IT IS Tejashwi Yadav who explained why Nitish Kumar had to come back to the RJD. “You see the BJP’s old allies now, from Punjab to Maharashtra to Bihar. They tried to finish their allies at all these places. Now the BJP has no allies in the entire Hindi heartland. The BJP had been trying to subsume the JD(U) too. But we are socialists. Nitish Kumar is our ancestor, and we alone should hold on to his legacy,” the RJD leader said Tuesday.
This perhaps is the most striking and discernible difference between the Mahagathbandhan of 2015 and of 2022. If Nitish needed the alliance seven years ago to regain his political supremacy after the 2014 Lok Sabha poll drubbing, he needs it now for political longevity, to remain a stakeholder beyond the 2025 Assembly elections.
When he first snapped ties with the BJP in June 2013, Nitish perhaps believed he could try branching out on his own. He had already taken a very public anti-Narendra Modi stance, and with the latter on the ascendant, saw very little space for himself in the NDA. However, Nitish’s confidence – resting on his image of being Bihar’s vikas purush – had been busted. From winning 20 seats as part of the NDA in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the JD(U) had been reduced to 2 in 2014.
The animosity towards Modi, plus the realisation that the JD(U) vote bank needed an extra hand to go over the majority mark, was the reason that prompted Nitish to tie up with Lalu Prasad and the RJD. Together, the Mahagathbandhan, including the Congress and Left, won 178 seats out of 243 in the Bihar Assembly. The BJP, despite the all-out campaign by Modi, could get only 53 seats, down from its 2010 tally of 91.
The lesson Nitish drew was that, in Bihar at least, social combinations and permutations carried more weight in elections than a high-pitched personality-driven campaign, even if laced with patriotism and Hindutva.
What pushed the Mahagathbandhan apart were the pulls and pressures from the RJD on the government, especially in transfers of police officers and lower bureaucracy. Lalu, then in better health, also took keen interest in matters of governance. The RJD leader’s constant reference to Nitish as his “chhote bhai (younger brother)” is also believed to have rankled the JD(U) leader who saw himself as having entered the big league. Eventually, CBI raids on Lalu’s residence in the IRCTC case gave Nitish a plausible cause, and he snapped ties with the RJD over “corruption”. By mid-2017, he returned to the NDA.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and JD(U) fought the same number of seats (17), in an acknowledgment of Nitish’s profile. While the BJP won all 17, the JD(U) got 16. Then came the 2020 Assembly polls, in which the JD(U) was reduced to 43 seats (from 71 in 2015) to the BJP’s 74, cementing Nitish’s belief that the BJP had orchestrated the entire episode of the LJP’s decision to fight alone to cut into its votes. Chirag Paswan put up candidates only on the seats where the JD(U) fought as part of the NDA. This is what the JD(U) has now described as “the Chirag model” of conspiracy against the party.
With the BJP holding the clear upper hand, even if Nitish was the CM, the JD(U) leader was never happy with the arrangement. The alliance almost constantly faced tensions, and the induction of R C P Singh as Union minister was another dealbreaker. The JD(U) let it be understood that Singh became minister against Nitish’s wishes; and is suggesting now that the BJP was trying to break the JD(U) through Singh.
The final straw, JD(U) sources said, was the BJP’s big jamboree of July 30-31, with all seven national wings of the party meeting in Patna. Nitish saw a message to him in both the venue of the event as well as the speeches made there.
This then was as good a time as any for Nitish to make the somersault back to the RJD. Nitish reportedly fears that the JD(U) would wilt altogether under the BJP’s giant shadow, and its only chance of survival post-2025 is as a separate entity. He now has at least three more years to get the new arrangement with the RJD going, and two solid ones to make a national pitch for 2024, should he so wish. Sources said Nitish also had a faint fancy of being made President or Vice-President, but that too did not materialise.
All in all, while the Mahagathbandhan 2022 might prove an administrative minefield again, Nitish is hoping that the RJD will shoulder as much of the blame for this in the elections to follow. With 79 MLAs, the RJD is, after all, the largest party in the Assembly, Lalu is out of the picture due to failing health, and Tejashwi has matured from his years in politics. Sources said Nitish and Tejashwi are now in step with each other’s plans. The younger leader is apparently looking to take over sooner rather than later, as Nitish finally makes that national jump. In statements across the board, there were ample indications of the same on Tuesday.