“WAQT waqt ki baat hai,” a stoic Nitish Kumar was heard saying last week. Times have indeed taken a sharp turn for the Bihar chief minister. Once considered way ahead of others in the state on the strength of his image of a doer, he has since lost an ally (BJP), found himself against a newly resurgent opponent (RJD), and witnessed a potential partner distance itself (Congress).
Nitish’s remark of last week was prompted by the UPA government indicating that it was having second thoughts on the “special status” that he has been desperately seeking for Bihar — Nitish’s most potent weapon against a Narendra Modi-led BJP offensive.
The likelihood of a special status has swung depending on the nature of ties between the Congress and the JD(U) at various points of time, and Nitish may have prompted the latest development by ruling out a pre-poll alliance with the Congress following the assembly election results.
A special status or any kind of financial package is important for Nitish as he looks for a plank to give him crucial momentum before the Lok Sabha polls. So far his plans of making it a secularism versus communalism battle have not worked, with the people largely unconvinced by the fit he threw over Modi after having remained in a cosy relationship with the BJP for 17 years.
Besides, the release of RJD chief Lalu Prasad from jail means that there is another strong claimant for the secular vote. The Congress has already sent strong feelers to him, one of its most loyalist allies, sensing that the RJD chief may be on a comeback trail.
Giving Bihar special status would anyway have been problematic for the UPA government as the Raghuram Rajan Committee put 10 other states in the “least developed” category. Only a malleable Nitish, who promised to align with the Congress without many conditions, could have prompted the Centre to act in his favour.
The perceived anti-Congress wave following the assembly poll results may have prompted this distancing by the JD(U) from the party, but right now it’s hard to see that alone ensuring Nitish success in the coming elections. It may not be a big enough push to put him among the frontline prime ministerial contenders, as Nitish was once fancied to be. Remember that?
Santosh is a special correspondent based in Patna