A widely acknowledged master of political somersault, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar did it again, pulling the plug on his sweet-today-sour-tomorrow alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and restoring his ties with his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in his yet another bid to form a new government in Bihar.
The move is likely to have a bearing on the national politics ahead of the next parliamentary elections when he may well emerge as a possible challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After days of frenetic political activity in Patna, Nitish met twice Governor Phagu Chauhan on Tuesday, first to submit his resignation as the head of the 20-month-old National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and then staked claim to form the next government in alliance with RJD, Congress and the Left parties, which had earlier extended “unconditional support” to the JD(U) stalwart. It brought to an end a prolonged suspense over the fate of JD(U)-BJP alliance, which had been under tremendous strain since the 2020 assembly elections in Bihar.
This is, however, not the first time Nitish had chosen to sever his alliance with BJP in the past nine years. In 2013, the 71-year-old leader had snapped his 17-year-old ties with BJP over projection of erstwhile Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as NDA’s prime ministerial candidate ahead of the 2014 general elections. Later, after getting drubbed in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when his party was reduced from 20 to two seats, Nitish mended fences with his long-time adversary Lalu Prasad to contest the 2015 state assembly polls together as the leader of the Mahagathbandhan, an alliance of JD(U)-RJD and Congress. The grand alliance, as it was called, went on to win the polls with a brute majority felicitating Nitish’s return as the chief minister in November 2015.
The alliance, however, did not last long and less than two years later, Nitish went back to BJP to form another NDA government after walking out of the Mahagathbandhan amid his growing unease within the alliance over alleged dominance of Lalu whose party was the largest party in the state assembly. His exit was preceded by a volley of corruption allegations levelled by BJP against Lalu’s sons Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav, who held key portfolios in his government.
Nitish had earlier asked Tejashwi, who was the deputy chief minister at the time, to explain his position after senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi held as many as 44 press conferences to hurl a slew of graft charges against Lalu, Rabri Devi and their children.
Two years later, Nitish went on to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as an NDA constituent, as the alliance swept the polls with 39 out of the total 40 seats in Bihar. The JD(U)-BJP relationship, however, soured soon when the BJP declined to give two ministerial berths to JD(U) that had won 16 seats in the parliamentary polls. Since the Narendra Modi-led BJP had won the majority on its own with more than 300 seats in the Lok Sabha, the party had decided to give only one berth each to all its allies regardless of their numerical strength in the House.
This did not go down well with Nitish, who had apparently sought two berths in the Modi ministry. As the erstwhile national president of JD(U), Nitish had decided to refrain from joining the government. The twist in the tale came a year later when his successor as the national president of JD(U), RCP Singh joined the Modi government even though the party was offered only one seat again. Though RCP, who was widely acknowledged as the No. 2 in the party, reiterated time and again that he had joined the Union council of ministers as Steel minister with Nitish’s prior approval, other leaders close to Nitish, including the incumbent JD(U) national president Lalan Singh brushed aside his claims.
The matter within the party came to head when Nitish decided to not send RCP to Rajya Sabha for his third consecutive term, leading to the latter’s resignation in July. Last week, the party served a show-cause to RCP, asking him to explain his position on the corruption charges levelled against him that he and his family members had purchased 58 plots of land in his native Nalanda district since 2013. RCP subsequently trashed the charges before quitting the party.
JD(U) leaders alleged that RCP, once referred to Nitish’s Man Friday, tried to backstab his political mentor by aligning with BJP behind the scenes to topple the JD(U)-led government in Bihar. Without naming BJP, Lalan Singh said that there was a bid to apply another “Chirag model” as part of a deep-rooted conspiracy against the Nitish government. He was apparently referring to LJP leader Chirag Paswan’s decision to field his candidates only against JD(U) nominees in the last assembly polls, which had cost Nitish dear. The JD(U), whose party was reduced to only 43 seats, apparently felt that there was a conspiracy to weaken the party at that time and a similar plot had been hatched now again through RCP.
Apart from the RCP episode, however, the BJP-JD(U) relationship seemed to be on the rocks right from the word go ever since Nitish’s party was relegated to third position after RJD and BJP in the Bihar assembly. Not only did the BJP begin to assert its authority as the ‘big brother’ but it also engineered a coup in the JD(U)’s Arunachal Pradesh unit by getting six of its MLAs within two months after winning the Bihar polls as allies. Since then, Nitish and state BJP leaders had not seen eye to eye with each other and held diametrically opposite views on issues like caste census, special category status to Bihar, prohibition, population policy and law and order situation. Nitish was also unhappy over the BJP’s decision to sideline its senior leaders such as Sushil Kumar Modi, Nandkishor Yadav and Prem Kumar, who were part of Nitish’s cabinet for many years since 2005.
The RCP controversy proved to be the proverbial last nail on their ties.