Imran Khan in his avatar as Pakistan’s cricket captain had described his team as “cornered tigers” to explain their comeback from the dead in the 1992 World Cup which they went on to win. Some would argue with the characterisation of Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar as a big cat but what is beyond debate is that his ally, the BJP, has been pushing him into a corner for a while now despite its protestations to the contrary.
On Sunday, Mr Kumar struck back. In a sudden move, he quit as JD(U) president in favour of Ram Chandra Prasad Singh ~ or RCP as he is widely known ~ thereby marking out clear blue water between the coalition government he heads in Bihar and the JD(U) and BJP as distinct parties.
In RCP, Mr Kumar has installed a loyalist to head the party and say what he as CM may not be able to. The JD(U) will now be free to take independent positions on the issues of the day as it deems fit without inviting accusations of going against coalition dharma.
The immediate trigger for Mr Kumar’s gambit seems to have been the recent defection of six JD(U) MLAs in Arunachal Pradesh to the BJP. The meeting of the JD(U)’s national executive in which Mr Kumar passed the baton to RCP also passed a resolution against this “grave violation of the spirit of coalition dharma” and a second resolution critical of the BJP’s “so-called love-jihad campaign”.
The Bihar CM and his closest advisors believe the trust deficit between the two parties dates back to end-2013 when Mr Modi was first announced as the BJP’s candidate for PM though the necessity of compromise for both sides to stay in power in Bihar meant that it stayed largely subterranean. But in propping up Chirag Paswan who ran an anti-Nitish campaign in the last Assembly election, foisting two deputy CMs on Mr Kumar without consulting him, and making it clear in actions and words that with 74 MLAs to the JD(U)’s 43 it sees itself as the dominant partner in the Bihar coalition, the BJP has upped the ante.
As a riposte, Mr Kumar has already said apropos of nothing in particular that he “wasn’t interested in being CM” and that he accepted the post only because of repeated requests from the BJP leadership; a clear warning shot to his ally that he won’t be played for a patsy. JD(U) leaders have openly started speaking of joining a putative national alliance of regional parties while Lalu Prasad’s RJD, to add spice to the mix, has hinted it would not be averse to Mr Kumar heading such an alliance for the 2024 Lok Sabha poll. The BJP, in its haste to occupy the dominant national party space vacated by the Congress, has already lost the TDP, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal as allies over the past few years. Can it afford to lose another?