The emerging theme of Bihar Assembly Election 2020 appears to be defeat Nitish Kumar at all cost. Nitish is the current Chief Minister of Bihar and member of a regional political party the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)). He has the distinction of being the state’s Chief Minister for 15 years and has formed government taking help from both sides of the political spectrum at some point of time or the other. Nitish flipped flopped between the support of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) or the Grand Alliance comprising of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Indian National Congress (INC or the Congress) and many other parties.
After serving two terms as the Chief Minister with the support of the BJP under the central leadership of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and stalwarts like Lal Krishna Advani, Jaswant Singh etc., Nitish broke away with the BJP due to the appearance of Narendra Modi as the new BJP leadership. He returned as the Chief Minister after 2015 Bihar assembly polls partnering with the Mahagathbandhan. In 2017, he went back with the BJP and remained as the chief minister of Bihar.
Relations with the BJP
Nitish Kumar shares an uneasy relationship with the BJP due to his dislike for the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For the BJP central leadership, Nitish is a political necessity as he has cultivated a clean image of himself in Bihar. BJP under Narendra Modi has lost elections in many states and winning Bihar can help his image. Called as the Sushasan Babu (roughly translated as good governance leader), PM Modi couldn’t dent him in 2015 elections. For Nitish too, the alliance is a necessity and one can see his discomfort with PM Modi when they both are present on stage addressing the crowds. A glum Nitish usually sports a bewildered look when PM Modi rouses the gathered crowd with his speech.
Unlike the Vajpayee era BJP, the current BJP cadre in Bihar do not display much affinity with Nitish Kumar and there is enough evidence of refrain from attacking Center-Left Nitish Kumar for not running the rightwing agenda. The BJP is also incapable of garnering enough seats to form a government in Bihar. The tallest leader in Bihar BJP is Sushil Kumar Modi and he is unable to show his sushashan capabilities with the unmitigated disaster called the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The only other big party capable of getting more seats is the RJD which is not likely to touch the BJP even with a barge pole. Neither the Bihar BJP leaders nor the cadre trusts Nitish Kumar due to his earlier betrayal.
Unlike the BJP, the RJD which is the main partner of the mahagathbandhan is not in a welcoming mood if Nitish decides to switch alliances again. The rapprochement parleys after jumping to the BJP fold have not been successful for Nitish. The junior mahagathbandhan partner Congress appears to be aggregable to it. However, the RJD is simmering with anger after Nitish betrayed them by joining the BJP to form the government even after a clear mandate for the mahagathbandhan . In 2020, RJD and JD(U) are facing each other in the most seats. RJD’s Tejashwi Prasad Yadav has challenged Nitish in his home turf Nalanda. “Let him select any one constituency from the home district Nalanda and I will contest against him,” said Tejasvi Yadav.
While with the grand alliance, Nitish was even speculated to be the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) face for Prime Ministerial candidate in the future.
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP)
The LJP headed by Chirag Paswan is the son of the late Ram Vilas Paswan, a long-time political associate of Nitish Kumar and a key BJP ally. Under Chirag Paswan, the LJP is all set to contest against Nitish Kumar for the ‘mistreatment’ of his father. This move is widely believed to be orchestrated by the BJP to weaken Nitish Kumar. Eight of the Bihar BJP leaders have resigned the party and joined the LJP. The vice versa has not happened. After feeble threats to the deserters, the BJP conveniently expelled them from the party. The BJP has hinted the Political strategist and politician Prashant Kishor for the LJP’s refusal to fight the election under Nitish Kumar. However, Chirag Paswan has clarified that the move was inspired by his late father’s advice.
The LJP had contested the 2015 Bihar assembly elections in an alliance with BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The LJP plans to field candidates only against Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and not BJP.
Prashant Kishor factor
One of the main factor for Nitish Kumar’s good showing in 2015 elections was the backing of Prashant Kishore. Subsequently, Prashant Kishor joined JD(U) in 2018 and fell out of favour with Nitish Kumar over Nitish’s support for the Citizenship (Amendment) Act CAA and the National Register for Citizens (NRC). After leaving JD(U) in early 2020, Prashant Kishor vowed to continue working for Bihar and started an apolitical forum called “Baat Bihar Ki”, promising to develop leadership from the grass-roots. He has repeatedly criticized Nitish Kumar subsequently. As per the media reports, Prashant Kishor is being seen with smaller political parties in Bihar. His political page has 20 lakh followers.
Nitish Kumar hails from Kurmi caste which is counted amongst the Other Backward Caste (OBC) community making up just 2% of Bihar’s population. Compared to Yadav’s who form nearly 14% of Bihar’s population, Nitish has managed to rise above the caste conscious Bihar and held the top post for more than a decade. He has outmanoeuvred political parties with a larger base to remain in power. Switching over to the BJP for support in 2017 is generally considered a foolish move as he has earned the ire from all across the political spectrum. The results of the 2020 Bihar Assembly Election results will decide if it was a political masterstroke or a blunder.