Nitish Kumar Resigns, BJP-JD(U) Break Alliance: In public remarks over Nitish Kumar’s move to end their alliance, Bihar BJP leaders are calling it “good riddance”. But the parting of ways with the JD (U), its only major ally in the NDA, has the BJP in a dilemma and the party’s national leadership is nervous because the realignment in Bihar, a crucial Hindi heartland state, has the potential to jeopardize BJP calculations for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Although the Bihar unit of the BJP always had a grudge against Nitish and many there looked at him with suspicion, the party national leadership, sources said, maintained that the JD (U) chief would remain at the top post, irrespective of the arithmetic in the alliance tally. The BJP leadership, sources said, was conscious of what the Kurmi leader could bring to the table in an electoral test.
The BJP top brass in Delhi did not offer any immediate comment on the developments in Patna after Nitish made his move.
Some BJP leaders believe that Nitish may emerge as a binding force for the Opposition since he has the potential to bring in more regional parties to a prospective alliance.
Nitish, who was said to have once nursed prime ministerial ambitions, could be pitted against Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the Opposition, BJP leaders said. “Although he cannot match the popularity and acceptance of Prime Minister Modi, the Opposition, which is headless now, can re-emerge and gain strength. Whether it can win the electoral test is a different matter,” a former BJP MP said.
With the JD (U) breaking away, the BJP’s biggest fear will be its impact on the support base comprising the Most Backward Classes or Extremely Backward Classes, which Nitish had brought in for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2020 state elections. In Bihar, where caste still matters in electoral battles, the combination of Muslims and Yadavs (the traditional support base of the RJD) with the MBC, which is 17 per cent, can create a serious problem for the BJP.
In at least eight districts in Mithila and Magadh regions, the BJP had banked heavily on Nitish’s goodwill to win the seats. The NDA won 39 of the 40 seats – 16 for JD (U), 17 for BJP and six for LJP – in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Although the BJP maintains that the popularity of Prime Minister Modi and the welfare schemes initiated by his government at the Centre played key roles in NDA wins in the two elections, senior party leaders admit that Nitish’s departure can be “disastrous” if the BJP does not play its cards carefully in Bihar – it is the only eastern state where it has had the confidence of assured numbers, until now.
Sources indicated that a tough contest in Bihar could spoil the BJP’s national strategies too. While the eastern and southern regions are difficult for the BJP to secure a sizable number of seats, the party will have to rely heavily on the northern and western regions in the general election.
For now, the JD (U)’s exit means the loss of one more state for the NDA, but it does not make any significant difference to it in the Lok Sabha where it has a brute majority. However, in Rajya Sabha, where even the Shiv Sena’s three MPs are still with the Opposition, five members of JD (U) are expected to join the Opposition. The BJP does not have a majority in the Upper House.
According to party sources, the BJP national leadership will soon “review” the strategies. There could be appointment of a new general secretary in charge as well as a rejig in the state organisation, sources said.
“The BJP’s advantage is that it is a strong organisation with roots at the ground level and it has the machinery and network to implement any fresh strategy in a short span of time. We have enough time to refresh ourselves and can go out with a fresh strategy,” a senior BJP leader said.