On 27 July, Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar decided to break away from the so-called Mahagathbandhan and resigned from his post. For the political pundits reading the tea leaves, it came as no surprise as the events of the past few months were indicative of a rift within opposition ranks with Nitish coming out in open support of the NDA’s presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind who is from Bihar and skipping a lunch organised by Congress President Sonia Gandhi to break bread with PM Modi in New Delhi. This year’s presidential elections were a caste V/s caste intra-state battle in which the opposition fielded former Lok Sabha Speaker Meera Kumar, also a dalit and incidentally also happens to be ‘Bihar ki Beti’. It was only a matter of time before NDA’s Goliath would crush David with a significant backing, more than the required 2/3rd majority of votes by their side.
Nitish specifically welcomed this development by stating that it was a matter of pride for the President-elect to be from Bihar. Moreover, by abstaining to criticize the demonetization programme, which was vociferously opposed by the Opposition as an’eye-wash’, Kumar certainly raised many eyebrows. The RJD, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav and JDU led by Nitish had forged a Mahagathbandhan to stop the volley of BJP victories in state assembly elections following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in which the BJP led NDA emerged victorious with a massive mandate. And it surely was successful to stop the further march of BJP by handing it a crushing defeat just a year after the state had voted overwhelmingly in support of the BJP in 2014 elections.
The Congress reduced to only a few seats, 27 to be exact also became an active partner in the government after recovering from a humiliating defeat, the previous year and had dreamt of replicating this ‘United And Secular Front’ model with utopian hopes of putting up a formidable contest in the run-up to 2019 elections. But these aspirations were short-lived with Nitish formally resigning and returning to his home fold with which he had a troubled relationship earlier. Both the CM and PM heaped praises on each other and it is said that back-channel talks with Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi and President Kovind had an instrumental role to play in this sudden decision.
It is interesting to note, that the same Nitish Kumar who once broke ranks with the BJP in 2014 under the premises of BJP not fielding a ‘secular’ candidate but one tainted with ‘communalism and riots’ returned to join hands within less than half a decade of breakup. Nitish Kumar led JD(U) though a senior partner in government had managed to bag just 71 seats as opposed to the RJD which grossed the highest seats in the 243 seats assembly with 80 seats and Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu Yadav’s elder son as the Deputy Chief Minister.
It was in June when trouble began brewing for the Yadav family. Sushil Kumar Modi, a senior BJP leader,now the Deputy Chief Minister, led a tirade against Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family, including Tejashwi, for amassing ill-gotten wealth and benaami properties worth crores of rupees when Lalu was the Railway Minister and when RJD was in power from 1991-2005. With allegations mounting day by day and the courts reopening cases against Lalu in the fodder scam, the clean image of the Grand Alliance came under a cloud. Nitish realised that this taint though not proved, was proving to be the cause of cracks in the government and his support base was shrinking. With JD(U) refusing to defend the RJD Chief and asking them to come clean and the RJD ruling out Tejashwi’s resignation, the signs of a split were on the horizon. But it was the timing and the sequence of events following the announcement which startled many.
By virtue of being the largest party, it was the RJD which should have been provided with an invitation to form the government, but the Governor accepted Nitish’s stake to the CM’s chair with the BJP’s support of 53 seats along with the support of independents to sail pass the magic number of 124 seats to form a majority. The RJD and the Congress have challenged the constitutional validity of this move and the matter is pending in the Patna High Court. Moreover they have stated that they had been given a joint mandate and breaking the alliance at this stage would disrespect the wishes of the people of Bihar,a view also echoed by Sharad Yadav, a senior JD(U) leader.
This is the second instance where BJP has wrested a state despite not being the party with maximum MLAs after Goa, where it pulled out a similar coup in dramatic fashion. With Sushil Kumar Modi as his deputy, a man whose relentless attacks and documental release led to institution of a CBI enquiry against the Yadav family, the opposition was quick to label Nitish as an ‘opportunist’ and a ‘turncoat’.
It is said that Nitish’s zero-tolerance policy towards corruption and graft turned to be the lethal weapon, the BJP used to deflate the Grand Alliance. Nitish was a strong contender for the PM’s post in case, though nil chances given the present scenario, the opposition could put up a united front and return to power under UPA. But with Nitish quitting, and Modi-led government sure of winning a second term unopposed, unless it makes mistakes, the opposition will find it hard to find a new face for the 2019 elections.
With Bihar joining kitty of BJP ruled states with JDU being the senior partner, life has come a full circle for ‘Bihar ke Lala’ Nitish to establish ‘sushasan‘ in a state famous for its erstwhile Jungle-Raj.