Red Carpet Welcome to BJP in Bihar

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Nitish Kumar has taken oath as Bihar chief minister for the sixth time on July 27, marking a dramatic transition of the state from a Grand Alliance government to an NDA regime. Bihar governor Keshri Nath Tripathi invited Nitish to form the government, hours after the JD (U) leader resigned citing differences with former ally, Lalu Prasad, over corruption charges against the RJD supremo’s son Tejashwi Yadav. Nitish enjoys support by 131 members, including the BJP, two independents and legislators of BJP allies Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM)-Secular and Rashtriya Lok Samata party (RLSP). BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said that the NDA had the support of 132 members in the 243-member House, which means it also got support from the 4 independents. The JD-U has 71 legislators and the NDA 57.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for Kumar who had broken off a long alliance with the BJP in 2014, shortly after Narendra Modi was named as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate for the general elections. He then cobbled together the so-called grand alliance with the RJD and Congress to win the assembly polls in 2015.

In the meantime, Lalu spoke to JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, who is said to be unhappy with his party’s decision to break the Grand Alliance. The RJD hopes those backing Sharad Yadav will extend their support. The RJD is banking on 16 Yadav and Muslim legislators in the JD(U) to stay away from the NDA grouping and pitch in for what Lalu claims is a secular alliance.

Nitish Kumar’s grand exit from a coalition with RJD’s Lalu Prasad and the Congress underscores the challenges of such pacts, where once rival regional parties attempt joining hands, often as secular coalitions, to take on the galloping Bharatiya Janata Party. Nitish’s decision to resign as chief minister dealt a blow to the Congress and the opposition parties that have been trying to cobble up a Bihar-model mahagathbandhan, or Grand Alliance, ahead of the 2019 general elections. Political observers feel that a premise has come to exist that the BJP will win the 2019 elections as well. This is attracting fence sitters and leaders of smaller regional parties. The grand alliance idea at the national level is in complete disarray. The developments in Bihar indicate that individual political ambitions are difficult to contain in a front based on ideology, and that “anti-BJPism”, a phenomenon that marked the politics of 1990s, has now lost appeal.

Bihar’s Grand Alliance successfully obstructed the march of the Narendra Modi-powered BJP in the November 2015 assembly elections, raising expectations that the Bihar model could be replicated at the national level where the dominance of Modi’s BJP has been overwhelming. The likely reunion of Janata Dal (U) and BJP will restore Nitish Kumar as the Bihar chief minister and put another state in BJP’s kitty.

The BJP was not in favour of mid-term elections. The BJP, which is said to be committed to politics of development and stability, welcomed the fight against corruption in Bihar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was first off the blocks to congratulate Kumar after he tendered his resignation in a series of tweets. For the bright future of the country, and especially Bihar, it is the need of the hour to rise above political differences and join the fight against corruption, Modi tweeted.

It was Modi’s rise as BJP’s campaign committee chief in 2013 that prompted Nitish to break ranks with the NDA. As Bihar chief minister between 2005 and 2013 – when BJP was part of the alliance – Nitish never allowed Modi to enter his territory for political rallies. Modi defeated Nitish on his turf in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and the Bihar leader settled score with the Prime Minister in Bihar assembly election in 2015.

The political developments in Bihar over the past week suggested that there was very little chance of the survival of the mahagathabandhan government there. If the deadlock had to continue further, and Nitish dismissed his Deputy Chief Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav, it is not clear how much he would gain in stature as an honest leader who brooks no compromise on the issue of corruption.

It is tough to gauge how much sympathy Tejashwi might have gained if dismissed on only charges of corruption. It is difficult even to assess what the electoral gains for the BJP would be whenever the next election takes place in Bihar. What is clear is that the relationship between Nitish and Lalu will no longer be the same. Both Nitish and Lalu had very little flexibility on how to handle this crisis. There was pressure on Nitish to prove his commitment to clean politics by dismissing Tejashwi in case he refuses to resign. On the other hand, Tejashwi had preferred to be dismissed to project himself as a victim of a conspiracy. So the tussle between the two seemed to be about who wins the battle of perception.

Politics is all about perception. Long ago, V.P. Singh left the Congress and aggressively campaigned against the then government charging its senior leaders of being involved in the Bofors deal. He went on to win the next election and become the Prime Minister. More recently, Arvind Kejriwal, who campaigned against corruption with a clean image, went on to become the Chief Minister of Delhi.

The mahagathabandhan contested the election in the name of Nitish having a clean image, and he was referred to as Vikas Purush. But the RJD tried to put him on the back foot soon after the election results. Now that Nitish made it clear that he would prefer to resign to save his image rather than seen to be running a corrupt government, problem cropped up. A government formed by him with support from the BJP may face criticism of being an opportunist. It may not help him electorally. The JD(U) hardly has a core support base except among the Kurmis and Koeris, the two non-Yadav upper Other Backward Classes (OBCs). At best he may be able to attract support from the lower OBCs. The Yadavs will certainly not vote for him. The upper castes may not back Nitish, being unhappy about his split from the BJP in 2013. Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan is reasonably popular among Dalits. Nitish may not be able to attract even Dalit support in sizeable measure. And his moving closer to the BJP in any way would alienate Muslims. These developments may put Nitish in a difficult political position and might even pave the way for the BJP to grow in Bihar.

But at the end of the day, it is certainly a red carpet reception given to BJP in Bihar. The Vikash Purush Nitish has preferred his arch rival Modi in the name of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikash. We are sure, Nitish’s Bihar will benefit much and the era of unholy alliance will come to an end.

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