A year back, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said that the doors of the BJP have closed for JDU leader Nitish Kumar. And now, amid developments that have shaken up the political circles months ahead of Lok Sabha polls, eight-time Chief Minister Mr Kumar has joined hands with the BJP again. This is his fifth flip-flop in a decade, which has seen a swift decline in his popularity and party’s electoral performance.
BJP MLAs in Bihar have given letters of support to Nitish Kumar, according to sources. The party MLAs also held a meeting in Patna today, shortly before Mr Kumar met Governor Rajendra Arlekar and put in his papers.
The big question, however, is why the BJP is ready to take him back into the NDA fold after his repeated jumps across the political aisle. NDTV looks at some of the factors behind the BJP’s decision
A Blow To INDIA Bloc
Nitish Kumar has been one of the key faces of the Opposition’s INDIA bloc and was at the forefront of forging the united front to take on the formidable BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has said it was Mr Kumar who convened INDIA meetings and that the Opposition bloc was expecting him to fight the BJP till the end. A flip-flop at this stage leaves the INDIA bloc red-faced months before the Lok Sabha polls. It also gives credence to the BJP’s contention that the Opposition bloc is an unstable alliance.
For the BJP, a flip-flop also means an advantage in Bihar, which has 40 Lok Sabha seats and was being seen as an INDIA stronghold so far. The ties between Congress and Trinamool Congress in Bengal, and Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab are already strained over seat-sharing talks. An end to the RJD-JDU alliance in Bihar at this stage would mean more trouble for INDIA. While a section of state BJP leaders have been against taking Mr Kumar back, the central leadership may have green-lighted the move after looking at the larger picture.
The State Equation
Over the past decade, Mr Kumar has managed to hold on to the Chief Minister post despite his repeated flip-flops. His popularity and his party’s electoral performance, however, has seen a consistent decline. His image of Sushashan Babu – the development man – has now been replaced as that of ‘paltu kumar’ – the one who keeps switching sides
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.
This has meant that despite Mr Kumar being in the Chief Minister’s chair, his party is the third-largest force in the Assembly. Be it RJD or BJP, Mr Kumar’s autonomy has declined because it is his ally who has the more numbers. So the BJP knows that even if lets Mr Kumar retain the Chief Minister post, it holds greater control than JDU in the Bihar government’s decisions. That way, it is a win-win situation for BJP.
The Perception Game
Mr Kumar’s flip-flops over the past decade has adversely impacted his public image. The BJP knows that it stands to lose little in the perception game because, unlike in Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra, it is not a section of ruling party MLAs making a switch. In those states, the BJP was accused of engineering mutinies to topple governments. Here, with Mr Kumar repeatedly changing allies, the BJP will not be seen as the villain.
BJP leaders, predictably, have gone back to their “jungle raj” rhetoric to explain why they are ok with teaming with Mr Kumar again. “Jungle Raj” is a term used by the BJP to refer to the corruption- and crime-tainted tenure of the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD.
“We are the biggest party in Bihar. We are alert and are tracking the developments closely. We are seized of the shifting political sands in Bihar. We will not take a step back when it comes to discharging our responsibilities. We cannot leave Bihar in the hands of ‘Jungle Raj’,” BJP national spokesperson Ajay Alok told news agency ANI.