A day after Narendra Modi swept to power on the back of an unprecedented wave in the Hindi heartland, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar resigned, taking “moral responsibility” for his party’s disastrous performance. Never before in his political career had he seen “such communal polarisation”, Nitish said.
Within hours, both Nitish and JD(U) national president Sharad Yadav were learnt to have spoken with Lalu Prasad, who reportedly expressed his desire to support the next JD(U) government in Patna — signalling a stunning political realignment against the BJP.
RJD leader Jagdanand Singh, the former MP from Buxar who lost the Lok Sabha election to the BJP’s Ashwini Choubey on Friday, said it was time Lalu and Nitish came back together to fight Narendra Modi.
Raj Bhawan sources said Nitish’s resignation had been accepted.
Nitish did not, however, recommend to Governor D Y Patil that the assembly be dissolved, thus keeping open the possibility that he might be re-elected leader of the JD(U) legislature party. The JD(U) has a slender majority in the 243-member House with the support of four Congress and three Independent MLAs. Should Nitish not agree to return, one among state JD(U) president Bashistha Narayan Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and Nitish’s chief strategist RCP Singh, Nitish’s second-in-command in the ministry Bijay Kumar Choudhary and Sharad Yadav’s close aide Bijendra Yadav could be the next chief minister, JD(U) sources said.
JD(U) MLAs are meeting on Sunday. According to the sources, Nitish might himself suggest one of these names to assess reactions. As of now, Bashistha Narayan Singh, a Rajput leader, appears to be the frontrunner, they said. Sharad Yadav himself, who lost the Madhepura Lok Sabha seat on Friday, is said to be in the mix as well.
The JD(U) sources said Nitish’s sudden move on Saturday was a “master stroke to quell internal rebellion and also give a befitting answer to rival parties, mainly the BJP, by taking the high moral ground”.
BJP legislature party leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi described Nitish’s resignation as “drama”, and predicted Nitish would stay on as CM. Modi, who called for Nitish’s resignation in the wake of the BJP’s unprecedented performance on Friday, said his party would discuss its strategy only after the meeting of JD(U) MLAs on Sunday.
In Delhi, BJP general secretary in charge of Bihar, Dharmendra Pradhan, said, “This is his (Nitish’s) gimmick to ward off internal crisis within his government. We are waiting and watching the situation.”
The BJP has 91 MLAs; RJD 22. This includes 13 MLAs whose future remains uncertain after the RJD split. The assembly speaker has said he has been watching developments, and is yet to decide on their fate.
A top JD(U) source said: “The legislature party will most likely re-elect Nitish Kumar as leader.” Nitish, who held discussions with Sharad Yadav and other senior leaders, impressed upon them that there was no point in “staying CM after facing so many questions from inside and outside”.
Six of Nitish’s 14 cabinet ministers did not attend a meeting he had called on Thursday. On Saturday, party MLA Gyanendra Singh said the CM had become autocratic. Others, including senior minister Narendra Singh, had earlier questioned his decision to split with “strong” alliance partner BJP over Narendra Modi.
Nitish told a press conference at his residence on Saturday: “After the Lok Sabha results were out, I gave my one-line reaction on Facebook, saying I respected the mandate. I have chosen to give my reactions today after resigning as Bihar CM”.
He said he had led the JD(U)’s campaign and addressed 214 public meetings, but failed to put across his point to the people, and so took “moral responsibility” for the defeat.
“But let me make it amply clear that I still justify my stand to part ways with the BJP. Just because the BJP won the election does not mean that it has won the battle of ideology, and just because we lost the election, it does not mean that we have lost the war of ideologies,” he said.
Nitish said the acrimony of the campaign, full of personal attacks and bereft of any clear agenda, proved that “one cannot take an ideological stand”. “Now, elections have become ideology-neutral,” he said.
Nitish congratulated Narendra Modi without taking his name, and asked the BJP to take care of the diverse culture of the country. He asked the new central government to fulfil the aspirations of the youth, and its promise to give special category status to Bihar.
Asked why he did not recommend dissolution of the house, Nitish said he had played a key role in the formation of the government in Bihar, and since the JD(U) still had majority, he did not think it proper to do so.
Asked about the claim of some BJP leaders that over 50 JD(U) MLAs were in touch with them, Nitish said: “The opportunity is there for the BJP. Let them try it now.”
Several JD(U) leaders said Nitish’s move would receive public sympathy. “People cannot afford to lose Nitish as CM. There is no better candidate. We are waiting for the Modi effect to get somewhat blunted. Who knows, we can seek a fresh mandate to reconfirm that Nitish Kumar is the only choice as CM for Bihar,” said a leader.
Party sources said Nitish was peeved with the election results especially because other regional parties like the AIADMK, BJD and TMC had done well despite the Modi wave. The JD(U) is currently divided between a minority that feels Nitish should seek a fresh mandate to “hold his head high despite the emergence of Narendra Modi”, and a majority that would like the party to bide its time and wait for the Modi government’s honeymoon period to run out. Assembly elections are due in November 2015.