Nitish Kumar’s Impending Exit From INDIA Bloc One Month In Making, Bharat Ratna For Karpoori Thakur Part Of Deal With BJP

In the past 10 years, Janata Dal-United (JD-U) chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has switched political allegiances thrice. Now, he is set to switch for the fourth time ahead of the 2024 general elections.

Janata Dal-United (JD-U) chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Photo: PTI

The pejorative ‘Paltu Ram’ (turncoat), used for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar by his opponents, may become synonymous with his political trustworthiness if recent political developments in the state are any indication. Over the past few days, speculation has been rife in the political corridors that the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) chief could once again join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The possibility of these rumours being true grew on Tuesday when Bihar state BJP chief Samrat Chaudhary was summoned to Delhi by his party’s leadership, while prominent JD (U) leaders held several rounds of discussions at Nitish’s residence.  

However, these overtures are not as sudden as they may appear, but rather a culmination of a month of manoeuvres, with Nitish Kumar praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the Centre’s decision to confer the Bharat Ratna upon former Bihar CM and late socialist leader Karpoori Thakur. Subsequently, Nitish took a dig against dynasty politics —seen to be a veiled reference to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leadership— without any immediate context, marking another twist in the plot.  

A source from the INDIA bloc tells Outlook on the condition of anonymity that the decision to confer the Bharat Ratna upon Thakur may have been part of a deal between the JD (U) and the BJP, which includes two or three more agreements, such as the Centre fulfilling the long-standing demand of Bihar being granted special status (along with Jharkhand and Odisha) and assembly elections being held in the state simultaneously with the upcoming general elections. 

Political analysts suggest that the dramatic resignation of former JD (U) President and MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh during the party’s national executive meeting held in Delhi on December 29, 2023, may have been linked to the changing political affiliations in the state. Nitish was announced as the president barely minutes after Singh’s resignation. Reports claim that the latter was made to resign due to his proximity with the RJD.  

According to sources, Nitish’s move to rejoin the NDA has divided the party in two camps: leaders such as Ashok Choudhary, Vijay Chaudhary and Sanjay Jha back joining hands with the BJP, while the Lalan Singh camp is against this.  

A History Of Changing Sides

Although the developments surrounding Nitish Kumar’s possible switch may have been on for a month, the national media picked up this news prominently only after the Bihar CM visited Governor Rajendra Arlekar at the Raj Bhavan on January 23 and remained there for hours. Meanwhile, the JD (U) has also turned down an invitation to join Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in another clear signal.  

Right from the 1990s, RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav has time and again taken jibes at Nitish, saying it is difficult to trust his foe-turned-friend. If Nitish once again parts ways with the RJD and comes together with the BJP, he would be doing this for the fourth time in the past 10 years. 

In 2013, the JD(U) leader broke his 17-year-old ties with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over Narendra Modi being named the PM candidate. Two years later, he fought the assembly elections with his traditional rival Lalu Prasad and formed the government after a landslide victory. However, within just 20 months, he dumped the RJD in April 2017 and once again formed the government with the BJP’s help. The JD(U) fought the September 2020 assembly elections under the NDA fold and retained power, but, in August 2022, Nitish joined hands with the RJD once more. Now, all indications are that Nitish may be ready for another switch.  

Nitish’s history of changing allegiances goes even farther back to 1994 when he parted ways with fellow socialist Lalu Prasad and the Janata Dal, and formed the Samata Party with George Fernandes. In 1996, he formed his first coalition with the BJP, which lasted for 17 years, including eight years in power in Bihar between 2005 and 2013.  

Nitish Kumar: A Socialist Ally Of Right-Wing BJP

JD (U) chief and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is one of the leaders who emerged from the socialist politics of the 1970s and ‘80s. He was part of the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s and was later also associated with Karpoori Thakur, the iconic leader of Bihar who pioneered the layered reservation system and has just been conferred the Bharat Ratna. 

Nitish emerged as one of the leaders campaigning on a social justice platform and was also involved in the agitation to seek the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report that recommended quotas for the other backward classes (OBCs).

Despite coming from socialist and social justice movements and often invoking his secular credentials and relying on Muslim voters, Nitish got into an alliance with the Hindu right-wing BJP in 1996, which lasted till 2013 and was instrumental in opposing RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar. In the Vajpayee Ministry, he held portfolios of transport, agriculture, and railways. As things stand today, he is set to join the BJP bandwagon again.

It has also been reported that after being blocked by Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi from becoming the INDIA bloc’s convenor, Nitish understood that he would never be able to oust Narendra Modi and would not get a position in the alliance suitable for his stature. The reports say that after coming to the realisation, Nitish started to make moves with the thinking that “if you can’t beat Modi, join him”.

As per the latest reports, Nitish is likely to take oath as the CM whereas Sushil Kumar Modi is expected to he his Deputy CM. The swearing-in may take place over the weekend.