Opinion: The Nitish Kumar story: To be or where to be

Not offered convenorship of INDIA bloc, Nitish Kumar catches national attention with growing speculation over his exit policy.

ByV V P Sharma

Published Jan 27, 2024 | 12:01 PMUpdatedJan 27, 2024 | 12:02 PM

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

How will Nitish Kumar benefit by going back to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), as several newspapers claimed on Friday, 26 January?

Or is he aiming to benefit the BJP, in case what the newspapers published turns out to be true?

Or is the statement by a Bihar leader of the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), that the party is “firmly with the INDIA bloc” genuine or represents the lull before the storm?

If the fourth desertion of Nitish Kumar to side with the BJP happens, the concept of INDIA Bloc will crumble. To what extent is it difficult to speculate right away?

Nitish is the “karta-dharta” and “sutradhar” of the united Opposition platform. Will he be the one to end it prematurely, months before the general elections?

These and so many questions are doing the rounds in New Delhi and Patna — apart from several state capitals housing non-BJP governments.

Also Read: Union minister sees Mamata Banerjee, Bhagwant Mann remarks as ‘collapse of INDIA bloc’

Inside the JD(U)

The fidgeting in the JD(U) camp was palpable from early this month. Local media in Bihar reported minor skirmishes between the ruling partners.

The chief minister, however, went about his activities as usual. If something was happening, it was secretive, far away from prying eyes and ears.

But then people in the know say Nitish is extra calm before a storm. Bihar has seen three such political storms to date.

Much has been read into what Nitish said at the centenary celebrations of socialist leader Karpoori Thakur. He talked about how Thakur never encouraged or backed his family members in politics. He was anti-parivarvaad, Nitish said.

It was construed at once that he was referring to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the dynasty of Lalu Yadav. And that set the ball rolling, at least on social media.

Either Nitish was only referring to Thakur’s honesty and integrity. Or he had Lalu and family in mind.

But then, Nitish knowingly formed an alliance government with a dynastic family. And he knows even the BJP practices it. Could that, then, be the trigger for him to leave the alliance?

There was another missile that helped the conspiracy proponents. It was a post on X (previously Twitter) by Lalu’s Singapore-based daughter about the fickle ideological character of a politician.

It was believed to be an indication of a possible split. Insiders in the Lalu family continue to discount it, suggesting the father asked the daughter to withdraw the post. However, the perception was changing fast in social media.

Also Read: Buzz on Nitish Kumar’s return to NDA fold amid rift in INDIA bloc

Reading Nitish

The question is, does Nitish need such excuses to leave the alliance?

If he did want to leave, the strategy must have been cooking for several months, not just the last week.

From the BJP’s point of view, it has nothing to lose in embracing Nitish again. The party’s interest is in the number of MPs it can count on from Bihar, whether its own or an ally’s.

Given its priority, the BJP would not spend too much time on who is the chief minister in Bihar should the newspaper speculation turn real. Previously, the ruling Congress at the Centre was happy with the RJD winning many Lok Sabha seats.

The real damage of Nitish’s alleged departure will be to the INDIA bloc. Nitish was said to have been anyway peeved at not being offered the convenorship. On top of it, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal proposed Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge as the chairman.

Ironically, within days, the same two leaders rejected any truck with the Congress on seat-sharing in the states they rule. To be fair to him, Nitish always insisted on the bloc first deciding on seat-sharing before taking unity moves forward.

At a time when the INDIA bloc appears to be jeopardised by its constituents, a new threat looms before it. While it is far-fetched and unnecessary to write its political obituary, the fact remains that the RJD and the Congress will remain allies in Bihar for the general elections, with or without Nitish.

How that translates to the backward class vote, the possible benefits of the caste census and the Bharat Ratna for Karpoori Thakur is a matter for another day.

Nitish going or not going — just the speculation over it does not bode well for the ruling dispensation in Bihar.

Only Nitish, under such circumstances, will know what makes him tick despite changing sides at whim.

Also Read: Humbled Congress, assertive allies and doubling down on social justice pitch: On INDIA bloc table