Mamata's win in Bengal helps Nitish claw back in Bihar

Mamata's win in Bengal helps Nitish claw back in Bihar

After its loss in Bengal, BJP now needs allies to show that the NDA is still alive

The most significant collateral beneficiary of Banerjee's triumph in Bengal seems to be her immediate first door neighbour in Bihar. In his two decades of experiments with the BJP, the electoral outcome of Bihar Assembly polls late last year rendered Nitish Kumar in an un-envious situation. Credit: PTI File Photos

Politicians are like fast bowlers. They have a long and hard memory. They do not forget, and they do not forgive.

And like fast bowlers, politicians are born with an uncanny knack to work in pairs. Or in packs, if the situation so desires. If the bowler operating from the far end keeps it nice and tight, there is a fair chance of getting one through the gate from the other end.

In India, this election season, Mamata Banerjee, up against the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), kept pitching at a very good length. Conceding very few runs while picking up just enough scalps for every spell she bowled, the West Bengal chief minister created enough opportunities for others in the league to free their arms a bit.

Those who were warming up at the fence all this while have had a day field day since. The Samajwadi Party is up on its feet, talking to potential allies to stitch up an alliance for the Uttar Pradesh elections. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi has begun to get its house in order showing the door to potential challengers within. The Akalis see hope in Punjab sans the BJP. They have tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Within the BJP, the much-touted elevation of bureaucrat turned politician Arvind Sharma has ended at the state party headquarters. B S Yediyurappa in Karnataka has once again been able to save his chair, at least for now. New Delhi has had to dial the Gupkar "gang" for dialogue at the prime minister's residence. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar is testing waters to form an alternative front.

However, the most significant collateral beneficiary of Banerjee's triumph in Bengal seems to be her immediate first door neighbour in Bihar. In his two decades of experiments with the BJP, the electoral outcome of Bihar Assembly polls late last year rendered Nitish Kumar in an un-envious situation. The BJP challenged his suzerain status over Bihar as it emerged as the single largest party by a fair margin.

Bihar CM's carefully cultivated image of 'vikas babu' was pummeled incessantly by Chirag Paswan while he spared the BJP much of the same treatment throughout the election campaign.

Despite emerging as the bigger partner in the Bihar NDA, the BJP kept its pre-poll promise and allowed Kumar to continue as the chief minister. But there are no free lunches in politics. So a political price had to be extracted to demonstrate who called the shots in the new set-up.

Post elections, Sushil Modi, the trusted deputy chief minister Kumar was comfortable working with, was dispatched to the Rajya Sabha. The BJP nominated from its quota two deputy chief ministers instead. And what is more, the BJP snatched away the strategically critical position of the house speaker in a hung assembly.

Like any good politician, Kumar conceded without betraying any signs of discomfiture. But speculation persisted whether the BJP will seek to further strengthen its now dominant position in Bihar after the Bengal elections. Political parties, like us mortals, strive to make hay while the sun shines. So what would have happened in Bihar had the BJP come up trumps in Bengal is a matter of conjecture.                                                                                                                          

But Kumar, it seemed, was already at work planning to put in place a slew of corrective measures to arrest any further downslide. He went back to the drawing board to reboot the social coalition he had built to trump Lalu Prasad Yadav's brand of social justice.

The return of former union minister Upendra Kushwaha, Kumar's friend-turned-foe, was the first step towards this end. Kushwaha's homecoming after an extended outing was an indication of Kumar's efforts to mobilise the non-Yadav OBC's. Kushwaha comes from the backward Koeri caste and has long projected himself as the natural successor to Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar in the process of decentralisation of power within the Mandal caste groups.

Kumar's ability to carve out an independent support base for his party has sustained his long innings in Bihar politics. This social combination includes non-Yadav backwards like Kurmis and Koeris, other extremely backward communities and non-Paswan Dalits. These communities together account for 15 to 20 per cent of the polity, a number good enough to establish Kumar as the critical third pole that can swing elections either way.

In the 2020 Bihar Assembly polls, Kumar's Janata Dal (United) chose to contest elections in alliance with the BJP but won a far lesser number of seats than the BJP.

The BJP closed in further by appointing two deputy chief ministers - one from the extremely backward community and the other from a sub-caste of Vaishya community which come under the backward category in Bihar. After being sworn in, Kumar first sought to firm up his position by calling a truce with Kushwaha. Moreover, he became more accommodative towards smaller parties in the alliance, like Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustan Awam Morcha.

The consolidation picked further momentum after the Bengal elections, and wheels turned in Delhi and Patna. The Lok Janshakti Party imploded with Pashupati Paras leading the charge against nephew Chirag Paswan. A testimony to the altered political equations was that the BJP had to acquiesce and march along in step with the JD(U) on the LJP split. The tables had turned.

The BJP, post the Bengal polls, needs allies.  At least for appearance's sake. To show that the NDA is still alive and the BJP still has friends. Ramdas Athawale of the Republican Party of India (A) is currently the only non-BJP minister in the union council of ministers.

A cabinet expansion at the Centre looks likely. Hence, Kumar, who did not join the Union government in 2019 for being offered just one seat, may finally have his way of getting a respectable share for his party.

What's more, the Bihar CM has a new ally in Paras. And unlike his nephew Chirag, Paras is convinced of who is the real Vikas Purush of Bihar.
 

(The writer is an independent journalist) 

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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