Against the conventional wisdom that the leader of the largest party becomes the chief minister, it was Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (United) and not a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that took oath as the Chief Minister of Bihar in 2020.
Despite securing 74 seats compared to JD(U)'s 43, the BJP kept the pre-elections promise and supported Nitish as chief minister. But this could not prevent differences from emerging and worsening over time between the two partners.
While observers have said for a long time that JD(U)-BJP alliance was one of political compulsions rather than mutual trust or comfort, differences now appear to have come to a point where Nitish appears to be on the verge of splitting from BJP and joining the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led coalition to stay in power.
Here we break down the numbers, both at the time of the 2020 assembly elections, and in present day that help understand the evolving political situation in the state.
Nitish Kumar needed BJP to be CM
Nitish Kumar's JD(U) performed poorly in the 2020 Bihar assembly elections as the party was reduced to just 43 seats.
Despite contesting the assembly elections as the senior partner on 115 seats compared to BJP's 110 seats, it only won 43 compared to BJP's 74.
However, the two parties along with other junior partners crossed the magic number of 122 in the 243-member Bihar assembly as their combined tally reached 125.
Despite overshooting the partner JD(U), the BJP agreed to form the government under Nitish Kumar's leadership. BJP needed Nitish to keep RJD-led coalition out of power and Nitish needed BJP to form the government.
However, there was no denying that Nitish was not that powerful anymore as his party was reduced to a junior party in the election and neither his JD(U) nor his partner BJP was the biggest party in the election.
RJD remains the largest political party
Currently, the effective strength of the Bihar's state assembly is 242 and 121 MLAs are required to prove a simple majority. Nitish Kumar is reaching this number presently with the support of BJP and other smaller parties.
However, it's RJD that's the largest party in the assembly with 79 seats, according to figures on the Bihar assembly's website. Further, the Congress has 19 MLAs, the CPIML(L) 12, the CPI and CPI(M) two each, and AIMIM too has one MLA.
If the RJD-led bloc supports JD(U), which it has already indicated it would, Nitish Kumar's government would comfortably cross the majority-mark.
It would further help that Nitish is more ideologically aligned with RJD-led block than he is with the BJP, as the two partners have clashed on several issues, such as that of Hindutva-secularism, caste census, Agnipath scheme, etc. The RJD-led bloc has also highlighted this.
RJD-led bloc has openly supported JD(U)
RJD National Vice President Shivanand Tiwary earlier said, "If Nitish chooses to dump NDA, what choice do we have except to embrace him. RJD is committed to fighting the BJP. If the chief minister decides to join this fight, we will have to take him along."
Earlier, the CPIML(L), which is the largest Left party in Bihar with 12 MLAs, said that it "will extend a helping hand" if JD(U) were to ditch the BJP and set up or join a new coalition, and the CPI(M) —the larger party nationally but with two legislators in Bihar— felt that "if a new alignment were to take place, it would be a positive development".
The Congress party also noted while extending support to Nitish Kumar that the two parties share a simiar ideologies.
"We always believe that parties with similar ideologies should come together. If the CM's JD(U), which believes in socialist ideology, quits BJP we will definitely welcome it. But these are early days. We will discuss the unfolding situation at the meeting in the evening," said Shakil Ahmed Khan of Congress.
(With PTI inputs)