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Bihar, Nitish & BJP: Did the Saffron Party Leadership Get ‘Too Confident’?

Amid the BJP brass's arrogance, the party's Bihar leaders are worried as they know the ground reality.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Bihar, Nitish & BJP: Did the Saffron Party Leadership Get ‘Too Confident’?
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Nitish Kumar’s exit from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) hurts the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in more ways than one. In the immediate aftermath, it is bad optics as he is the third old ally to ditch the BJP in the last three years, the others being the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

In the short term, the development is a setback in the Rajya Sabha because it leaves the BJP short of five committed supporters in the Janata Dal (United) (JD-U) MPs. It’s also an embarrassment as the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson is Harivansh Singh of the JD(U).

This means the BJP will be more dependent on “non-aligned” parties for votes, such as Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Jagannath Reddy’s YSRCP, who are bound to extract their pound of flesh in return for their backing. The BJP does not have a majority on its own in the Upper House.

Snapshot
  • Nitish Kumar is the third old ally to ditch the BJP in the last three years, the others being the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). His exit may hurt the BJP in more ways than one.

  • Regional chieftains have watched with increasing trepidation the manner in which government agencies are being unleashed on opponents.

  • Given the possible political reverberations for national politics from developments in Bihar, it is surprising that the BJP didn’t lift a finger to stop Nitish Kumar’s exit.

  • It seems the BJP was as keen to shake off Nitish Kumar as the latter was to part ways with the NDA.

  • While the BJP top brass is smug about its capacity to snuff out opponents – even ones like Nitish and Lalu – the party’s Bihar leaders are a worried lot.

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A Fillip for a United Front?

In the long term, Nitish Kumar’s decision to bury the hatchet with bitter rivals Lalu Yadav and son Tejashwi of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) forms the ‘2.0’ version of the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) government and is a major move on the political chessboard. It cannot but have repercussions in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. It has certainly energised the opposition and revived talks of a united front to take on the Modi juggernaut. Despite failed past efforts, there are compelling reasons for opposition parties to try once again.

Regional chieftains have watched with increasing trepidation the manner in which government agencies like such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are being unleashed on opponents. They have also seen the way the BJP has pulverised the Congress by means fair and foul and brought it dangerously close to extinction.

However, what seems to have brought matters to a head, certainly for Nitish Kumar, is the treatment meted out to Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra. The BJP whisked away his MLAs from under his nose, toppled his government and installed itself in power, all with the help of institutional and financial muscle.

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BJP Wants an 'Opposition-Mukt' Bharat

The worry among regional parties is this: as the BJP moves closer to its stated objective of a Congress-mukt (Congress-free) Bharat, will it now train its guns on them for an Opposition-mukt Bharat?

For Nitish Kumar and other regional satraps, it is increasingly becoming a question of survival in the face of the BJP’s hyper-activity to paint the entire country in saffron colours. Nitish Kumar had to extricate himself from the BJP before he, too, would be dethroned and emasculated like Thackeray.

Given the possible political reverberations for national politics from developments in Bihar, it is surprising that the BJP didn’t lift a finger to stop Nitish Kumar’s exit.

Contrary to media reports that were circulated about phone calls from Amit Shah and JP Nadda for a last-minute patch-up with its restless ally, it now transpires that no such conversations took place.

Conversations between Nitish Kumar and the RJD for the formation of an alternative government have been on since May this year. It is believed that Nitish would visit Lalu and Tejashwi in the dead of the night to throw off the media and political opponents. Central intelligence agencies were well aware of these midnight visits and kept the Modi-Shah duo in the loop. But no effort was made to hold Nitish back.

It seems the BJP was as keen to shake off Nitish Kumar as the latter was to part ways with the NDA. Although the BJP has no leader in Bihar to compete with Nitish, Lalu, or even Tejashwi, electoral victories since 2019, the decline of the Congress, the party’s recent successes in out-manoeuvring the opposition to expose the latter’s fault lines, and its vice-like grip over institutions seem to have imbued the BJP with overconfidence in its ability to reach the pinnacle of power that the Congress once enjoyed.

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Nitish, Lalu and Tejashwi are Prepared for a Fight

There is an arrogance of belief that if the BJP could sideline Thackeray in Maharashtra and prop up a non-entity like Eknath Shinde to form a government, it can easily “manage” an ageing Nitish Kumar, an ailing Lalu and a novice like Tejashwi to retain Bihar.

Nitish and his new allies are aware that they will soon be targeted by government agencies in an effort to destroy the credibility of the MGB government 2.0 and possibly topple it. But the word on the streets in Bihar is that they, too, have armed themselves with similar weapons, which they will not hesitate to use if the fight gets dirty.

Going by the statements of national leaders from Bihar, such as Ravi Shankar Prasad, the BJP hopes to play the sympathy card of betrayal and paint the new regime as corrupt and unstable.

However, Lalu and Nitish are equally adept at spinning a counter-narrative, which they will do with relish, using Bihari pride as an emotive subtext. And as Tejashwi showed during the 2020 assembly poll campaign, he, too, has mastered the art of public communication.

Interestingly, while the BJP top brass is smug about its capacity to snuff out opponents – even ones like Nitish and Lalu – the party’s Bihar leaders are a worried lot. Perhaps they are more clued into ground realities and they fear that it won’t be easy to take on the Nitish-Lalu-Tejashwi combine in Bihar’s caste-driven polity.

‘The game is on’, as Mamata Banerjee said famously during the West Bengal election campaign.

(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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