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Right Foot Forward | It’s 1-0 for Nitish-Tejashwi, But Last Word Not Yet Out on Bihar

News18 logo News18 10-08-2022 Sandip Ghose
Right Foot Forward | It’s 1-0 for Nitish-Tejashwi, But Last Word Not Yet Out on Bihar © Provided by News18 Right Foot Forward | It’s 1-0 for Nitish-Tejashwi, But Last Word Not Yet Out on Bihar

Such is the acute despondency in the Opposition ranks that the slightest sign of setback for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sets off paroxysms of joy not only among politicians but also cheerleaders in the media. To be fair, the turn of events in Bihar over the last two days are significant and it would be a mistake to dismiss them as another flash in the pan that will fizzle out with the next draft of westerly winds. This also explains the cautious reactions of the BJP to what is being seen by many as a silent coup in which the master strategist Amit Shah was outsmarted by Nitish Kumar, the ultimate survivor.

However, theories abound on whether the rapid developments were an outcome of elaborate planning or a defensive strike by Nitish Kumar pushed to the wall and facing the threat of political extinction. Coincidentally, when the drama in Patna was playing out, in distant Mumbai the new Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government was taking oath. So, whether it happened by design or default, it was a bonanza and sweet revenge of sorts for the non-BJP Opposition. As far as the BJP was concerned, the timing and manner of the split may have contained an element of surprise but parting ways with Nitish was just a matter of time.

For some time, speculation had been rife that the BJP was planning an operation like Maharashtra, wherein it would try to split Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) for certain and, perhaps, also engineer some defections in the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to install its own Chief Minister in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP-JD(U) alliance in the 2020 polls was one of convenience, if not compulsion. Nitish Kumar was not comfortable in the formation, in which he was relegated to being the junior partner albeit with the position of Chief Minister, from the word go. He was nursing a grudge against the BJP, probably with some justification, believing it had undercut his party’s vote share by putting up proxy candidates through Chirag Paswan, the son of the late Ram Vilas Paswan. Even subsequent to the government formation, Nitish felt that there were attempts to diminish his role and prospects of BJP carving a split in the party through his colleague RCP Singh were real. Thus, trust quotient had reached an all-time low and this was palpable in various actions of Nitish like his giving the recent Niti Aayog meeting in Delhi a miss.

The BJP’s dilemma has been Bihar is too important a state for it to take a chance with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. At the same time, knowing the chameleon personality of Nitish and being victim of it in the past, it could not rely on him as a co-traveller. Although the BJP had substantially expanded its ground reach in Bihar, it was still not able to crack the caste equations as was painfully apparent in the 2015 Assembly Polls. Besides, having remained tied to the JD(U), the BJP had not developed any ‘son-of-the-soil’ leader of stature in Bihar. Nor does it have any Yogi Adityanath waiting in the wings. Under the circumstances, the BJP could not indefinitely delay the decoupling of its “double-engine” with JD(U) even if it came with risks attached. With a year and half to go for the Lok Sabha elections, this was as good a time as any.

The BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is often derided for giving apparent reverses and failures the spin of a masterstroke. But on this occasion, the BJP leadership has been uncharacteristically circumspect, and it would seem happy to let Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav walk away with the credit. If one were to look beyond the initial euphoria of the Opposition, this might, in fact, suit the BJP’s strategy. First, it would allow BJP to play the card of the jilted lover. The task would be made easier by Nitish’ chequered history of biting the hand that feeds that earned him sobriquets like “Paltu Chacha”. Second, reuniting with the RJD — a party he had twice abandoned — will seriously dent his standing in the constituency he had cultivated over the years on the plank of “sushasan” (good governance) as opposed to the “jungle Raj” of Lalu Prasad Yadav. Even on the last occasion when he broke up with the RJD to form a government with the BJP it was on the pretext of “corruption”. Now, returning to bed with his bête noire’s clan would seriously challenge his political credentials.

The BJP is unlikely to give him a free pass on this. Following its experiments in Uttar Pradesh it would most certainly try to woo Nitish’ core constituency of Non-Yadav OBCs, Maha-Dalits, Pasmanda Muslims and women. However, BJP’s Achilles’ heel in such an operation will be the lack of a ‘local face’. Whether it can groom someone in the next few months or acquire a talent like Himanta Biswa Sarma one cannot foretell just now. However, none of its present crop of state leaders or even an RCP Singh inspire confidence to take on such a role. To expect Narendra Modi’s charisma to deliver Bihar for a third time in 2024 would be a stretch by any standard. But, it would be equally fool-hardy to guess what is in Modi-Shah’s mind.

For now, it would be fair to say the score is 1:0 for Nitish and Tejashwi. One would not like to dampen the celebrations or play spoilsport by painting alternate scenarios, which can be many. It is noteworthy that the reactions from other Prime Minister aspirants like Mamata Banerjee, KC Chandrasekhar Rao, and even Rahul Gandhi have been rather muted so far. Taking oath for the ninth time, Nitish would undoubtedly outdo the age-old cat proverb. Now, whether he will be able to make it to Delhi for taking oath from the Lady President only time will tell.

The author is a current affairs commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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