Why The BJP Is Unfazed By Nitish Kumar’s Betrayal And Is Confident Of Having The Last Laugh

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Aug 10, 2022 03:48 PM +05:30 IST
Why The BJP Is Unfazed By Nitish Kumar’s Betrayal And Is Confident Of Having The Last LaughBihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (L) with BJP Chief Amit Shah. (K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The BJP leadership reckoned that the party has already become quite strong in Bihar and if Nitish dumps the BJP, the latter will only grow stronger.

The BJP, especially the party’s central leadership, appears to be unfazed over the latest switch by Nitish Kumar in Bihar.

One would have expected the BJP to express its outrage and anger over the latest turn of events in Bihar, but only a handful of party seniors issued mild statements ruing Kumar’s double-dealing.

That’s because of two reasons. One, the BJP leadership was fully aware of the negotiations being held surreptitiously between the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) over the past few months and, thus, knew that Kumar would once again dump the BJP. And two, the BJP is confident of doing very well in Bihar in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and emerging triumphant in the 2025 Assembly elections in the state.

The BJP was well aware of Kumar engaging a few of his trusted aides to reach out to the RJD earlier this year. That led to the two parties (RJD and JD-U) charting a united stance on the demand for a caste census which the BJP had initially opposed.

The signs of a thaw between Kumar and Lalu Yadav were evident when Tejaswi Yadav appreciably toned down his earlier strident criticism of the Bihar chief minister. Kumar, who believes in symbolism, sent out a strong message to his ally when he walked over to Rabri Devi’s bungalow to attend an iftar party hosted by Tejaswi Yadav on April 22 this year.

“We knew all along that talks were going on between the JD(U) and the RJD, and the Congress leadership was also made privy to the negotiations,” a senior BJP leader from Bihar told Swarajya.

It is learnt that the JD(U)-RJD negotiations got deadlocked over the CM’s post with the RJD insisting that the top post should go to Tejaswi and Nitish Kumar becoming the chairman of the mahagathbandhan (the RJD-JD(U)-Congress-Left alliance). The RJD also wanted control of important departments like home, finance and public works.

But Kumar was totally unwilling to concede this demand. And so the talks got stalled. Eventually, the Congress leadership, keen to inflict a blow to the BJP, intervened with Lalu Yadav and convinced him to let Nitish Kumar continue as CM.

The BJP was fully aware of all this. But it did not bend over backwards to placate Nitish Kumar to keep the alliance with the JD(U) intact. That’s because the BJP state leadership had grown quite tired of Nitish Kumar and his authoritarianism, and also Kumar’s propensity to play double games.

Nitish Kumar wanted the BJP to remove Speaker Vinay Kumar Sinha, with whom he had clashed openly on the floor of the Assembly and wanted his own man in that crucial post. He also wanted to continue to have the final say in posting and transfers of all officials, including those of departments held by BJP ministers.

Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan was deputed by the BJP central leadership twice to speak to Kumar and make him see reason. The talks were cordial, but Pradhan remained firm and told Kumar very clearly that his ‘unreasonable demands’ would not be met.

The BJP central leadership was quite clear that having given the CM’s post to Nitish Kumar despite the JD(U)’s legislative strength being much lesser than the BJP’s, there is no more room or need to humour Kumar. And if Kumar wants to break the alliance, so be it.

This strong stand of the BJP central leadership grew out of its confidence that it has gained considerable strength in Bihar and the saffron party can do very well on its own in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as well as the Assembly polls the year after that.

That’s because the BJP becomes the sole occupant of the opposition space in Bihar and will, then, reap the growing anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar who has been the chief minister for nearly 17 years.

Nitish Kumar’s rating has been decreasing and the latest surveys show that he lags behind Tejaswi Yadav in popularity. And with his latest act of betrayal, his image has suffered more damage.

The BJP will also be able to play the victim card and blame Nitish Kumar for betraying the mandate in favour of the BJP-JD(U) combine in 2020. “We will go to the people saying we have been wronged and Nitish Kumar has backstabbed us for no good reason,” said BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal.

“We will launch an all-out offensive against Nitish Kumar and paint him as an unprincipled politician blinded by lust for power. His political promiscuity will become his Achilles’ heel,” a top BJP leader told Swarajya over phone from Patna.

The BJP has already started playing up Nitish Kumar’s political flip-flops. A high-decibel social media campaign has already been launched and clips of Nitish Kumar’s assertions on the floor of the state Assembly in late 2017 where he says he would “rather die than join hands with the RJD again” have started doing the rounds.

Also, Nitish Kumar’s sushasan babu (good administrator) image has waned considerably. “The crime graph has been rising in Bihar over the past few years and Nitish Kumar, who has held the home portfolio, is solely responsible for that,” said the BJP leader.

The BJP is confident that with the RJD calling the shots now, Bihar will return to its earlier decades of misgovernance, lawlessness and crime witnessed during the Lalu Yadav-Rabri Devi rule. “People’s disenchantment with the RJD-JD(U) government will increase over the next two years and we will benefit from that,” said a senior BJP office-bearer.

But the BJP is not banking only on anti-incumbency. The saffron party has made impressive inroads outside its core vote base of Brahmins, Bhumihars, Rajputs and other upper castes. The upper castes form more than 15 per cent of the electorate and their loyalty to the BJP remains strong.

The BJP has gained a considerable following among the economically backward classes (EBCs) who form 26 per cent of the electorate. The support for the BJP amongst EBCs is rising due to the targeted social welfare schemes and other interventions by the Union Government and Prime Minister Modi has a strong following among EBCs.

The BJP has also gained in popularity among OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits. The BJP can also count on the support of some other communities like the Mushahars and Paswans. Also, the educated urban voters have gravitated towards the BJP.

Another card that the BJP will be banking on is Hindutva. There has been a growing consolidation of the Hindu vote cutting across caste lines and, as the 2020 Assembly polls have shown, a section of Yadavs (the core support base of the RJD) have leaned towards the BJP.

The growing Hindu consolidation in Bihar will surely receive a fillip, says the BJP, with appeasement of Muslims getting more blatant now. “Nitish Kumar was complicit in appeasement of Muslims, but his appeasement was veiled. Not with the RJD calling the shots, it will get very blatant and that will lead to Hindu counter-consolidation,” said the BJP office-bearer.

The JD(U)’s core support base is the Kurmi-Koeris who form 11 per cent of the electorate. But this vote bank is not likely to remain completely loyal to the JD(U) because of the ill-treatment meted out to Ramchandra Prasad Singh (or RCP) who was the JD(U)’s nominee to the Union cabinet.

RCP, a Kurmi like Nitish Kumar, was a close associate of Kumar and was also the JD(U) national president till he was inducted into the Union cabinet as steel minister. Kumar suspected RCP of having developed close ties with the BJP and becoming a ‘Trojan horse’ of the saffron party to break the JD(U).

RCP, a former IAS officer who is well-regarded by Kurmis, was not given another term in the Rajya Sabha and, thus, had to resign from the Union cabinet last month. And after that he was hounded out of the party. This has not gone down well with many Kurmis and Koeris.

And the BJP’s trump card--Narendra Modi--remains strong with his appeal amongst the poor and marginalised (who form an overwhelming majority of Bihar’s electorate) only growing. And it will be Modi who will lead the campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls for the BJP.

The BJP also has three years till the 2025 Assembly polls to nurture and project a strong and fresh alternative to Nitish Kumar.

All these factors led the BJP leadership to allow Nitish Kumar cut himself loose from the NDA. The BJP leadership reckoned that the party has already become quite strong in Bihar and if Nitish dumps the BJP, the latter will only grow stronger.

That’s why the BJP leadership is not only unfazed, but is confident that it will have the last laugh after Nitish Kumar bites the dust two years later.

Also read: People of Bihar, and Nitish Kumar himself, are the losers in state’s latest political drama

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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