Break-up panic: Wary Nitish reaches out to Bhumihars

By Manoj Kumar

Patna: While the 'Modi-for-PM' chorus is growing louder within the BJP and the NDA, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been busy fortifying his vote banks to counter the BJP if the situation so warrants. Both parties—BJP and JD(U)—have been in a political alliance for the last 17 years in the state and the equations have nosedived ever since the prime minister question started floating in the air. Nitish is also an aspirant for the top job.

His main focus right now is to woo the powerful, upper caste Bhumihar community, the traditional supporter of the BJP, and keep it in good humour by offering key posts to ensure that the JD(U) enjoys support of this landed caste.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Image courtesy PIB

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Image courtesy PIB

His party has nominated KC Tyagi, a Bhumihar leader from Uttar Pradesh, to Rajya Sabha for the lone vacant seat from Bihar. The seat fell vacant after the resignation of Upendra Kushwaha, once a close confidante of Nitish. Soon after his election, Khuswaha started criticising Nitish for his "autocratic" style of functioning which forced the party to initiate disciplinary action against him. The party also submitted a petition to the Rajya Sabha chairman seeking his disqualification from the Upper House. In January this year, Kushwaha himself resigned. There were several names being debated for this vacant seat. Many felt Kushwaha will be replaced by another backward caste leader but the JD(U) leader settled for an "outsider" – the upper caste Tyagi.

Nitish has, of late, been trying hard to bury the hatchet with a rebel party leader from the same community, Rajiv Ranjan Singh, alias Lalan Singh. Singh was among three JD(U) MPs suspended by the party in March 2011 for anti-party activities during the 2010 state assembly polls. Nitish is now keen on bringing the rebel leader back to the party fold by revoking his suspension. During the past few weeks, Nitish is learnt to have met Singh more than thrice at his 1 Anne Marg official residence at Patna.

Both the administrative chief and the head of the police force are Bhumihars. Ashok Kumar Sinha, a 1976 batch IAS officer, has been appointed chief secretary of the state while Abhay Anand is the Director General of Police. This, according to political observers, is the first time in the state’s history that both the posts are held by members of one community. This, obviously, is no accident. Nitish wants to wean the politically influential caste away from the BJP.

The JD(U) leader is also keen on getting the Brahmins on his side too. Like the Bhumihars, the Brahmins have been loyal to the BJP traditionally. Both the castes had been at the forefront of the oust-RJD campaign. The Bihar government hurriedly declared a one-day state mourning in honour of veteran BJP leader Kailaspati Mishra, the tallest leader from the community, a few months ago. Another state mourning was announced when former minister Ramashray Prasad Singh died after prolonged illness in January this year. The political design behind the move was clear.

Till recently, Nitish was more focussed on winning the confidence of the extremely backward castes (EBC) and the Muslims who account for nearly 15 percent and 16 percent of the state’s total electorate. In keeping with his plan, Nitish reserved 50 percent seats for EBCs, backwards and women in local bodies, and then constituted the Mahadalit Commission which initially identified 18 of the total 22 Dalit sub-castes who constitute 31 percent of total Dalit population in the state, as "Mahadalits" and later announced plethora of sops to them to lure them to the party. Likewise, a number of schemes were launched for the Muslims.

As things now turn out, Nitish is quite panicky over the mere thought of breaking alliance with the BJP given the strong upper castes support for the saffron party. Although he is working on the alternative strategy to minimise the damage in case the alliance breaks, reports coming out from within say he is not sure if the gamble will work. Perhaps that was the reason why Nitish yesterday had to issue a formal denial in the media regarding his demand from the BJP for declaration of prime ministerial candidate in advance— the second time in five months.