People Of Bihar, And Nitish Kumar Himself, Are The Losers In State’s Latest Political Drama
Kumar may have thought that by aligning with the RJD once again, he has done a smart thing and delivered a blow to the BJP.
But in reality, he has delivered a blow to himself.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s latest political somersault has brought Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) back to power in the state. But the loser in this act of political chicanery is not the BJP, but the people of Bihar and Nitish Kumar himself.
Nitish Kumar ditched the NDA in 2013 in opposition to Narendra Modi being projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He had then joined hands with the RJD and fought and won the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections as part of the Mahagathbandhan (an alliance of RJD, JD(U), Congress and Left parties).
But his honeymoon with the RJD did not last too long and in 2017, he dumped Lalu Yadav’s party and returned to the NDA to remain in power. He had then accused his deputy--Lalu Yadav’s son Tejaswi--of corruption.
Nitish Kumar fought the 2020 Assembly polls as a constituent of the NDA and despite his party managing to bag only 43 seats, far less than the BJP’s 74, he was made the chief minister.
But his ties with the BJP had started deteriorating even before the results were out--Nitish Kumar and his colleagues suspected the BJP central leadership of propping up Chirag Paswan (Ram Vilas Paswan’s son) who fielded candidates against JD(U) candidates, thus scuppering their chances.
The JD(U) leadership felt that the BJP deliberately encouraged the junior Paswan, whose Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) was part of the NDA till then, to field candidates (against JD-U nominees) in order to bring down the JD(U)’s tally, weaken it and reduce it to the status of a junior partner in the ruling NDA.
The JD(U)’s tally did come down to 43 from its 2015 score of 71, but the BJP denied those allegations and pointed out that Paswan had fielded candidates against BJP nominees also.
The BJP also pointed out that in many seats where the LJP fielded candidates against NDA nominees, JD(U) candidates ended in the third place. This made it evident that even without the LJP playing foul, the JD(U) would have lost in those seats.
Immediately after the 2020 Assembly elections, the BJP nominated its senior leader Sushil Kumar Modi--he was a close friend of Nitish Kumar and was his deputy for around eleven years, the duo were often referred to Ram-Lakshman ki jodi in Bihar--to the Rajya Sabha, thus removing him from Bihar’s politics. That is said to have greatly upset Nitish Kumar.
Over the last 20 months, there have been a few differences of opinion between the BJP and the JD(U) and the leaders of the two parties have issued statements against each other on some issues.
But the ties between the two ruling coalition partners nosedived over Ramchandra Prasad Singh (popularly known as RCP) who was once a very close lieutenant of Nitish Kumar and was the national president of the JD(U). Kumar had nominated RCP to the Union cabinet in July 2021 and the latter was given charge of the important steel ministry.
But Nitish Kumar, a suspicious person by nature, felt that RCP was getting close to the BJP central leadership, especially Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The JD(U) refused to nominate him to the Rajya Sabha when his term ended last month, forcing RCP to resign from the Union cabinet.
Nitish Kumar, who is said to lend an easy ear to rumours and conspiracy theories, fell for yarns spinned by some of his senior colleagues that RCP had become the BJP’s ‘trojan horse’ within the JD(U).
According to these theories, the BJP planned to use its proximity to RCP to engineer a split in the JD(U) and then oust Nitish Kumar from power. Kumar’s senior colleagues then urged him to snap ties with the BJP and join hands with the RJD in order to pre-empt such a split within the party.
Nitish Kumar has now done exactly that in his belief that this move has saved his party from a split and defeated the machinations of the BJP.
But little does Nitish Kumar realise the damage he has caused to his own credibility and to the people of the state by joining hands with the RJD which, in popular perception, is synonymous with corruption and jungle raj (lawlessness).
The RJD’s long years in power--Lalu Yadav was chief minister from March 1990 to July 1997, and was followed by Rabri Devi who reigned from July 1997 to March 2005--were marked by blatant corruption, loot of the state exchequer, kidnappings for ransom, lawlessness, a steep spurt in crimes and the state slipping in to the grip of crime lords patronised by the RJD.
The 15 years of RJD rule are often referred to as Bihar’s ‘dark years’ during which governance went for a toss and the state slipped at the bottom of the development ladder.
Nitish Kumar became the chief minister of Bihar in 2005 (as part of the NDA) solely by promising good and clean governance, restoration of the rule of law, crackdown on crime lords and mafias and an end to caste violence. He started delivering on his promises and earned the sobriquet of sushasan babu (good governance leader).
But his breaking away from the NDA and joining hands with the RJD in 2014 was seen as a betrayal of the people’s huge mandate for the JD(U)-BJP combine in the 2010 elections (the JD-U won 115 seats and the BJP won 91 seats while the RJD was relegated to a poor third with only 22 seats).
In the 2015 Assembly polls, the RJD won 80 seats, the JD(U) won 71 and the Congress bagged 27. The BJP won 53 seats. The success of the RJD was largely because of the new respectability it received by association with Nitish Kumar.
But Kumar soon realised that the RJD hadn’t changed colours when RJD ministers, including Tejaswi Yadav (the deputy CM) got embroiled in various cases of corruption. Simultaneously, the crime graph rose sharply once again and as the law and order situation deteriorated, the state came under the grip of crime lords (patronised by the RJD) once again.
An alarmed Nitish Kumar reached out to the BJP, which agreed to join hands with him. Nitish Kumar then dumped the RJD in 2017 and continued in the chief minister’s post with the support of the BJP.
History has now repeated itself again in Bihar and Nitish Kumar has, once again, dumped the BJP and joined hands with the RJD. But Nitish Kumar may have just signed his own political-death warrant by doing so, and condemned Bihar to another round of corruption, loot, crimes and worse.
Political sources say that the RJD has set out some tough conditions for taking the JD(U) back into the mahagathbandhan. The RJD wants the crucial home portfolio that Nitish Kumar had always kept to himself, and control of key departments like public works, irrigation etc which have a huge outlay of funds.
Nitish Kumar, with just 44 MLAs, is in no position to resist pressure from the RJD and will have to bend to Tejaswi Yadav’s will and whims. He will have to allow a free rein to the RJD.
It may be only a matter of time before Bihar gets typified by cases of corruption and misgovernance, and a huge spurt in crime.
Having betrayed the BJP twice, the doors of the NDA have closed permanently on Nitish Kumar and he will not be forgiven by the saffron party again. Nitish Kumar also knows that, and will have to bear with the RJD from now on.
And ultimately, in the 2025 elections--that is, if the mahagathbandhan government lasts till then--RJD will squeeze the JD(U) out of its existing political space and reduce Nitish Kumar’s party to a fringe party in Bihar. By 2025--after having presided over three years of chaos, corruption and crime--Kumar’s existing sheen would have worn off completely and he will lose whatever standing he still enjoys in the state.
Kumar may have thought that by aligning with the RJD once again, he has done a smart thing and delivered a blow to the BJP. But in reality, he has delivered a blow to himself and to the people of the state. It’s dark days for Bihar again.
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