Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s political future appears to be bleak with his party, the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), left with no significant issues to go to the voters in the next year’s assembly elections. All the key issues have become a “victim” of BJP politics and hence the party really is in dire need of issues that could sail it through.
Right since the JD-U joined the NDA in 1996, the Bihar-centric outfit had its own identity. Even while in alliance with the BJP, it continued opposing three contentious issues of its saffron partner which included abrogation of Article 370, implementation of uniform civil code (UCC), and construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Later the JD-U even started opposing triple talaq and BJP’s move to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India. The JD-U also initially opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. On 5 January, JD-U general secretary KC Tyagi condemned the JPC’s decision to go ahead with the submission of the proposed Bill to the Parliament saying, “This would lead to demographic change in the entire region. The Bill will destroy the ethnicity of Assam and North-East which is not dustbin of illegal immigrants. Again at a meeting of 10 political parties held in Guwahati on 29 January this year, the JD-U, represented by its northeast in-charge NSN Lotha, strongly opposed the Bill. In a sudden U-turn, however, the JD-U has now supported the Bill in the Parliament quite like it did in the case of other contentious issues it had opposed in the past.
The way the top JD-U leaders and office-bearers, such as national vice-president Prashant Kishor and party’s national general secretary-cum-national spokesperson Pawan Kumar Varma, have opposed the JD-U move to support the Citizenship Bill, it’s now clear the chief minister didn’t have the support of the party over the issue and that he took all the decisions unilaterally. The move has also exposed the internal democracy and the functioning of the JD-U which once boasted of having a “secular and socialist” outlook.
Political experts say the chief minister had the golden chance to prove his “secular and separate identity” in the NDA by opposing the Citizenship Bill in the present form. Moreover, the JD-U had the option of hitting back at the BJP which paid scant regard to the JD-U which was offered just one berth in the Narendra Modi cabinet despite winning an almost equal number of seats in the LS polls in Bihar. At least four leaders from Bihar were inducted into Modi cabinet whereas only one berth was offered to the JD-U which though rejected. The JD-U got the treatment despite the fact that it won 16 LS seats in Bihar—just one less than the BJP’s tally of 17.
“This is the height of political opportunism,” commented political expert Prof DM Diwakar, former director with the Patna-based AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies. “As such Nitish never changed his stand; rather he was just a part of the political game set by the BJP to split the secular votes. Now, he stands exposed,” Diwakar added.
Right now, the JD-U has been left with only the issue of the demand for granting special category status to Bihar but the Modi government has made it clear time and again that the fulfillment of this demand is not possible. The other issue being cited by the JD-U is maintaining the “Rule of Law” in the state but the masses don’t look amused either given the sudden spurt in crime, especially the incidents of rape, in the state—a kind of situation which the opposition describes as “Maha-Jungle Raj and Rakshash Raj (demon rule)”.
The problem for the chief minister is that he has lost his entire identity in the past two years since he returned to BJP camp two years back. This was clearly visible in this year’s LS poll campaign when the chief minister was seen only publicising Modi government’s act of carrying out airstrike in Pakistan’s Balakot in retaliation to Pulwama attack and surgical strike, rather than highlighting his government’s achievements on Bihar front.
“Nitish Kumar is left with nothing now and so staying with the BJP is his compulsion. It’s not the BJP which requires Nitish; rather it’s Nitish who urgently needs the BJP,” explained another political commentator wishing not to be named. According to him, Nitish doesn’t have any particular vote bank right now.