Nitish Kumar’s decision to walk out of the NDA and join hands with rival RJD marked a bitter end to his tenuous relationship with the BJP after returning to power in November 2020 as Chief Minister heading the coalition government.
Those who have interacted with Nitish said he was “not at all comfortable” from Day One. “He believed the BJP belittled him using Chirag Paswan (of LJP). When you lose (votes), you start believing in such things. He did not want to be Chief Minister but reluctantly agreed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested. But he was not at all comfortable,” a leader said.
Over the last year, equations between the two parties deteriorated drastically. Here are the key reasons why, according to sources in the JD(U) and BJP:
First disappointment: The BJP’s decision to keep former Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi out of the Cabinet. The two shared a good relationship, and Sushil Modi could have ironed out any difference between the two parties. Nitish was not at ease with the BJP’s new Deputy CMs, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi.
Constant sparring: The past year saw a constant war of words between leaders of the BJP and the JD(U). Several BJP leaders, including its state president Sanjay Jaiswal, spoke publicly against the government. From the JD(U) side, Upendra Kushwaha returned fire. Despite this friction, there was no intervention from the BJP central leadership, which gave Nitish the feeling that the sniping against him and the government was part of a plan.
Communal issues: Nitish was visibly upset over communal issues. JD(U) leaders said issues like “love jihad” and the controversy around loudspeakers at mosques unsettled him. Sources said he felt the controversies were “manufactured” to show him in a bad light. Talk of BJP wanting to replace him as Chief Minister angered him further. He even said once that he would not mind going to the Rajya Sabha.
Communication gap: Sources said Modi’s visit to Patna at the invitation of the Assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha to attend the concluding function of the Bihar Legislative Assembly centenary celebrations did not go down well with Nitish. Although Modi praised him at the function, sources said he felt BJP leaders were trying to bypass him. “His point was, ‘how could the Prime Minister visit his state at somebody else’s invitation’. “He felt hurt,” a leader said.
Poaching shadow: In March, the BJP poached all the three MLAs of Vikassheel Insaan Party and became the largest party with 77 MLAs in the Assembly, sending another signal. Then came the R C P Singh episode — suspecting that the JD(U) leader in Delhi had grown close to the BJP, Nitish denied him a Rajya Sabha berth in May. Sources said he suspected a poaching bid by the BJP using Singh.
Agnipath protests: The violent protests in Bihar over the Agnipath military recruitment scheme was the final nail in the coffin. Bihar BJP chief Jaiswal made several statements against the state government. BJP leaders said Nitish had neither condemned the violence nor appealed for peace for several days. The Centre’s decision to provide ‘Y’ category security to several BJP leaders in the state angered him further. It was seen as a sign of no confidence in the state’s law-and-order machinery.
National ambition: His critics also attribute the split to Nitish’s national ambitions. “We thought he would gracefully exit from politics in 2025 when his term ends. He would be 75 then. He perhaps has bigger plans. He is in no mood to exit,” a BJP leader said. The sense among some leaders is that he felt the BJP would ditch him and the JD(U) in 2025. His decision to snap ties with the BJP has automatically catapulted him to be a contender for the Prime Minister’s post, a leader said. “But whether he will really become a challenger to Modi, no one knows,” one leader said.