Bihar Diary: BJP will pay for Modi–Shah blunders

As the listless election campaign in the state lurches from one phase to another, the BJP camp feels cheated. They believe they were taken for a ride by their own top leadership

Nitish Kumar reaches for Prime Minister Modi’s feet at a rally in Bihar's Nawada on 7 April 2024
Nitish Kumar reaches for Prime Minister Modi’s feet at a rally in Bihar's Nawada on 7 April 2024

Soroor Ahmed

On the day, 23 January 2024 looked like any other; but it will be remembered for a long time as the turning point if the BJP suffers a serious reverse in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections in Bihar.

Polling is over in just 9 out of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, with five more going to the polls in the third phase on 7 May. The stakes are thus wide open still— any speculation on the outcome is unwise, if not unwarranted, at this time.

However, there are straws blowing in the wind that indicate a certain direction, and a drift. On 23 January, still heady from the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya the previous day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to confer a Bharat Ratna on Karpoori Thakur, the former Bihar chief minister (1977–79) who first introduced the sub-categorisation of reservation for backward castes in the state.

The very next day, on 24 January, the BJP, the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal were to (separately) celebrate Karpoori Thakur’s birth centenary. As Karpoori Thakur was from the naai (barber) community, an extremely backward caste, the BJP think tank probably believed that the Bharat Ratna would secure for it the support of all the state’s EBCs. (They make up 36 per cent of the population here.)

As a matter of record, Nitish Kumar was still at the helm of the RJD–JD(U)– Congress–Left coalition government in the state. Modi’s announcement of the Bharat Ratna for Karpoori Thakur was immediately welcomed by the Bihar chief minister, triggering speculation of his imminent return to the BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance).

BJP leaders in Bihar lost no time in rubbishing any such possibility. Indeed, at the BJP’s centenary celebration on 24 January, state president Samrat Choudhary and others denounced Nitish Kumar and registered their opposition to any move to induct the chief minister into the NDA. What followed is history. All senior leaders of Bihar BJP were summoned to Delhi and firmly asked to fall in line.

Days later, on 28 January, Nitish Kumar resigned as Bihar chief minister, joined the NDA and returned to take oath as chief minister again within a few hours, this time with the BJP’s Samrat Choudhary and the former Speaker of the state Assembly, Vijay Kumar Sinha, as his two deputy chief ministers. Eyebrows were raised when a defiant Samrat Choudhary continued to wear the saffron turban that he had vowed to remove only after getting rid of Nitish Kumar.

Unlike Nitish Kumar’s last homecoming on 26 July 2017, this time the jubilation among the BJP’s rank and file was muted. There was a realisation that the Nitish Kumar of 2024 is not the Nitish Kumar of 2005–2013, when he truly was an asset to the BJP. Mark that that was the worst period for the BJP nationally, while Nitish Kumar was emerging as a ‘vikas purush’ and a leader with the potential to become a prime minister.

He was also hailed as an efficient administrator and credited with getting Bihar back on track. But much water has flowed down the Ganges since then. The BJP think tank did not realise in January that they were actually committing a political blunder. It would be weeks before they realised that Nitish Kumar was an albatross around their neck.

With two phases of polling over, BJP leaders are left regretting the blunder. They would certainly have been better off without Nitish Kumar in the NDA. The narrative changed on 23 January, the focus shifting from the Ram Mandir to ‘developments’ in Bihar.

The momentum built by the BJP over the several months leading up to the temple consecration on 22 January was lost, the expected hype around the temple quickly superseded on both electronic and print media by the Nitish Kumar drama.

In the middle of January, a senior journalist from an English language newspaper in Patna called me up excitedly to inform me that “55 lakh people from every corner of Bihar were being mobilised for a pilgrimage to Ayodhya in the next few months”.

Hundreds of trains and thousands of buses were being marshalled by the BJP-RSS. The unprecedented mobilisation was bigger in scale than the build-up to the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. Hardly a month later, a few weeks after the installation of the new NDA government in the state with Nitish Kumar as chief minister, the same journalist admitted that the entire Ayodhya campaign had fizzled out and now the JD(U)–BJP government was struggling to win the confidence motion in the Assembly.

Politically, it was back to not just square one but square minus-one for the BJP, quipped a wag. The special trains and buses to Ayodhya steadily dwindled in number and the newly introduced Patna– Ayodhya air service was withdrawn on 25 April as 60–70 per cent seats regularly remained vacant.


As the listless election campaign in the state lurches from one phase to another, the BJP camp feels cheated. They believe they were taken for a ride by their own top leadership. Ever since 10 August 2022, when Nitish Kumar parted with the NDA for a second time, BJP leaders were given the green signal to hurl the choicest of abuses at the chief minister, often threatening that he would soon be behind bars. Yet clearly, the party’s central leadership had secretly maintained a relationship with him.

So, yes, the BJP office-bearers and workers on the ground in Bihar feel betrayed. There is a palpable lack of enthusiasm among functionaries at the lower levels, a large number vocal in their reluctance to campaign for JD(U) candidates. The JD(U) hasn’t much by way of a cadre in most constituencies; it is the BJP workers who therefore campaigned and manned their candidates’ booths.

But Nitish Kumar has not only lost all credibility, he is no longer trusted. It is widely believed that he might switch sides again after the election results come in—and where would that leave the BJP? Many, indeed, believe he might be worse than a fair-weather friend: a Trojan horse.

There is also resentment at the Narendra Modi–Amit Shah duo sidelining senior leaders like Sushil Kumar Modi, who is now ailing and out of the campaign, and dropping BJP veterans like Union minister Ashwini Choubey from Buxar. Many old and trusted BJP warriors have quietly dissociated themselves from the electoral battle. Most criticise the Modi–Shah duo for ignoring feedback from the ground and disregarding regional leaders.

There is also a grudging admission that BJP workers have got used to corporate comforts and culture. They no longer behave like activists. Add the strong anti-incumbency against the sitting BJP and JD(U) MPs who have been winning for the past 10 years, says Ajay Kumar, editor of, and BJP leaders in Bihar are caught in a particularly tough bind, for it is not just a double-engine but a tripleengine sarkar in the state.

For Nitish Kumar’s loosening grip on the state administration is causing things to fall apart at several levels. Rumours of Nitish Kumar’s poor health and growing absentmindedness are becoming staples of gossip, as he repeatedly, like a chastised child, assures BJP leaders that he won’t be going anywhere now.

As for options, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah for their part have little to offer to the voters. They have exhausted all their ammunition against the INDIA bloc. The BJP–LJP–RLSP alliance won 31 out of 40 seats in 2014 without any help from Nitish Kumar, then in the opposing camp. In 2019, the NDA did win 39 of the 40 seats in alliance with the JD(U).

By all accounts, repeating the feat this time appears an uphill task.

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