Bihar polls; Nitish’s return looks certain!

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(MS Shanker)

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar continues to be the central figure in Bihar politics. Notwithstanding the fact that he does not have the political muscle or organisational skills to win an assembly election on his own.  His Janata Dal United (JDU), in fact, has just once emerged as single-largest in an assembly election. That’s in 2010 following a well-appreciated first term. JDU polled 22.5 per cent votes in the 2019 Bihar Assembly election. In the October 2005 polls, the JDU got nearly 20.5 per cent votes.  Moreover, his first term in 2000 had lasted just for eight days.

However, except for nine month rule of Jitan Manjhi, Nitish Kumar has indeed ruled most political volatile state a decade and half without any interruption. Interestingly, despite this long run at the helm of affairs in Bihar, many convinced of Nitish Kumar’s JDU getting an “additional” 3-4 per cent vote due to its alliance with the BJP, which has a committed vote bank. The BJP-RSS cadres help the JDU get extra votes on certain seats. This relationship does not work the other way around in the same measure, they say.

Though, there were efforts from his new-found friends and party colleagues like Prashant Kishore, a self-acclaimed psephologist and former bureaucrat, to wean Nitish away from NDA fold, however did not succeed.  Their efforts to create rift between their leader Nitish and PM Modi, not only succeeded, but they were in turn, expelled from the party.  What does it convey?  Sixty-nine year-old Nitish, in fact, may be fighting his last polls to reoccupy the chief minister’s gaddi.

Nitish Kumar’s ability to seek the Bharatiya Janata Party’s support and yet maintain an arm’s length from its ally has been the hallmark of his politics. One may even call it a mantra to survive in a polity which had all the ingredients to go bipolar between saffron brotherhood on one side and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on the other.

Bihar was the first state to pass a resolution against the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) last year, opening the floodgates for other states to follow suit. He supported demonetisation, yet did not join in the union council of ministers after being offered fewer than expected berths.

The BJP too seems not in great hurry to conquer Bihar on its own.  The misadventure in the last assembly polls might have taught a lesson or two, though it managed to retain its numbers.  In that context, the BJP’s new chief JP Nadda made his party’s intentions clear stating that his party has no plans to go it alone.  Instead, he reiterated that his party committed to fight the upcoming polls in November along with JDU and also under the leadership of Nitish Kumar.

Contrary to this, the Opposition spearheaded by jailed Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress remains a divided house.  Infighting with the RJD between Laloo Prasad sons added to the leadership crisis within their ally Congress, return of JDU-BJP under the NDA banner looks more than certain.  This in spite of RJD and Congress reaching seat-sharing formula to ht take on mighty NDA alliance in the assembly polls.

While, the RJP set to contest 160 seats, then the Congress rest 60 in the 243-strong assembly.  The two parties also apparently agreed that the RJD will try and accommodate VIP and potential allies CPI-ML and BSP from its quota of 163 seats, then the Congress, on the other hand, will adjust the RLSP and HAM and potential ally CPI within share of seats. But, the JAM headed by former chief minister Jitan Manhji, decision to walk out of the grand alliance to the join the NDA, has come as a shocker to the RJD as well Congress.

However, political analysts feel Nitish Kumar knew how to change sides and tilt the balance of power. Also votes from one end of the spectrum to the other. He displayed it successfully in the previous assembly polls. The upcoming elections this year pose a stiffer challenge and the JD (U) leaders seem to be preparing for the denouement well in advance.

Nitish Kumar’s endeavors in Bihar for long have also been helped by the BJP’s inability to develop strong local leadership. The current party dispensation in Delhi wants to change all this. The promotion of Sanjay Jaiswal who comes from the same caste group as Sushil Modi is a testimony to that. Nityanand Rai and Giriraj Singh are also seen as strong proponents, bringing the BJP out of the shadows of the JD (U).

In sharp contrast, the BJP seems to be in no great hurry to capture power on its own in Bihar.  It wanted to sail with RJD, at least for another term, before it could develop a strong leader, who will enjoy wider acceptance across Bihar.  Yes, what the party did exactly in Maharashtra, where it waited quite long to emerge as the single largest party to stake claim.

But, the greedy Shiv Sena’s decision to walk out and join hands with Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Sonia headed Congress, to form the Aghadi government, denying BJP after the last polls, is a different story.  And, the Shiv Sena’s decision to join hands with rejected parties is now proving quite disastrous with the actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suspicious death in Mumbai.  As a result, the actor mysterious death probe, which has become international fame to defame the Aghadi government in Maharashtra, also bound to have its impact on the poll prospects of the RJD-Congress in November polls.

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