BJP’s CM in Bihar? Nitish off to Delhi or back with RJD? What’s behind all the buzz


Nitish Kumar

On April 22, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar walked to RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s house in Patna to attend an Iftar. The first visit of the JDU leader to the 10, Circular Road bungalow of his ally-turned-rival in five years triggered speculation of a political realignment. Especially when it is being assumed that the senior and dominant ruling coalition partner, the BJP, now wants its own CM in the state.

The next day, Nitish Kumar said iftar and politics are not connected and went smiling to Patna airport with a pink bouquet to receive Union home minister Amit Shah who was in Bihar to attend an event. This raised some eyebrows as protocol did not demand this courtesy.

Then, on April 26, Bihar RJD president Jagdanand Singh asked Nitish Kumar to merge the JDU with his party and quit as CM, an offer that followed the Opposition party’s claim that many of the CM’s MLAs were in touch with it.

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JDU spokesperson Ajay Alok countered him by saying Nitish Kumar would never accept Tejashwi Yadav’s leadership. Bihar BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal, on his part, said Nitish Kumar will remain the CM till the next state assembly election in 2025. Nitish Kumar’s friend, senior BJP leader and former Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Modi has also said the same, calling talks of the JDU leader’s ouster the Opposition’s propaganda.

But Nitish Kumar was again to see Tejashwi Yadav and other RJD leaders at a JDU-hosted Iftar in Patna on Thursday, their second meeting in six days. This is on a day RJD patriarch and Tejashwi Yadav’s father, Lalu Prasad, was expected to come out of jail as the former Bihar CM was likely to be granted bail in fodder scam cases.

A Narendra Modi critic-turned-BJP ally, Nitish Kumar has made stunning switches for power in the past. While ruling Bihar with the BJP, he quit the NDA and tied up with the RJD. Then he deserted the RJD and went back to the BJP-led coalition.

All these developments are coming against the backdrop of Nitish Kumar’s cryptic remark that he has been a member of both Houses of the state Legislature and the Lok Sabha, and a term in the Rajya Sabha would complete his political journey.

The country’s Vice-President is the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. So, does Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s longest-serving CM who has been in power for 15 years, want to become the Vice-President? Or is the President’s post? Elections to these crucial constitutional posts will take place in a few months.

‘NITISH EYEING DELHI’

Senior Bihar journalist Kanhaiya Bhelari, who has known Nitish Kumar personally for years, told IndiaToday.in that the Bihar CM definitely wants to move to Delhi.

“He knows that after the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won’t let him remain Bihar’s CM. He is looking for an honourable exit. But the BJP also knows that going into the 2024 Lok Sabha polls without Nitish Kumar will send the wrong socio-political message, and the party may have to pay electoral costs. So, it might be a dignified compromise.”

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Kanhaiya Bhelari said Nitish Kumar is eyeing the President’s post, something the BJP is not at all keen on.

“The actual bargaining could well be for the Vice-President’s post. Attending Iftar parties could be part of his familiar pressure tactics.”

‘BJP WANTS ITS CM’

DM Diwakar, who closely tracks Bihar’s politics, also said that the BJP wants its CM in Bihar and attending Iftar parties is Nitish Kumar’s way of countering this pressure.

“Nitish Kumar wants to convey that he has options. He used this tactic by flaunting his BJP option when running his government with the RJD and facing transfer-posting pressures from his ally,” DM Diwakar told IndiaToday.in.

There is also a buzz that Nitish Kumar may hobnob with the Opposition for the President’s post. CPI leader D Raja has indicated if Nitish Kumar quits the NDA, he might be considered the Opposition’s candidate for the President’s post. Is Nitish Kumar pressing for a constitutional post if he vacates the CM’s chair?

“The post of President or Vice-President is crucial for central legislation business. People are pliable till they don’t have immunity. Nitish has been BJP’s friend for a long time and knows its flaws well,” DM Diwakar said.

A Governor’s post may be part of a compromise formula but Nitish Kumar may not like that after being CM for so long.

“There is also a buzz that Nitish Kumar wants to be projected as the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate in 2024. But he doesn’t have the energy left for those kinds of political struggles. More importantly, he lacks the appeal. Age is not on his side either,” Kanhaiya Bhelari said.

Bihar watchers also say that the BJP knows there will be infighting in the party, and even in the JDU, once Nitish leaves the NDA. And this might help Tejashwi Yadav become the CM.

“As it is, a new social equation might be emerging in Bihar. The Bochaha bypoll is a wake-up call for the BJP. The RJD won the seat with the support of upper-caste voters. Upsetting Nitish at this stage will be BJP’s political immaturity,” DM Diwakar said.

Then what to make of Nitish Kumar’s clarification that he does not want to become a Rajya Sabha MP?

“Sushil Modi represents a strong faction of BJP. What he is saying is, it’s important to keep Nitish in Bihar. A Rajya Sabha seat is not part of the discussion with the BJP anyway. Nitish Kumar can become a member of Parliament’s Upper House on his own; for that, he doesn’t need a deal with BJP,” DM Diwakar said.

BIHAR’S POLITICAL CHURNING

Another keen Bihar watcher, NK Chaudhary, admitted there is definitely a political churning in Bihar.

“The old situation no longer exists. Nitish Kumar is having rounds of meetings in his turf of Badh-Nalanda-Bakhtiyarpur where he is meeting old friends. It’s like a thanksgiving exercise. He has also changed his house, citing the renovation of the CM residence. He went to Lalu Prasad’s house for Iftar after many years. The body language was different,” NK Chaudhary told IndiaToday.in.

Experts feel the way Nitish Kumar went to receive Amit Shah says a lot. “I think Nitish Kumar has outlived his utility. His popularity is decreasing. He is facing protests and random assaults. Age is not on his side,” NK Chaudhary said.

But the BJP also does not want to alienate him. “Not at all. The problem is, Nitish Kumar cannot be relied upon with the President’s post. He has lost reliability even among the Opposition. The Vice-President’s post is also difficult unless it’s a make-or-break situation. That’s why he is giving mixed signals,” NK Chaudhary said.

But can Nitish Kumar really afford to ditch the BJP one more time and ally with the RJD? “Unlikely. Iftars are his pressure tactic. Tejashwi Yadav has emerged as a leader. He won’t trust Nitish Kumar and make him CM,” NK Chaudhary said.

However, some observers feel that in the worst-case scenario, Nitish Kumar may let Tejashwi Yadav be the CM if there is too much pressure from the BJP.

Senior Bihar politician and Rajya Sabha member Shivanand Tiwari, who has worked with both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, said some BJP members tried to needle Nitish Kumar in the past but soon, a direction came from Delhi and everything was settled.

“But Nitish Kumar is giving conflicting signals. A day after the Iftar, he went to receive Amit Shah who is not PM, President or Vice-President. If M Venkaiah Naidu becomes President, there will be a vacancy for the Vice-President’s post. Nitish Kumar may be eyeing that. But nothing is obvious to me as of now,” Shivanand Tiwari told IndiaToday.in.

As for qualifications, Nitish Kumar has a proven track record of being a good administrator. He still has control over Bihar’s bureaucracy.

“It’s extraordinary to have been running Bihar for 15 years with just a 3% of social base. But the real tragedy is, amid all this, Nitish Kumar is unable to perform the way he did earlier. There are fewer reviews, new schemes and innovations. Corruption is rising. ATMs and iron bridges are being stolen,” DM Diwakar said.

Read the full article at: indiatoday.in


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