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In reverse gear

Nitish Kumar apologises for quitting as CM, but can he recoup political losses in time for assembly polls?

By: Express News Service |
Updated: February 21, 2015 12:40:58 am

Call it the AAP effect. On Friday, after Jitan Ram Manjhi quit as Bihar chief minister and before JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar was invited to form the government, the latter addressed the media in Patna and issued a public apology for quitting the CM’s office after his party’s disastrous show in the May general election. In the political theatre of Bihar, even a seasoned actor like Nitish is unsure what would click at the box office. However, he seems to believe that the next Bihar assembly polls could be turned into a presidential-style election, with him as the face of clean politics. An apology for abandoning the post may help him retrieve some of the ground, as it did for Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi.

But Nitish’s confession that he misread the political moment in May, when he chose to quit on a “sentimental” note and placed Manjhi, an uncontroversial and low-profile minister from a Mahadalit caste, in the CM’s office, is revealing. Nitish had hoped that he would consolidate the Mahadalit vote bank without challenging his hold over the party. But power produces its own dynamic, and Manjhi saw in his elevation an opportunity to carve out his own political space. A parting of ways became inevitable, especially with the BJP entering the fray. It was a JD(U)-BJP alliance that won the mandate in 2010, with the RJD-LJP combine and the Congress making up the opposition. Five years since, alliances, and a new social coalition is being forged between the upper caste base of the BJP and the Mahadalits, presumably now with Manjhi. A united Janata with the support of the Congress and the communists presents an equally formidable political grouping.

But will political arithmetic be the sole factor in defining electoral outcomes in 2015? No one’s sure. The BJP’s electoral success in various states since last May and the AAP’s landslide in Delhi seem to indicate that concerted campaigns and convincing leadership could help parties surmount caste and class barriers. The charm offensive evident in Nitish’s apology reveals a politician who thinks his clean image could buttress the political coalition he may eventually lead when the state goes to the polls. A good second innings as CM would further his case.

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