As evening fell here on Thursday, one address on Beer Chand Patel Path lit up with fairy lights in green and red.
The BJP office was celebrating its party’s new government, formed that morning in the state the party had lost spectacularly in elections less than two years ago to the Mahagathbandhan between Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. The loss in Bihar has rankled in a party otherwise on a winning streak under the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah leadership, even as it was bracing for an Opposition battered and splintered post 2014.
This is not the first time a government has been formed by Nitish Kumar with the BJP, of course. But it is a different coming together this time. And on Beer Chand Patel Path on Thursday, the difference was lit large — across the road from the twinkling BJP office, the JD(U) office was dark in the shadows.
“Did you not notice Nitish Kumar’s body language at the swearing-in today?” gleefully asks an office-bearer in the BJP office who doesn’t wish to be named. “He was so subdued. He has understood that he is dealing with a different BJP this time,” he says.
Others in the BJP office are not as discreet in their jubilation at what they see to be the reworked terms of the partnership with Nitish. “I would even say”, says Maneesh Pandey, state convenor, office modernisation, “Nitishji chode bhi Modiji ke karan, aur aaye bhi Modiji ke karan (Nitish left the alliance with the BJP because of Modi and Modi is the reason for his coming back to it)”.
He explains: “Nitish ji has now realised his bhool (mistake). The mahagathbandhan with Lalu had become a black spot on his record. And then, you can see the upsurge of nationalism not only in India but in the world. Look at France, or the victory of Trump in America. Modi led the change in India in 2014, and that is why the BJP is winning so many states. Nitish could also see this. He can see that the issues that may have seemed important three years ago have lost salience now. He has surrendered to the change, it is his majboori (compulsion) now to keep in step.”
Rahul Jha, convenor, IT, of the state Yuva Morcha, agrees: “Our party is called right wing, but today the whole world is going right wing, and understanding the necessity of nationalism”.
And Brajesh Kumar Tiwari, vice president, BJP Yuva Morcha, says: “The PM’s post is not vacant. So Nitishji must have come (back to the BJP) for other reasons. It is clear that he has been impressed by the work Modiji has done — he has accepted it is the best development model”.
Amid the self-congratulation, there is barely concealed contempt for the RJD, and the regional party. “At the famous mela in Sonepur, the RJD’s tourism minister could not even read out a written speech. There is no concept, no vision, no wonder Nitish felt uncomfortable. regional parties think small”, says Pandey. “Now that Nitish is part of the NDA, we have punctured the Opposition alliance,” says Sushil Chaudhury, general secretary, Bihar BJP.
While the BJP celebrates its new-found ascendance — in its last version, it was content to play second fiddle to Nitish — the JD(U) and RJD fervently trade blame for the break-up. And in the corridors of government, there is watchfulness.
A senior bureaucrat key to some of the successes of Nitish 1 and Nitish 2, and who does not wish to be named, says that Nitish 3 was slowing down and that events of the past two days could be his attempt to regain control of the script.
“In comparison to his first two terms, the Nitish government has been lacklustre, more talk, less work, in its third term, for at least two reasons. One, the limits of state capacity have been reached on many fronts, a still-thin state cannot manage the multiplicity of tasks thrust upon it. For instance, the same district administrative machinery is expected to monitor prohibition, oversee implementation of the developmental promises in the ‘saat nishchay’, maintain law and order. Two, while there were no obvious flashpoints between Lalu and Nitish, the perception was gaining ground that Nitish was more constrained by Lalu, and had less of a free hand, than in his alliance with the BJP.”
By breaking with Lalu, and joining hands with BJP again, Nitish could be trying to break the stasis, regain room for manoeuvre in his government – Modi is the domineering presence in the BJP today but the state BJP continues to lack a leader of Lalu’s stature — while counting on Central assistance to help get things moving in Bihar again.
At the Lalu-Rabri residence, Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s son and deputy chief minister in the Mahagathbandhan government, sits next to his mother at the centre of a small group of partymen, while another group of RJD workers angrily shouts slogans outside the gates in a show of loyalty to their embattled chief. Lalu is away, attending a court hearing in the fodder scam case in Ranchi, so it is his son who holds court and tells a story of perfidy and betrayal.
It is a story that points to the deep bitterness and distrust that, it now seems, had always lain under the grand narratives of the Mahagathbandhan between Lalu and Nitish, the two heraldbearers of the politics of social justice and secularism in Bihar.
“Nitish wanted an excuse, to get back to the NDA”, says Tejashwi. “He used me as an excuse to walk out, showed his real face to the people, betrayed the mandate that was against the BJP-RSS. He must have become insecure because of my work, the popular acceptance and acknowledgement it was getting. He has always betrayed those he was close to like George Fernandes, those who trusted him.”
Rabri, herself a former chief minister of Bihar, says that she had always been suspicious of Nitish, and especially so, in the last year or more. “His own party men told us, that Nitish talks to you (RJD) during the day, and dials the BJP in the night. This planning had been going on. He always meant to stab us in the back. Lalu ji was right, Nitish ke pet mein bhi daant hai (Nitish is devious and cunning)”. The RJD did not reach out to tie up with Nitish in 2015, she says, it was Nitish who pleaded for the alliance. “He begged for it, fell at our feet”.
Tejashwi dismisses the corruption allegations: “If you talk about the FIR against me, you must also talk of the murder case against Nitish. And what about the allegations against BJP chief ministers like Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Yogi Adityanath? What about communal riots, lynchings – are these not serious allegations? When there is intolerance, people are not allowed to speak or dissent, is that not jungle raj?”
And on charges of nepotism and family rule in the RJD, Rabri counters: “What do Nitish and Narendra Modi know, who have no families? They have no daya or karuna (compassion) that comes from living in one. Lalu ji considered Nitish a chota bhai (younger brother). For us, the whole party is the parivar, the people of the state are family.”
But, at the end of the day, the family is Yadav, and the fight has become all too personal. “Nitish wants to destroy my family, uproot it from politics, destroy my son’s career”, says Rabri.