Eleven years back, Nitish Kumar was the face of development in Bihar. His Janata Dal United government’s law and order reforms and welfare schemes, coming right after the corruption and crime-tainted rule of Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), had earned him the sobriquet ‘Sushashan Babu’ – the good governance man.
Cut to present day, and the socialist leader who started his political journey with many other stalwarts during the anti-Emergency movement, has become synonymous with political flip-flops, prompting many to give him a new name, “paltu kumar” the one who keeps reversing his political position.
Here’s how Nitish Kumar shifted his positions over the past decade
End of a stable alliance
Before their first break-up in 2013, the JDU-BJP alliance in Bihar was an example of stability. The rules were simple. The BJP, then under the leadership of Atal Bihar Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, gave Mr Kumar a free hand in Bihar. The JDU chief responded by backing the BJP at the Centre. In 2013, a new BJP leadership – and a new era – was emerging on the horizon. The name of Narendra Modi, then known for his governance track record in Gujarat, had been announced as the party’s Prime Minister candidate. Mr Kumar was not happy and had made his displeasure known to the BJP leadership. On realising that the BJP will go ahead with its choice anyway, Mr Kumar ended the JDU’s 17-year alliance with the BJP.
The 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which brought the BJP back to power with a thumping majority, was a disaster for Mr Kumar. JDU, now contesting against its former ally BJP, ended up with just two seats, a drop of 18 from its 2009 tally.
The 2015 Mahagathbandhan
Soon after the 2014 Lok Sabha results, Mr Kumar had quit has Chief Minister, taking responsibility for his party’s debacle. He had installed Jitam Ram Manjhi as the Chief Minister in his place. The JDU government survived the majority test in the Assembly with the support of RJD, once its arch-rival. The next year, the JDU contested the state polls in alliance with the RJD and the Congress, scoring a massive victory and paving the way for Mr Kumar to become Chief Minister again. However, this victory relegated Mr Kumar to the smaller force in the alliance, with the RJD emerging as the big brother. This provided a perfect launchpad to Lalu Prasad to launch his son. Tejashwi Yadav, then 26, was sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister.
The 2017 Reversal
Within two years, rifts in the Mahagathbandhan were out in the open. JDU’s decision to back the BJP on issues such as demonetisation and GST raised eyebrows in the Opposition. But the tipping point came when the CBI filed a corruption case against Lalu Yadav and several of his family members, including Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi.
Mr Kumar, worried that allegations against his ally may taint his clean image, started dropping hints that he wanted Tejashwi Yadav to resign. When Lalu Yadav made it clear that this would not happen, Mr Kumar parted ways and resigned as Chief Minister, bringing down the Mahagathbandhan government. His said his “conscience” had prompted him to take the step. Within a few hours of his resignation, he was back in the top post, thanks to support from the BJP.
Back to Mahagathbandhan
In the 2020 Bihar polls, the NDA managed to cobble together a majority and Mr Kumar was Chief Minister again. This time, too, he was the junior partner in the alliance with the BJP scoring much better than him in the seat tally. The JDU’s diminished strength in the Assembly meant lesser autonomy for Mr Kumar, who once called the shots for NDA in Bihar. Differences also cropped up over issues such as National Register of Citizens. Things came to a head in 2022, when the JDU alleged a BJP plot to split the party. On August 9, 2022, Mr Kumar announced that the JDU-BJP alliance was over. The next day, he was Chief Minister again with support from the RJD, which had earlier ruled out any tie-up with Mr Kumar again.
Another Split On The Way?
According to reports, Mr Kumar is contemplating another reversal and is likely to end the alliance with RJD. If this happens, it would be his fifth flip-flop. On the national level, Mr Kumar has been at the forefront of putting together the INDIA Opposition bloc to take on the BJP. A reversal by him will also leave the Opposition front red-faced. Mr Kumar’s refusal to join Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, which is about to enter Bihar, is being seen as a precursor to his big exit. The BJP leadership, it is learnt, has green-lighted Mr Kumar’s return, but state leaders are not happy.
Nitish Kumar’s Dropping Popularity
The past few decades have seen Nitish Kumar making repeated flip-flops across the political aisle, but holding on to the Chief Minister post. While he has served as many as eight terms in the top post, his popularity and his party’s influence in the Bihar political landscape is on the decline. From 115 seats in the 2010 Bihar polls to 71 in 2015 to just 43 in 2020, JDU’s strength in the Assembly has been on a slide, providing Mr Kumar little autonomy. Another reversal will only dent his image further and confirm predictions that the once model Chief Minister’s political career in its twilight years.