Nitish Kumar cannot afford to contest alone in Bihar but can he afford to stick with BJP?

Turbulent times are ahead for the JD(U) as the countdown starts for the Bihar election, less than seven months away. Nitish Kumar appears boxed between the two alliances

JDU chief Nitish Kumar (PTI Photo)
JDU chief Nitish Kumar (PTI Photo)

Soroor Ahmed

Not only did JD(U) lose both the seats it contested in the Delhi assembly election in alliance with BJP, it lost them despite some high-profile and no-holds-barred campaign by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda.

The message from the large migrant population, mostly from Bihar, in the two constituencies could not have been encouraging for JD(U) in an election year. Ironically, Nitish Kumar had lashed out at Arvind Kejriwal for doing nothing for Delhi while he claimed he had done enough for Bihar during the last 14 years as chief minister. Voters clearly remained unimpressed.

Delhi election was important for JD(U) partly because it has taken place barely eight months before the assembly election in Bihar falls due. It was also important because this was the first time JD(U) was contesting an election outside Bihar in alliance with BJP and hence was expected to do much better.

In the rout of BJP some political analysts are seeing a ray of hope for Nitish. But the truth is that there is little for the JDU to cheer about.

Soon after the result in Delhi one of the JD(U) spokesmen, in a TV debate, said that AAP won because of good governance and that it would be because of this very factor that Nitish would once again lead the NDA back to power in Bihar. Amusingly, till a week before Nitish was blasting the same Delhi government for bad governance.

The two candidates of Nitish’s party ended up poorly largely because the BJP rank and file did not put up their best efforts for them. The same thing could trip the party’s chances in Bihar.

At the peak of his popularity JD(U) polled just 15.8 per cent of the votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. Nitish Kumar can scarcely offer the excuse that it was a parliamentary poll as Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Naveen Patnaik’s BJD had managed to stop the Narendra Modi juggernaut in the same election. Even the RJD, no longer a powerhouse, had managed to win four Lok Sabha seats against two by the JDU. The percentage of votes the RJD got was also higher.

In the 2015 Assembly poll both RJD and JDU contested 100 seats each leaving the remaining 40 for the Congress. While Lalu Prasad had no problem in projecting Nitish Kumar as the alliance’s chief ministerial face, it was JDU’s performance which came as a surprise.

Both the RJD and JDU contested equal number of seats yet the former won 80 and the latter 71 seats respectively. In that respect even the Congress fared better winning 27 out of 41 seats.

It needs to be mentioned that the Congress was left to contest several urban seats where the BJP is always strong. Yet its performance is almost equal to Nitish’s JDU.

There is little enthusiasm in BJP supporters and cadres for Nitish Kumar. Indeed, a large majority of them are openly hostile. They not only are rooting for a larger share of seats this time, but they also want a BJP leader as the chief ministerial face. Significantly, Amit Shah may have publicly said that the NDA would contest the Bihar election under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, but he has been silent on Kumar continuing as CM if the alliance were to win.

Going it alone is, therefore, no option for Nitish Kumar. But with BJP, he is damned if he remains in the alliance and damned if he severs the link.

Meanwhile, both RJD and the Congress can be seen to be getting battle ready and inducting prominent leaders from EBC (Extremely backward Castes) and Dalits in their party structures.

Delhi election results would have come as a shot in their arm. If AAP can treble its vote share from the Lok Sabha poll in less than a year, surely the Grand Alliance too can pull off a similar feat?

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