Nitish praying for Modi defeat in 2019; working quietly against BJP

If Narendra Modi wins the 2019 Lok Sabha election, there is little chance of CM Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) coming back in 2020 Bihar Assembly election. Hence, JD(U) has silently started working against BJP

Photo by AP Dube/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by AP Dube/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Soroor Ahmed

The beleaguered Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is now pinning his hopes on only one possibility. That is the defeat of the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. If this does not happen, there is little chance of Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) staging a comeback in the 2020 Assembly election in Bihar.

Hence, the Janata Dal (United) has silently started working on a strategy to check the influence of the BJP, at least in Bihar.

Nitish knows that he was a powerful chief minister only when the Congress-led UPA was in power in the Centre. He now calculates that Narendra Modi’s defeat in May 2019 will provide Nitish another 18 months for an image makeover before the next Bihar assembly election, due in October-November 2020. If the BJP is defeated in 2019, all the Sangh Parivar hotheads in Bihar would be down in the dumps. This would once again give Nitish an opportunity to assert himself in the Bihar NDA. He is most likely to get the support of Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who though a BJP man, is hated by many within the saffron outfit.

Should NDA be defeated in 2019, Nitish would try to woo Muslims, Dalits and several other backward castes who have moved away from his own party. He would also try to once again enlist the support of several secular-minded upper caste men, who had been supportive of him between 2005 and 2013.

A couple of recent moves by Nitish Kumar have alarmed some hardliners within the BJP. His sudden proximity to Union Minister and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan is being watched carefully. The way he virtually hijacked the ‘Deen Bachao, Desh Bachao’ rally organised by AIMPLB or Emarat-e-Shariah, and the manner in which one of the organisers Khalid Anwar was made an MLC by the JD(U), stumped many political observers.

The beleaguered Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is now pinning his hopes on only one possibility. That is the defeat of the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. If this does not happen, there is little chance of Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) staging a comeback in the 2020 Assembly election in Bihar

The presence of Janata Dal (United) general secretary Shyam Rajak at a 72-hour fast by several women activists in Patna in protest against rapes in Kathua and Unnao came as a surprise. Why was Rajak sent to the venue when it was amply clear that those gathered there had been targeting the BJP? Some of the speakers even criticised Nitish for his silence on these two rape incidents. But by sending Rajak, the Bihar chief minister made it clear that he is always there to capitalise on any difficult situation for the BJP.

All these moves are part of Nitish’s secret plan to gradually assert himself after he was pushed to the wall by the conduct of BJP Union Ministers Giriraj Singh and Ashwini Kumar Choubey after a series of low intensity communal riots all over Bihar.

Analysts are of the view that BJP had earned a bad name for the way in which it handled the situation emerging after the shocking Kathua and Unnao gangrape incidents. This provided Nitish some breathing space. He is well aware that he is in a very weak position now and has lost all his bargaining power. He cannot go back to Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress Mahagathbandhan alliance. So, he would have to carry the JD(U)-BJP alliance till next year’s Lok Sabha poll.

Nitish may manage to tackle a weak BJP if NDA is defeated in the Lok Sabha election. But there is a lurking fear that in such a changed scenario, a sizeable number of JD(U) MLAs may cross over to the RJD-Congress camp

Nitish Kumar may not be able to hold on to his own MLAs

Nitish knows that he will have to handle the situation with utmost care, and walk a delicate tight rope. Otherwise, his moves may backfire. Throughout this one year he would keep a low profile and do nothing to harm the NDA. He would come out in his true colours only after Narendra Modi is defeated at the Centre.

Once Modi is out of power Nitish would turn his big guns on him as he used to do in the past. He would then project himself as the only strong chief ministerial candidate in the fray in Bihar. The task would be much easier for him if Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav continues to be in jail till then. The JD(U) would then argue that young RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, Nitish’s former deputy and presently Leader of Opposition in Bihar, would be no match to the stature of Nitish as the former lacks experience.

However, if Modi returns to power in the Centre, Nitish will have to draw another strategy as in that condition he may grow further weak. The BJP may even try to get rid of him before the 2020 Assembly polls.

Nitish’s biggest problem also lies elsewhere. He may manage to tackle a weak BJP if NDA is defeated in the Lok Sabha election. But there is a lurking fear that in such a changed scenario, a sizeable number of JD(U) MLAs may cross over to the RJD-Congress camp. If the Nitish government then falls within days of a defeat of NDA in Lok Sabha polls, the chief minister would not get any opportunity to make a comeback in the next Assembly election.

At present, the BJP and JD(U) are strange bedfellows in Bihar. Both are busy drawing their own strategies against each other.

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