Is BJP heading for a split with Nitish Kumar?

Ever since the BJP has romped back home in May 2019, with even a bigger majority than 2014, its relationship with its ally, JDU, in Bihar has been uneasy. At least a majority of the state unit was, or rather is, of the opinion that the time has come for the saffron party to go solo. Such were the skirmishes and the flow of rumours of an imminent break-up that Home Minister Amit Shah, in one of his rallies in Bihar, had to announce that the state election would be fought under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. Cut to May 2020. The ghost of “Nitish Kumar is a burden” has once again made a comeback in the Bihar unit of the BJP. Covid-19 apart from wreaking havoc worldwide also seems to have a cast a shadow on the BJP-JDU alliance. More importantly, the man who was known for his sobriquet “Sushasan Babu”, his image took a severe beating.

The images of lakhs of Bihari migrant labourers battling all odds and marching towards their home on foot, with no government help, shattered the Bihar government’s image more than anything else in the last five years. When this government apathy was seen against the proactive approach by other state governments like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh, it send alarm bells ringing in the BJP camp. Sources within the BJP believe that if the BJP goes solo it has a lot to gain. Most importantly, there is not much of an opposition left in the state. The RJD is struggling for its own survival, the Congress doesn’t matter much, and regional parties like HAM and RLSP can easily swing whichever way the power is. Moreover, the mistrust between Tejashwi Yadav and Nitish Kumar doesn’t make them the potent force which they were back in 2015. So, will the BJP pull the plug on JDU? The answer is No.

A senior BJP leader from Bihar agreed that the situation is extremely tempting and very loaded in favour of the BJP. With lakhs of migrant labourers back in Bihar before the state elections, hurt at the way they have been treated by Nitish Kumar, RJD fighting an internal succession battle with Lalu Prasad removed from the scene, it doesn’t get better than this. The top brass is aware of this, but as of now the grim reminder of what happened in 2015 and also to give an opportunity to other Opposition parties to consolidate will be a useless exercise. Lack of leadership and once again fighting the state election in Bihar in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is something which the party doesn’t want at this time. Nitish Kumar at best can be described as a catalyst. He has to align either way for his social engineering to work and votes to turn in his favour. The 2014 and 2015 results prove the same point. Senior RJD leader and old warhorse, Shivanand Tiwari talking to The Daily Guardian said, “The graph of Nitish Kumar has gone down considerably in recent times.

Covid-19 has dealt a severe blow to his image. There is resentment among people on the way he handled this crisis more or less turning a blind eye to the ground realities and asserting at the top of his voice initially that he will allow no stranded person inside Bihar. Nitish would be a spoilsport for the BJP. The BJP on the other hand has managed to polarise the society considerably and this was evident during CAA protest and also during corona crisis. Today the society is polarised on communal lines as never before and Nitish would be a misfit in this polarised scenario for the BJP.” He also indicated that a vast majority of people have moved towards the BJP due to polarisation and this includes even the core voters of both the JDU and the RJD. BJP state general secretary Devesh Kumar denied any basis to the rumours that the BJP and the JDU are going to part ways and said that Home Minister Amit Shah has put to rest this question several times. He said, “In the long run we may go solo but right now we are in tandem and in alliance. He is indispensable for us. He has been our oldest partner.”

Not only the BJP but the JDU and the RJD also in private acknowledge that the ground situation has changed a lot and there is lot of polarisation on the ground in favour of the BJP. Issues like NRC, CAA and Triple Talaq have mobilised people in favour of the BJP. Though on the face of it they have brushed aside the vitriolic, but sources say that even Nitish will not be very happy with the way polarisation is happening in favour of the BJP. Senior JDU leader and minister in the Nitish cabinet, Ashok Chaudhary dismissed the question as hypothetical and said that in 2020 the two parties would go to the polls together. But the question is why the party, which is known for taking extreme political gamble, is letting go of this opportunity? According to people in the know, the BJP is hesitant to rock the boat which is now heavily loaded in its favour.

With no Lalu to shepherd his flock and rising dissidence and increasing absence of Tejashwi, BJP leaders don’t want to give Nitish any halo or opposition any chance to regroup, especially when their victory in Bihar is almost a foregone conclusion. There are also two groups with the BJP: One which is in power, and the other which is not in power. For the one in power, it would want the alliance to continue at all cost – and vice-versa for the other group. Lack of a pan-Bihar leader is also something which is one of the reasons which stops the BJP from taking the plunge. Though there are several leaders who may fill the boot but risking the unity of the party this close to the assembly elections is also something which the party wants to avoid.

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