What went wrong - did Nitish Kumar overvalued himself, or did he underestimate Modi's potential?
In 2013, Nitish Kumar parted ways from Bharatiya Janata Party after it was clear that his then Gujarat counterpart, Narendra Modi, will be saffron party’s Prime Ministerial candidate. The Bihar chief minister, who had taken the decision as the “call of conscience”, cited his secular values before calling off the alliance. Given the fact that Nitish was in alliance with the BJP for past 17 years, the snapping of ties was seen as Bihar CM’s direct opposition to Narendra Modi. Four years hence, Nitish has joined the NDA again, calling Narendra Modi as an ‘invincible force’, with absolutely no challenger of equal stature in the country. What went wrong – Did Nitish Kumar overvalued himself? or, Did he underestimate Modi’s potential in national politics?
JD(U) has witnessed many ups and downs since 2013, however, one thing remains intact – Nitish’s CM seat (except for a short span of time when he himself stepped down and installed Jitan Ram Manjhi as CM). Soon after Nitish’s break-up with RJD last month, Congress said Bihar CM will never enjoy the same stature as he did in Bihar, a view shared by Lalu’s party and a number of political observers as well. In his earlier alliance with RJD, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) was the second largest party with 71 seats against the former’s 80, aided by Congress’ 27.
As he switched sides and jumped to the Modi-Shah bandwagon, Kumar became the big brother in the government with his party having 71 MLAs and BJP just 58. Nitish’s apparent political opportunism, however, has apparently left no future allies other than BJP in the state. The other symbolic disadvantage of Nitish is the presence of only 2 JD(U) MPs in Lok Sabha, which makes him the smallest contributor to NDA from Bihar against BJP’s 22 and LJP’s 6. Even minuscule RLSP has 3 lower house seats. As 2019 approaches, maintaining balance among NDA allies – RSLP, LJP and JD (U) – will be a daunting task for BJP.
When JD (U) fought independently in 2014 Lok Sabha elections on all 40 Lok Sabha seats, the party won around 15 per cent votes. While the very next year, when it came in alliance with RJD and Congress and fought on 102 seats – less than half out of total 240 seats, its vote share increased to 16 per cent. The consolidation of Muslim, Dalit, and Mahadalit votes increased the numbers for Nitish. The RJD bagged 18 per cent votes, a loss of 2 per cent in comparison to the 20 per cent it had won in the previous year. While BJP remained on the top with 24 per cent votes, it suffered a loss of 4 per cent.
Given the fact that many JD (U) candidates lost to BJP and vice-versa, the vote share arithmetic remains spiraled in Bihar. How much Nitish gains from the addition of BJP’s upper caste and urban vote bank, and how much he suffers from loss of RJD-Congress’ Dalit and Muslim votes will indeed remain the most interesting post-poll analysis in 2019 General Election in Bihar. Also, what is clear for now is that BJP is the most popular of all parties in NDA from Bihar, with JD (U) sharing an important place now. Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP which has 6 MPs, Upendra Kushwaha’s RSLP with 3 seats must be the most worried parties now.