Nitish Kumar Won’t Join NDA – Definitely Not After CBI Raided Lalu
Whether he’s with the RJD or the BJP, Nitish Kumar has nothing to lose.
On 7 July, the CBI conducted raids at Lalu Prasad Yadav’s residence in Patna and named his family members in an FIR pertaining to irregularities while he was Minister of Railways in UPA-I. In response, a rattled Lalu lashed out, calling it an act of vendetta and vowing to uproot the BJP from the centre.
The raids come as a blessing in disguise for Nitish Kumar, who has been under attack from his Mahagathbandhan partners – the RJD and Congress – for a number of reasons. Kumar has been criticised for splintering opposition unity, for not supporting Meira Kumar (joint opposition Presidential candidate) and for backing the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Will he do a ghar wapsi to the NDA fold and rock the Mahagathbandhan boat? Or is he merely asserting his authority in the alliance? The speculation over his next move has been making the rounds in Patna and New Delhi for the past few weeks.
The RJD’s big brotherly attitude (as it has more seats than the JDU) and the constant attacks by its leaders aimed at Nitish have angered the JDU, with a section also expressing a desire to go back to the NDA fold. The Congress party’s late action on the Presidential nominee and its failure to proactively tackle the BJP has also frustrated Nitish.
He chastised the grand old party for failing to present an alternative agenda instead of just engaging in reactionary politics. His accusation has merits. The Congress is in total disarray today.
Elections are due in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, where the BJP has been in power for 15+ years with strong potential for anti-incumbency. However, the Congress is nowhere to be seen. It doesn’t have the leadership nor the vision to appeal to the people of these states.
Nitish has clear ambitions of becoming the Prime Minister of India. That is why he ditched the NDA in 2013 before the Lok Sabha polls. After all, how could he work under Narendra Modi, who was a junior to him in politics?
Nitish has enjoyed power since 1998, first as a minister in the Vajpayee government, and then as the CM of Bihar. His jealousy for Modi led him to hire Prashant Kishor – who had advised Modi and the BJP for the Lok Sabha 2014 elections.
What Happens If He Joins NDA?
Nitish stopped the BJP juggernaut in Bihar by cosying up to his bête noire Lalu. He made his point – that in Bihar, he was more popular than Modi. The Congress also improved its performance in Bihar, bagging 27 seats up from 4 in 2010.
Even a child knows that Rahul Gandhi doesn’t stand a chance against Modi in 2019; And with the Congress concentrating its efforts on the 2024 polls, Nitish feels he has a chance to be projected as the prime ministerial candidate of a united opposition.
Nitish sees himself as someone with vast administrative experience and a good image – the CM of a big state like Bihar that sends 40 MPs. The astute politician deep within him wants the consensus that can be built around him if the Congress backs him.
The dynamics of the state assembly favour Nitish as he remains CM in both situations – with the RJD or with the BJP – he has nothing to lose.
What Happens If He Stays With the Grand Alliance?
However, in my opinion, Nitish would do well to stay with Lalu and the Congress instead of joining the NDA. He can maneuver Lalu better now, and staying with Congress keeps his Prime Ministerial hopes alive.
If Nitish joins the NDA, he will become vulnerable to the arm-twisting tactics of Modi-Shah (like in the case of Shiv Sena) and will lose his independence. His JDU risks losing minority votes to the RJD, which accounts for 17 percent of Bihar’s population.
Further, the party risks transferring Kurmi/OBC votes to the BJP in the medium to long term. Nitish will also save himself from being called an opportunist. If he goes back to the NDA, he will have to swallow his pride – It will look as though he can do anything to remain in power.
The fact that Uma Bharti is still in the cabinet despite being named by the CBI in the Babri Masjid case, makes it a bit easier for Nitish to let Tejaswi Yadav stay in the cabinet.
If push comes to shove, he will ask Lalu to drop his son from the cabinet. Lalu has no option but to obey Nitish and to continue with the Mahagathbandhan. The CBI raids will help Nitish establish his authority over the Bihar government and show them who’s boss.
A weak Lalu in the state and a weak Congress on the national level suit his political ambitions well. It may not be the right time to join the strong and powerful Modi-Shah camp. There, Nitsh wouldn’t be able to bargain much.
(Amitabh Tiwari is a corporate and investment banker turned political commentator, strategist and consultant. He can be reached @politicalbaaba. 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.)
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