Nitish Kumar might return as Bihar CM, but BJP unlikely to play second fiddle now

While reactions have poured in about the closely-fought Bihar Assembly election, the one leader who has been curiously silent is Nitish Kumar himself

FP Staff November 11, 2020 17:09:16 IST
Nitish Kumar might return as Bihar CM, but BJP unlikely to play second fiddle now

File image of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. AP

Nitish Kumar is all set to be the Bihar chief minister for the fourth consecutive term. While several reactions have poured in from the political spectrum after National Democratic Alliance (NDA) clinched a nail biting fight in Bihar Assembly Election, Nitish has been curiously silent.

 

While Nitish remains the face of the victorious NDA for now, he will now find his crown to be thornier than ever before.

The Janata Dal (United)'s tally has fallen precipitously from 71 seats in the 2015 elections to 43 seats now. The BJP, with 74 seats, is now unquestionably the big brother in the alliance.

Much of Nitish's plight can be attributed to the damage that Chirag Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party inflicted on the JD(U). While the LJP could secure only one seat, the party spoiled the JD(U)'s chances in at least 30 seats.

The big question that remains now is whether the BJP will honour its earlier statement that Nitish Kumar will be the chief minister irrespective of which NDA partner gets how many seats.

BJP's stand

For now, the BJP's official stand is that its leader in Bihar remains Nitish Kumar. Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi was quoted as saying by NDTV, "Nitishji will remain chief minister as it was our commitment. There is no confusion on this."

He said that in an election, "some win more and some win less" but added that the BJP and JD(U) are 'equal partners.'

Follow LIVE updates on Bihar election results here

Indeed, the BJP could well have reasons to be magnanimous, or at least appear to be magnanimous, with respect to the JD(U). The Nitish Kumar-led party is the BJP's only major ally as part of the NDA, with much older constituents Shiv Sena and Akali Dal now having parted ways. The string of defeats that the BJP has faced in recent state elections may also dissuade it from antagonising its ally for now.

The saffron party would also not have forgotten how it lost power in Maharashtra despite being the single-largest party, after the Shiv Sena crossed to join the NCP and Congress. One key difference between Maharashtra and Bihar, however, is that the Mahagathbandhan already has, in Tejashwi Yadav, a leader with strong chief ministerial aspirations.

Moreover, even if Nitish decides to cross over to the Mahagathbandhan, the JD(U) does not have very bright prospects in the state as of now. The BJP is now more powerful in Bihar than ever before, and once 69-year-old Nitish retires from politics, the regional party will be left with no mass leader of a comparable stature. As an article in The Print notes, Nitish's vote bank of extremely backward classes (EBCs) and non-Paswan Dalits are now swaying towards the BJP, which is why the party is likely to only grow further.

This may be what has spurred some Bihar BJP leaders, such as SC Morcha chief Ajit Kumar Chaudhary, to say that it is now time for a BJP chief minister in the state, notwithstanding the party's official stand.

JD(U)'s shrinking footprint

While Nitish Kumar may well be sworn in as chief minister for the seventh time, it is clear that he is presiding over a shrinking empire. The JD(U)'s tally has reduced from 71 in 2015 to 43 seats in 2020, and the party does not seem to have a clear roadmap about its future after Nitish's exit from politics.

Indeed, the JD(U) chief was reported to have said at a recent poll rally that this would be his last election. Sources close to him later claimed that he meant that it was the last meeting of the election, as reported by NDTV. Nevertheless, the remark fuelled speculations about the future course of his career, and by extension, the fate of his party.

According to an article in India Today, among the possibilities for Nitish could be a berth in the Union government or the post of a governor of a state. Given the BJP's performance in the recently-concluded election, it is certain that the BJP will have its own chief ministerial candidate in the next Assembly election in 2025, the article added.

Even before the 2020 Assembly election, the BJP had performed better than the JD(U), although the absence of a strong chief ministerial candidate has hampered its progress at the state level. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won all its 17 seats, while the JD(U) won 16 seats. The BJP also had a higher vote share at 23.58 percent, in comparison to the JD(U)'s 21.8 percent.

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