First, there was no surprise element in Bihar CM Nitish Kumar succeeding Sharad Yadav as JD (U) national president. Media and political experts had seen it coming with the party having no third person with stature of the two leaders. With Sharad Yadav completing three terms – the maximum permitted by JD (U)’s constitution – there was no name other than Nitish Kumar, which could have been a consensus choice. After Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav, there is a long queue of second rung leadership. The post of party president is obviously a key position and could not have been given to anyone else.
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Second and more importantly, Nitish Kumar took over as JD (U) president just about the right time. Nitish has emerged as nucleus of anti-BJP politics for sometime now. The 2015 Bihar Assembly victory against popularity of PM Narendra Modi further butressed Nitish’s position as key opponent of Modi on national scene from a possible third front. The Bihar CM, anyway taken as a main challenger to Modi – no matter symbolically given small strength and extent of JD (U), has assumed the party national president charge with a clear goal to further project “Brand Nitish”. He has imposed complete liquor ban in Bihar with a goal to further project the brand. He has been talking about pan-Indian issues like removing 50 per cent reservation and “unnecessary” debate around slogan of Bharat Mata ki Jay. Nitish has a definite plan for 2019. He has been still giving himself an outside chance. Who knows coalition politics is back to fore again after one-time resurgence of BJP under Modi? Politicians are anyway diehard optimists. JD (U)’s advisors would want Nitish keep trying.
Nitish taking over as party top job also comes at a time when JD (U) is almost all set for its merger with Ajit Choudhary’s RLD and former Jharkhand CM Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. These two small parties see it mutually beneficial to merge and become a national party. Nitish, as boss of new merged political unit, could further suit his national plan. Lalu Prasad could align with Nitish in other states as well but this is not detrimental to his national plan. Nitish on Saturday got K Veeramani Award for social justice,, an honour given to likes of VP Singh and Mayawati. Nitish, as JD (U) president, is now declared face of the party and could move around other states going to polls in coming years. The Bihar CM has perfectly timed his move, notwithstanding the political dividends it may or may not get him.