power for a long time.


He Has Nothing to Lose

But why would Nitish join hands with the RJD when the opposition is in disarray at the national level, and given the current environment, Narendra Modi-led BJP looks set to return to power in 2024? It is because it gives an opportunity to Nitish to get back at the BJP and show it that he is down but not out. He has nothing to lose as he would remain the Chief Minister.

He could also use the caste census to emerge as a champion of OBC rights, which could boost his image nationally. While the BJP has garnered the maximum support from OBCs nationally by giving them adequate representation in Bihar, Nitish enjoys good backing from extremely backward/most backward OBCs.

He can use this pretext (or excuse) to ditch the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and make a friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-turned-foe-a-friend again of Lalu. He is a socialist at heart and feels that he can manage the Yadavs easily compared to the BJP. What gives Nitish confidence in a caste-ridden society is that there is no leader yet in the BJP who could match his charisma and popularity.

No Party Can Win Bihar Without JD(U)

At one point in time, when he, along with the Yadavs, defeated the BJP in 2015, his popularity in the state was even higher than Modi’s. No party, neither the BJP nor the RJD, can win Bihar without the JD(U)’s support.

That the BJP is emerging as the pole player in Indian politics and the Congress is nowhere in the picture for 2024 (even to its hardcore supporters), will also weigh on his mind. Why would he want to be on the losing side?

Currently, the JD(U) has 16 MPs in the Lok Sabha in alliance with the BJP. However, when it contested alone in 2014, it could win only two seats. The party’s strength both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha can decline if he takes the plunge. Not an easy decision for him. But knowing Nitish, he would keep on drawing sadistic pleasure by keeping BJP guessing and on its toes.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. 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   Caste Census 

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