If exit polls are right, it is the end of the road for JD(U) and Nitish Kumar tomorrow

Few in the state take PM Modi’s praise of Nitish Kumar and his message that he ‘needs’ Nitish Kumar seriously. The expected decimation of JD(U) is actually attributed to the BJP and Modi

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

Abdul Qadir

While Nitish Kumar may or may not survive politically if JD(U), as predicted by several exit polls, loses power in the state tomorrow and bags far fewer seats than in 2015, it will almost certainly be the end of the road for the 17-year old party.

Although JD(U) has 15 members in the Lok Sabha and five more in the Rajya Sabha, its presence has been largely confined to Bihar. And the party may acutely feel the absence of a credible, second line of leaders and a cadre to prop it up. Its lack of a defining, political ideology also comes in the way of it bouncing back.

Nitish Kumar had fathered the Samata Party along with others like George Fernandes before he fell out with Fernandes and formed the Janata Dal (U) in 2003. Barely two years later the party stormed to power in Bihar, ending 15 years of rule by the RJD led by Lalu Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi released an open letter to the people of Bihar just ahead of the third phase of polling on November 7, and pleaded that he needed Nitish Kumar to develop Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s electoral setback is seen by many as the PM’s own little political revenge.

Nobody knows, and may never know, if late Ram Vilas Paswan had approved the use of Lok Janshakti Party headed by his son as a guided missile against Nitish Kumar. But besides the political storm kicked up by Tejashwi Yadav, LJP is responsible in no small measure for Nitish Kumar’s discomfiture. By fielding candidates against the JD(U) but not against the BJP, by declaring that BJP and LJP would form the government and that Nitish Kumar would find himself in jail, Paswan Junior hastened the decimation and possible demise of the JD(U). The Prime Minister and other BJP leaders remained conspicuous by their silence.

The fact that the Prime Minister did not once refer to Chirag Paswan’s unusual conduct did not go unnoticed. His blessings were seen to be with Paswan Junior, who declared that he was Narendra Modi’s Hanuman and that he had Modi’s name inscribed in his heart.

Not surprisingly the Prime Minister’s praise of Nitish Kumar and his appeal in his favour were not taken seriously. For this same reason, nobody in Bihar takes the speculation that Nitish Kumar would join the Union Council of Ministers if he fails to retain power in Bihar, seriously either.

But even if Nitish Kumar ends up as a Union Minister, possibly at the cost of one of the BJP ministers from the state, it will be an uphill task for the JD(U) to recover. The party has been in power for 15 of its 17 years of existence. Can it survive out of power is the question.

The party does not have mass leaders in its ranks. Even Nitish Kumar has been more of a backroom boy, a political strategist than a political fighter. He inducted former bureaucrats like RCP Sinha and NK Singh, former diplomats like Pawan Verma and former journalists like Harivansh into the party and allowed old friend Lallan Singh to run the affairs of the party. But failed to promote a grassroot leader.

BJP and RJD need each other for political survival in Bihar politics. Upper caste loyalty to the BJP centres around its capacity to combat RJD and minority support for RJD is also motivated by its perceived ability and willingness to take on the BJP. Nitish Kumar and JD(U) could well be dispensable.

Knives are already out in JD(U) in search of scapegoats. Five of Nitish Kumar’s close aides including RCP Singh, Chanchal Kumar (bureaucrat), Lallan Singh, Sanjay Jha and Ashok Chaudhary are seen as the main fall guys who will be blamed for any electoral debacle of JD(U).

The election outcome will decide the fate of several other leaders as well. But while Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan have age on their side, a setback will cast a shadow on the future of Jitan Ram Manjhi, Mukesh Sahni, Upendra Kushwaha, Pappu Yadav and even Asaduddin Owaisi.

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