Crown of Thorns

Crown of Thorns

Nitish Kumar may be a chief minister, but BJP holds the reins of the new Bihar government:

Janata Dal-United (JD-U) chief Nitish Kumar on Monday (November 16) took oath as chief minister of Bihar for the seventh time. A 14-member council of ministers was also sworn in Patna by Governor Phagu Chauhan along with Nitish Kumar. But one significant change was noticed this time—Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushil Kumar Modi could not find a birth in the cabinet. Sushil Modi was very close to Nitish Kumar and was an ideal deputy CM and his most trusted finance minister. Sushil Kumar Modi was blue-eyed boy of BJP as long as its priority was to keep Nitish Kumar happy to establish its root in Bihar. Nitish’s concern for his secular image required Sushil to keep local BJP leaders on a tight leash and ensure a constant communication channel with the CM.

However, now the BJP wants to assert its power over him. It has to prepare itself for the future, in which it could form a government on its 0wn might. With the long thought out strategy Sushil Kumar Modi, anchor of the long JD(U)-BJP partnership in Bihar, was shown the door without fanfare, and two of its leaders Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi were administered the oath of office as Deputy Chief Minister.

Loud signals of BJP’s plans for Nitish Kumar can be read in the exit of Sushil Modi. Now that JD(U) has slipped to junior partner in the alliance, with just 43 seats against BJP’s 74, BJP’s easing out of Sushil is ample indication to Nitish that the equations have flipped. Henceforth, it will be BJP calling the shots, and the CM’s post to Nitish may be among the few concessions on offer.

The inclusion of new deputy CMs needs to be seen in that light. Tarkishore Prasad is from the Kalwar community, which comes in the Vaishya category, and Renu Devi is from the Noniya community that falls in the Extremely Backward Caste category. Renu Devi’s appointment is particularly important as both EBCs and women are said to be key support bases for Nitish Kumar.

The choice of OBC-EBC leaders Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi to replace Sushil barely disguises BJP’s plans for 2025. If Nitish vacates the political field by then as he promised to voters on the last day of campaigning, BJP will need recognisable backward class faces in Bihar’s notoriously stratified caste society. So far, Nitish brought this section to NDA. A strong RJD eyeing the same vote implies that BJP must woo this social segment with or without JD(U) in tow.

Nitish’s political journey as CM of Bihar

1. March 3, 2000, to March 10, 2000

He had to resign on March 10, 2000, for want of an adequate number of MLAs backing him.

2. November 24, 2005 – November 26, 2010

He completed full term as 31st Chief Minister of Bihar

3. November 26, 2010—May 20, 2014

He started as 32nd Chief Minister of Bihar but stepped down in on 17 may 2014, owning moral responsibility for the JD(U) ‘s debacle in the Lok Sabha elections.

4. February 22, 2015—November 20, 2015

He started as 34th Chief Minister of Bihar. The Grand Alliance comprising the JD(U), RJD, and the Congress, which declared him as its chief ministerial candidate. However, in July 2017, he stepped down, heeding his “inner voice”, which had been tormenting him over his then deputy Tejashwi Yadav’s name cropping up in a money laundering case.

5. November 20, 2015—November 16, 2020

He started as 35th Chief Minister of Bihar as NDA candidate.

6. November 16, 2020—Incumbent as NDA candidate.

For the record, he has already made it clear that this was his last election. He would be the longest-serving CM if he were to complete his term. But records apart, his present job is going to be much more difficult as political equations have changed: the JD-U with 43 seats is now a junior partner of ally BJP with 74 seats.

Despite sharing power with BJP for nearly 13 years, Nitish has managed to have his way amid RSS’s pulls and pressures. For instance, he got a resolution passed by the Assembly on the National Population Register despite BJP’s opposition. He also strongly allayed fears among the minorities about the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll assertion that Bihar had to reach the next level of development was hardly an overstatement. Nitish Singh’s image of being a ‘Sushanbabu’ is at stake, and he will again have to tread very cautiously. He faces enormous challenges ahead as Bihar counts among the worst-performing State even in comparison to the rest of the BIMARU provinces, such as the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Creation of new jobs, petty bureaucratic corruption, and maintaining the development tempo without compromising on law & order would be his main tasks.

Unemployment was a natural poll plank during the elections given that the Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) in Bihar is the lowest among the economically active 15+ group. BJP has promised to create 19 lakh jobs in the just-concluded assembly election.

“The BJP needs Nitish Kumar as much as he needs the former. He must convert his party’s numerical weakness into a strength. He has 43 MLAs backing him, whose support BJP would always require to stay in power,” said Dr. RK Verma, a political analyst.

There’s also the belligerent opposition to take care of. The RJD under Tejashwi Yadav has made a remarkable comeback and, with 75 seats, has become the single largest party in Bihar. They will do everything to try and unseat the government. Nitish will have to be on his guard always.