OPINION | Why Nitish Kumar ditched BJP and joined hands with RJD
Nitish Kumar was sworn in as Bihar Chief Minister for a record eighth time on Wednesday, while his new ally, Tejashwi Yadav took oath as Deputy Chief Minister. The seven-party Mahagathbandhan coalition government will be expanded later. Soon after taking oath, Nitish Kumar called for opposition unity, while speaking to reporters.
Nitish Kumar said, “Those who came to power in 2014, will they be victorious in 2024? I would like all (in the opposition) to be united for 2024. I am not a contender for any such post (PM post)”.
The topsy-turvy see-saw political game in Bihar can be gauged from a look at the times Nitish Kumar was sworn in as CM.
Eight-time CM Nitish Kumar was first sworn in as Bihar’s chief minister in 2000, but only for a week, as he could not prove his majority. He was sworn in for the second and third time in 2005 and 2010 respectively, when he completed his full tenures. In 2014, Nitish Kumar resigned as CM, made Jitan Ram Manjhi the chief minister, but returned for the fourth time to take over as CM in February, 2015.
In November the same year, he was sworn in as CM for fifth time after the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan won the assembly elections. Two years later, in July 2017, Nitish Kumar left the Mahagathbandhan and joined hands with NDA, and was sworn in CM for the sixth time. In 2020, Nitish Kumar fought assembly polls as NDA leader and was sworn in as CM for seventh time. Today (August 10), he joined Mahagathbandhan to be sworn in for the eighth time.
The possibility of Nitish Kumar leaving the NDA had become an open secret in recent months. He was unhappy with his ally BJP. On Tuesday, Nitish Kumar changed his political camp within a span of five hours. He called a meeting of his legislators, went to Raj Bhavan, handed over his resignation, and then went straight to RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav’s residence, where he was elected leader of Mahagathbandhan. He again went to Raj Bhavan along with Tejashwi Yadav, Ajit Sharma of Congress and Jeetan Ram Manjhi of HAM party, to stake claim to form a new government. The Governor Phagu Chauhan, on Wednesday, administered the oath to both Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav. The expansion of cabinet will take place later.
The question that everyone has been asking is: Why Nitish Kumar was unhappy with BJP, which had 77 MLAs, while Nitish’s Janata Dal(United) had 45, and yet, BJP gave him the post of Chief Minister? Nitish Kumar was given a free hand, but why did the relationship sour?
In November, 2020, when the assembly poll results came, Nitish Kumar realized that his ally BJP was the main reason for the defeat of JD(U) candidates in at least 40 seats. BJP was supporting Chirag Paswan silently. Yet, Nitish Kumar became CM with the help of BJP, but from Day One he was trying to explore an escape route. BJP installed Vijay Kumar Sinha on the post of Speaker. This was not to his liking.
Nitish Kumar also felt that BJP was trying to break his party. His suspicion was on his old colleague Ram Chandra Prasad Singh (known as RCP Singh). Nitish Kumar had made RCP Singh the JD-U chief, and the latter was made a Union Minister in Modi’s cabinet. When RCP Singh’s Rajya Sabha term ended, Nitish Kumar denied him party ticket, and then the former revolted. Nitish Kumar suspected that BJP was helping RCP Singh silently.
Home Minister Amit Shah personally went to Patna to remove his doubts, and at a party workers’ meeting openly announced that the next Bihar assembly polls will be fought under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. But the chief minister still had doubts. He then made overtures to RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, and attended an Iftaar party hosted by Rabri Devi and her son. JD-U leaders openly said that BJP was trying to cut Nitish Kumar to size, which the party workers would never tolerate.
Nitish Kumar’s anger towards BJP became evident the day he stood in the assembly and openly criticized the Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha. The chief minister and the Speaker had a heated exchange over a probe.
While snapping its ties with BJP, Nitish’s party JD(U) gave the following reasons: (1) Nitish Kumar was not given a free hand (2) his tension with the Speaker, (3) BJP’s secret conspiracies against JD-U (4) BJP using RCP Singh against JD-U (5) using the Chirag Paswan model to divide the party (6) no proportionate representation in Union cabinet (7) Lack of control over BJP ministers in the state (8) Centre’s unwillingness to carry out caste-based census (9) BJP tried to lower JD-U’s image (10) Lack of direct contact with BJP high command.
After rejoining the Mahagathbandhan on Tuesday, Nitish Kumar said, he had the support of 164 MLAs plus an Independent with him in the assembly. “There are seven parties in our Mahagathbandhan. We will work and serve unitedly.”
RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav stood firmly with Nitish Kumar. When reporters pointed out that he had named Nitish Kumar as ‘Paltu Ram’, ‘shameless’, ‘thug’, ‘bahurupiya’, Tejashwi replied: “Chacha se ladhai jhagda hota raha hai. Har pariwaar me jhagde-jhanjhat hote rahte hain’ (Quarrels do take place between uncle and nephew in every family), but this does not mean a third force should take away our legacy. BJP has been making inroads by dividing us and Nitish Kumar has said clearly that he would not allow this.”
Senior BJP leader and former Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad replied to Nitish Kumar’s allegations. He said, Nitish Kumar would never have become chief minister, because there was opposition to his name from inside his own party, but BJP offered him the post of CM on a platter. “The Bihar assembly polls were fought in the name of Modi, and despite having half the strength of BJP, Nitish Kumar was made CM. If this is not ingratitude, what is ?”, asked Prasad.
Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh said, Nitish Kumar has started dreaming of becoming the Prime Minister, but there is ‘no vacancy for the PM post’. “Nitish Kumar is an opportunist and the entire nation is today watching him”, Singh said. There were lots of memes trending on social media lampooning Nitish Kumar for changing his political boat.
To sum up, Nitish Kumar’s problem began the day BJP became a bigger party than JD-U inside the assembly. BJP doubled the number of its seats compared to JD-U. Nitish felt that BJP used Chirag Paswan to cut down his party to size. Nitish Kumar felt sore that there was a time when he used to discuss Bihar issues directly with L. K. Advani and Arun Jaitley, but now the party had deputed Bhupendra Yadav to deal with him. Nitish wanted that Modi should have at least deputed Amit Shah for maintain direct contact with him, but this did not happen.
Nitish is a leader who has a bit of an ego. All these matters troubled him. When RCP Singh was made Union Minister, though he was his choice, Nitish gave the impression that the decision was Amit Shah’s. The impression then went among the party ranks that RCP Singh was a BJP appointee. Nitish Kumar wanted that RCP Singh, as his representative, should be in touch with Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda in Delhi, but this did not happen.
Finally, Nitish Kumar sidelined his old colleague RCP Singh and later expelled him, because he was now convinced that BJP would break his party, and he would face the same fate of Uddhav Thackeray. Nitish would then be without a government and a party. These doubts and suspicions robbed him of a sound sleep and he had no other option, but to join hands with Tejashwi Yadav.
In a nutshell, the government in Bihar has changed only because of Nitish Kumar’s suspicions, because there was no danger to his government. The question that arises now is: Why Tejashwi Yadav installed Nitish Kumar as chief minister, despite having twice the number of MLAs with him? Why did he accept Nitish as his leader and form a government again?
Whatever happened in Patna on Tuesday and Wednesday suited both Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav. Both were desperate for power. Nitish Kumar is playing his last innings, and Tejashwi’s political innings has just began. Both of them feel that changing political camps, facing corruption charges, or changing one’s political views, does not matter much because in Bihar, elections are won on the basis of caste equations. As of now, the caste equations favour both Nitish and Tejashwi and the alliance parties. Hence, BJP’s worry is how to keep its Lok Sabha seats in Bihar intact in the 2024 general elections.
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