In cricketing parlance, batting in the fourth innings of a test match is often seen as a batsman’s nightmare. The deteriorating conditions of the pitch because of the roughs, cracks and bowlers’ footmarks catalyse both inconsistent bounce and sharp spin. Successfully negotiating such conditions is undisputedly the most credible test of the skills, mettle, mental strength and character of a batsmen. It doesn’t come as a surprise that in the history of the game, while a disproportionately large number of centuries have been scored in the first innings, very few have been scored in the second. It is precisely on such a racing, bouncy and spinning pitch of Bihar politics that Nitish Kumar has taken guard in his fourth innings as the chief minister of the state. The extent to which he is able to bat/negotiate his way through will much depend on how diligently he reads the pitch as well as the game plans of the five key actors/players in Bihar politics.
First, the BJP. For Nitish Kumar, the BJP is an ally/partner on the non-striker’s end. There are reasons however, to believe that the partner might want to run him out. For the BJP, conceding the chief ministerial position to Nitish Kumar appears more of a compulsion than a choice on account of not having a leader at the state level who commands respect and acceptance across caste divides as Kumar does. To be fair to the BJP, having played the second fiddle for too long to Nitish, it would naturally want to use this opportunity as a springboard to deepen and widen its support base. In doing so, it will naturally attempt to make inroads in the EBC and women vote bank by creating a broad-based coalition of castes weaved in the saffron thread and enveloped in developmental narratives. Nitish Kumar may have carved a niche amongst women voters and the EBC community but the BJP has already put the bait by elevating Tara Kishore Prasad and Renu Devi from the Vaishya and Nonia caste, part of the OBC-EBC vote block respectively. Interestingly, both the top slot appointees come from the Seemanchal and its adjoining areas.
Removing Sushil Modi, a stalwart in state politics, from the position of Deputy CM is part of the strategy. For long, Modi has been perceived as a milder face, in sync with Nitish’s brand of socialism and secularism. Both Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi have not tested electoral waters themselves, preferring the legislative council route. The BJP think tank would surely want to prop up an aggressive mobiliser in Bihar who could fit both the Mandal and the Kamandal bill. Running between the wickets with two deputies either ways may not be that easy for Nitish Kumar thus.
Second, the RJD. After being in political oblivion for the last 15 years, primarily because of its misrule in the 15 years preceding 2005, the 2020 elections results have given the party a fresh lease of life. The dominating numbers it has in the Vidhan Sabha along with the soaring popularity of its leader Tejaswi Yadav means that Nitish will have to be facing yorkers and bouncers bowled with ferocity and speed. Tejaswi will be aiming at the cracks in the pitch for sure. The promise of 10 lakh jobs may have been a poll plank for Tejaswi but that is the deadliest bouncer Nitish Kumar will have to face, and while his political compulsions do not allow him to duck it, the scarcity of resources in the state will not allow him to hook.
Third, the AIMIM. The AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi will, be bowling googlies that will test Nitish Kumar’s secular claims and credentials. The signals are already manifest. All the 11 Muslim candidates fielded by the JDU ticket lost and for the first time in the history of the state, Muslims are not represented in the ruling alliance.
Fourth, the HAM and VIP. Going into the elections, Kumar couldn’t keep HAM on his side primarily on account of the latter’s overambitious demands. However, given the criticality of the numbers that HAM and VIP have, they might trouble him from behind the stumps, striving to disturb his focus and attention by constantly making irritating demands much disproportionate to their bench strength.
Fifth, the Congress. The only comforting feeling that Kumar might have could come from the Congress, which appears most vulnerable to poaching from all quarters. Kumar will be in an advantageous position given that he formally holds the reins of power. But then he will need to guard his own party as well, which is equally susceptible to such attempts.
The days ahead will see to what extent Nitish Kumar is able to negotiate bounce and turn on a pitch that is only likely to deteriorate.
The writer teaches Political Science at Hindu College, University of Delhi