Bihar polls: Chief Minister as Caligula’s horse

Bihar polls: Chief Minister as Caligula’s horse

Nitish Kumar

Nitish Kumar has been sworn in for the fourth time as Chief Minister of Bihar to head a government over which he will have little control. Nitish had himself resigned and nominated Jitan Ram Manjhi as Chief Minister in 2014, owning responsibility for his party’s heavy loss to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Manjhi was his proxy, and in the same manner he will now be beholden to the BJP and will be taking orders from that party. He had refused to continue as Chief Minister then because, he said, the mandate was not in his favour. Even now, the mandate is against him, but ironically, he has to continue as Chief Minister for reasons that more suit the BJP than him. If he had assumed chief ministership on three occasions in the past as a morally, politically and electorally strong leader, he lacks that strength and legitimacy now.  

It is clear that the BJP, with 74 seats in the Assembly against the JD(U)’s 43, will call the shots in the government and the NDA. Nominally, he remains the leader as tactically the BJP cannot ditch and disown him so soon after the elections which it contested with him as the leader and after the party’s leaders, including the Prime Minister, repeatedly said that he would continue to be the Chief Minister. It is also because both sides do not have other viable options. If Nitish refuses to play the BJP’s game, he may lose much of his party to the BJP or the RJD. But the BJP’s strategic aims are certain to be different. When it starts to assert itself and to build on the dominance it now has in the state’s politics, Nitish Kumar will certainly feel the heat. After weakening him as a leader, the BJP may also be eyeing the social base he now has, especially because he has no strong second line of leadership to protect that base and to keep the flock together. 

The BJP has made its intentions clear by binding Nitish Kumar with two Deputy Chief Ministers in place of Sushil Kumar Modi, who was close to him and was the most visible face of the old NDA. The message is that the old NDA is dead and there are new power equations in the state. In the cabinet also, more portfolios and the more important ones have gone to the BJP. It is a sad turn: Nitish Kumar, who has dominated the state as a politician, administrator and leader for decades, may now be seen as Caligula’s horse, appointed and anointed by the master for a purpose.