Has Nitish Kumar earned a reprieve due to BJP’s abject failure to chalk up a win in West Bengal?
Soon after the declaration of the Bihar Assembly election results last year, it was being said that the BJP was going to go in for a change of guard in Bihar once it captured West Bengal
Although he cannot, of course, afford to openly express it, the results of the West Bengal Assembly polls must have brought some cheer to Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. The reactions of Upendra Kushwaha and former CM Jitan Manjhi give a clue to this as the much anticipated and so-called ‘Bihar Khela’ stands deferred for now. Manjhi, who of late has been trying to cosy up to Nitish, called it a victory of the ‘Bengali Asmita’. Nitish too has been harping on ‘Bihari pride’.
Some bureaucrats known for their proximity to the BJP had been hinting that Nitish Kumar was only an ‘interim CM’ and a change of guard will take place in Bihar once the BJP won the West Bengal election. But that was not to be and as such the Bihar CM seems to have earned a reprieve.
The relationship between the JD(U) and the BJP in the state is, in any case, not based on mutual trust and this marriage of convenience did not even enjoy the customary honeymoon as things started going wrong right from the beginning. This was on account of multiple factors, including the BJP’s perceived patronage of Chirag Paswan, clipping off of the wings of BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi who was close to Nitish, the delay in expansion of the Cabinet and the long impasse over the dozen-odd nominated seats in the upper house of the Bihar legislature.
From time to time, BJP leaders including some ministers have also been creating problems for Nitish Kumar.
Soon after the declaration of the Bihar Assembly election results last year, it was being said that the ‘real game’ in Bihar will begin only after the West Bengal elections. BJP strategists believed that given the nature of the verdict in Bihar, the best way to deal with Nitish was to make him politically-anaemic by causing erosion in his non-Yadav OBC and EBC vote bank.
Whereas the upper castes had ditched Nitish, relegating JD(U) to a distant third position in terms of seats won, almost half in size as compared to BJP, the EBCs had saved the Nitish boat from a total capsize.
In a move that was seen as part of the strategy to eat into Nitish’s political vitals, the BJP appointed two Dy CMs from its quota, one from the OBC section and the other from the EBC. However, aware of the strategic pricking of Nitish Kumar’s conscience, the BJP has proceeded with caution. It had to ensure that in case of parting of ways, Nitish did not move towards the RJD, for one.
Anticipating a win in West Bengal, BJP had upped the ante and its leaders including state BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal openly questioned Nitish Kumar’s management of the COVID crisis. On social media too,
BJP supporters cursed Nitish no end for his alleged failure to control crime and improve the health infrastructure in Bihar. Shortcomings on both the fronts are, of course, all too obvious, but alliance partners are not expected to go public about such issues.
On his part, Nitish too knows that he has only earned a reprieve and not permanent relief. Once the BJP gets over the trauma of the Bengal defeat, it is bound to again make life difficult for Nitish.
The BJP perhaps prefers internal sabotage to an outright leadership change, creating such a situation in which Nitish simply throws in the towel. After all, the next Assembly elections are a good four-and-a-half-years away and the BJP may not wait that long to dump Nitish.
At the same time, BJP leaders must know that Nitish’s survival instincts have few parallels in national politics and he cannot be floored that easily, and certainly not by a somewhat-mauled alliance partner.
Views are personal