On May 12, Tarkeshwar Prasad, then Deputy Chief Minister, inaugurated an investors’ summit for Bihar along with state Industries Minister Shahnawaz Hussain. The event, BJP sources said, was to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
But the day before the event, when Sitharaman’s office checked with the CM’s office, it was informed that the Chief Minister had no idea he was supposed to inaugurate the event. With the CM not attending, Sitharaman too pulled out, the sources said.
This was one of many strong indications in recent months that all was not well in the JD (U)-BJP alliance and that Nitish was drifting away. Less than a month before this, Nitish attended an Iftar party organised at the house of former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi.
“Negotiations between the RJD and JD (U) had been going on for a month,” said a leader of the CPI which is part of the Mahagathbandhan.
The BJP, on the other hand, was caught napping, stunned by the developments. On Wednesday, as the BJP protested Nitish’s “treachery”, Shahnawaz Hussain acknowledged, in interviews to the media, that the development of Nitish parting ways was “unexpected”.
Another senior BJP leader said, “There were rumblings and Delhi knew it, but it did not expect this to happen. It was caught off guard. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say we were complacent. The state unit kept assuring Delhi this was not going to happen. Eventually, we have ended up doing a Maharashtra to us.”
Several leaders said attempts to consistently corner Nitish after the 2020 Assembly polls, without building a strong local leadership in the state, has turned out to be not a very wise decision.
“Be it the Chirag Paswan gamble, the RCP Singh saga, taking Sushil Modi out of the state or J P Nadda suggesting that no regional party can survive before the might of the BJP, we constantly made Nitish insecure. But we did not have a leader with mass appeal to replace him yet,” a BJP leader said.
For many years it has been argued that the BJP, despite doing very well in Lok Sabha elections in the state, has failed to produce a mass leader in the state.
On Wednesday, as state BJP leaders, and even some Union Ministers from the state, staged a dharna at the party office in Patna, there appeared to be more leaders than party workers at the event.
“Had there been a strong leader, that would not have been the scene. Even Sushil Modi would have managed more crowds as workers would have come for him. But then it has now become a tradition in the party to not allow regional satraps to emerge,” another party leader said.
“Look at the slogan of ‘Paltu Ram’ all our leaders are throwing at Nitish. It was coined by the RJD. We don’t even have our own slogan,” the leader said.
Some leaders said it was not possible to do a Maharashtra in Bihar, if at all the leadership in Delhi was thinking of doing so.
“Nitish is not Thackeray. He keeps a keen eye on not just the movement of his party leaders, but also others. It is difficult to catch him unawares as we did to Thackeray,” a BJP office bearer said.
Sources, however, said the party workers were not too unhappy. “Nitish is saying he was humiliated. But he was no less in humiliating the local leadership of the BJP. Not a single work of party leaders or workers was getting done in his government. This development will only re-energise party workers. We now have nothing to lose,” a BJP legislator said.
Sources said the party will now begin ground work with greater energy and make inroads into the Dalit votebank as it has done in UP.
“We have to work on getting the combination of forward castes and Dalits in our favour. It may take some time, but it will happen,” a senior party leader said.