Current Affairs

Big BJP surprise gains in Bihar, Defecting Leader Nitish Eyes Future 

Yatindra Bhatnagar

Bihar is one of the states in India that has big population, big leaders, and bigger politics with a history of corruption, defections, break-up of parties and coalitions and also nepotism of the highest order.

The latest is resolute steps to curb corruption and nepotism but the pressure was too much for yet another round of break-up and going back to the old habit of defection and yet another round of old coalition politics.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was the one that broke up the last coalition of Janata Dal (U and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and subsequent elections in 2015 that saw Narendra Modi’s BJP suffering a big defeat.

Then Nitish had joined hands with notorious Bihari politician Lalu Prasad Yadav, boss of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) whose entire record is full of corrupt practice, jail-time, defection and nepotism of the highest order. First he was the Chief Minister, then made his wife Rabri Devi take over, and the current cabinet of Nitish Kumar had Lalu’s two sons appointed/managed to become ministers; in addition Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti, is a member of Parliament.

Meanwhile Lalu’s son’s were investigated for corruption and the entire family was under a cloud. Crisis erupted in the JD(U)-RJD coalition that saw Nitish Kumar resigning one day, the next day BJP formally coming to his rescue and giving him support to again get the Chief Minister’s job so that the old JDU(U)-BJP coalition will once again take over Bihar.

What a big show of opportunistic politics, but that otherwise should not have surprised anyone but for its suddenness and behind the scene developments that took the observers by real surprise. Even for Bihar this kind of quick and far-reaching developments were rather unexpected but anything is possible in Bihar.

Nitish Kumar was Chief Minister one day. The next day he resigned. The third day he was assured of BJP support and informed the Governor that he was prepared to take oath again. The RJD, the single largest party in Bihar legislature is claiming majority and the right to be invited to form a government.

It seems a foregone conclusion that Bihar will again witness JD(U)-BJP coalition with the same leadership – Nitish as Chief Minister and BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi (no relation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi) as Deputy Chief Minister, an arrangement that Nitish Kumar himself broke three years back and fought against BJP in 2015 with Lalu Yadav’s RJD support.

In all this the real gainer is BJP that got another chance in Bihar and that seems to give the party a solid assurance of coming to retain its majority in Indian Parliament in the next general elections in 2019. It’s another big victory for Narendra Modi whose influence is fast spreading and he and his party all but assured a second term at the Center.

Following the resignation, Modi quickly praised Kumar for fighting corruption in one of India's poorest states. The Prime Minister said that he was "looking forward to working together for Bihar's progress and prosperity". Last year  Nitish Kumar had demanded “special Status” for Bihar’s development but Narendra Modi had ignored it. Things changed and the new development should augers well for Bihar, one of the backward states with plenty of natural and mineral resources.

Nitish Kumar has also saved himself and probably eyes himself as Chief Minister again in 2020 or getting a Cabinet birth in Modi’s next Cabinet in 2019. One thing is sure, he has lost the dream of rising beyond Bihar and aiming for Modi’s post as the strong man of a strong, united opposition coalition. Now the BJP is ruling, on its own or in a coalition, 17 of India’s 29 states (and about two-third of India’s population). The march to further progress has quickened and hopes brightened.

With the new developments the Grand Coalition idea got a big jolt and Lalu’s future threatened, but Nitish Kumar’s seems assured.

Bihar is one of the big states with 100 million people and important for BJP. It was a big setback when, after a remarkable win for BJP in 2014 (that catapulted it with its largest majority in Lok Sabha and Modi as Prime Minister for the first time), the party lost Bihar the very next year.

Now the tables have turned for the better for BJP.

According to agency reports, Modi has led his party to a string of state election wins since he stormed to power in 2014, expanding the BJP's base across the northern heartlands and into the remote northeast, and cementing his claim to a second term.

"Modi's road to power in 2019 is smoother with Nitish on his side," said Sankarshan Thakur, an editor at The Telegraph newspaper and author of a book on Kumar. What had been broken, he said, was not merely an alliance but an attempt at building a credible counter-narrative to Modi's "stunning grab on the national imagination" after 2014. 

Bihar had been a rare blot on Modi's electoral record, after a three-party alliance led by Kumar handed the BJP a heavy defeat in late 2015. But Nitish Kumar’s return as Modi-supporter, underscores Modi's political dominance and tactical acumen in either defeating or co-opting his rivals.

Nitish’s resignation earlier, centered on a disagreement around the role of Yadav's minister-son , but some analysts said Kumar, 66, clearly saw a better political future by cutting his losses and aligning himself with Modi, again.

"The BJP has its strategy in place and the systematic assault on Lalu's family in corruption cases by federal agencies was not a coincidence. It was all well-timed and planned to ensure Nitish gets a smooth exit to join hands with the BJP," said Shekhar Gupta, founder and editor-in-chief of The Print. 

Bhupendra Yadav, BJP national general secretary, denied the BJP was to blame for any fallout between Lalu and Kumar.

"We are proud of the fact that the BJP has been successful in defeating the corrupt political party and will be able to serve the people of Bihar," he said.

Kumar, who broke with the BJP before the 2014 general election, had in recent months begun openly to support some of Modi's policies.

In contrast with other opponents, he had backed the prime minister's shock decision in November to ban high-denomination bank notes to fight "black money" and threw his weight behind Modi's recent choice for India's new president, Ram Nath Kovind.