Bihar: BJP Signals Change In Equations; Nitish Kumar Won’t Get A Free Run

Bihar: BJP Signals Change In Equations; Nitish Kumar Won’t Get A Free Run

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Tuesday, November 17, 2020 04:26 PM IST
Bihar: BJP Signals Change In Equations; Nitish Kumar Won’t Get A Free RunBihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)  
  • Nitish Kumar, for all practical purposes, will be a transition chief minister for the next five years (or maybe for a shorter period of time) till the BJP takes over Bihar from him.

Nitish Kumar may have retained the post of Chief Minister despite his party — the Janata Dal (United) — slipping to the position of junior partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar, but it is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which will be calling the shots from now on.

This became amply evident when Sushil Kumar Modi (SuMo), who had been Nitish Kumar’s number two since 2005 (except for a brief period from June 2013 to July 2017 when Kumar left the NDA to join the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan), was not elected the leader of the BJP legislature party.

The BJP’s choice of Tarkishore Prasad (an OBC) and Renu Devi (an EBC) as the two deputy chief ministers is pregnant with meaning.

One, it signals BJP’s intent to aggressively woo women, OBCs and EBCs; all three categories have been supporters of Nitish Kumar.

Prasad, who belongs to the Kalwar sub-caste that falls in the Baishya caste, is a powerful orator and a strong personality. He has close links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP’s central leadership.

He is a four-time MLA from Katihar, which falls in the Seemanchal region where Muslims form a significant chunk of the electorate.

Renu Devi, who started off as a member of the RSS-affiliated Durga Vahini and then joined the BJP Mahila Morcha, is a five-time MLA from Bettiah in the Paschim Champaran district of Bihar, bordering Uttar Pradesh and Nepal.

Renu Devi belongs to the Nonia caste which is in the EBC category. She is also considered to be a powerful personality. Both Devi and Prasad are close to SuMo and acknowledged him as their political mentor after the swearing-in ceremony on Monday.

By not re-nominating SuMo as deputy chief minister, the BJP has signalled to Nitish Kumar that it will now exert itself.

SuMo has been very close to Kumar and the two were often referred to as the Ram and Lakshman (Nitish as Ram and SuMo as Lakshman) of Bihar.

Nitish Kumar had been leveraging his friendship with SuMo to extract many concessions from the BJP.

SuMo had been used in the past to keep aggressive BJP MLAs and ministers in check. He (SuMo) had often interceded on Kumar’s behalf with the BJP central leadership.

Kumar would have been very comfortable with SuMo as his deputy. By replacing SuMo, the BJP has made it clear that it will no longer give Nitish Kumar a comfortable time.

An equal number of MLAs from the BJP and Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) — five each — were sworn in along with Nitish Kumar and the two deputy CMs from the BJP on Monday. One each from the Vikasheel Insan Party (VIP) and the Hindustan Awam Morcha (Secular) were also sworn in.

However, the BJP will demand a greater share in the council of ministers and a large number of important departments for its ministers.

It will also demand that Nitish Kumar, who had retained the Home and other important portfolios including Vigilance, let go of them.

Nitish Kumar had, in his past three terms, justified inducting more ministers from his party citing the JD(U)’s superior strength in the assembly.

With the JD(U) now having only 43 MLAs against the BJP’s 74, the latter will demand the application of the same formula for a higher share of portfolios.

In the last assembly, the JD(U) had 71 MLAs and 18 ministers while the BJP had 52 and 13 ministers, including Sushil Modi.

Going by the same formula, the BJP should be getting 20 ministerial berths and the JD(U) 11.

The BJP has already made it clear to Nitish Kumar very subtly that it was magnanimous in adhering to its promise to make him the chief minister despite the JD(U)’s inferior strength in the assembly.

The subtle message was that Kumar should be happy that he is the chief minister and should not demand a disproportionate share of portfolios from his own partymen or the important portfolios that JD(U) ministers held earlier.

The BJP has demanded the post of the Speaker which has, so far, been held by the JD(U). BJP’s Nand Kishore Yadav is likely to be its choice for the Speaker’s post.

Senior BJP leaders told Swarajya that the party will demand agriculture, transport, rural development, water resources, animal and fishery resources, finance, road construction, revenue, health and industries portfolios, among others.

This choice of portfolios also signals the BJP’s intent to rule Bihar from 2025, if not earlier.

“By wooing all the sections that form Nitish Kumar’s core support base, and demanding portfolios through which it can develop Bihar as per its agenda, the BJP has made its intent very clear. It will rule Bihar on its own and others, including the JD(U) will be junior partners,” said political scientist Ram Baran Yadav.

The BJP will extract as much as it can from Nitish Kumar and will also demand a far greater say in governance.

Nitish Kumar had, till now, a free hand in running the government and his style of functioning was unilateral. He would barely consult his ministers or the BJP on important policy matters.

That will change now and Nitish Kumar will have to consult the BJP and his cabinet colleagues more often. He has to adopt a more democratic style of functioning.

The BJP knows too well that Nitish Kumar is hardly in a position to resist. Apart from the JD(U)’s inferior numbers, Nitish Kumar also had little option other than sticking to the BJP.

Any political adventurism on his part will cost Nitish Kumar very dearly now. If he tries to break away from the NDA and join hands with the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan like he did in June 2013, his credibility will be destroyed forever.

Nitish Kumar knows that this is his last term as chief minister and he would not like to be remembered as an unprincipled politician. He also knows that the RJD will also dominate over him if he migrates to the Mahagathbandhan.

Also, the JD(U) will surely split if Nitish Kumar makes any effort to walk out of the NDA. Many senior JD(U) leaders and MLAs will join the BJP and Nitish Kumar will be left with a rump of his party.

The BJP has, thus, signalled it will not play second fiddle to Nitish Kumar. Though the BJP will give Kumar his due respect, the Chief Minister will have to give the BJP a much greater say in governance.

But the more important takeaway is that the BJP has already started preparing for the 2025 elections by wooing Nitish Kumar’s support base.

Nitish Kumar, for all practical purposes, will be a transition chief minister for the next five years (or maybe for a shorter period of time) till the BJP takes over Bihar from him.

Also read:

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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