Nitish Kumar once again took over as chief minister of Bihar with Bharatiya Janata Party’s support on Thursday, leaving the opposition’s unity in tatters and raising questions over its ability to counter the saffron party in the 2019 general elections.
A little more than 12 hours after 66-year-old Kumar resigned to break ranks with his allies -- Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal party and the Congress -- he was back in office after being sworn in by Bihar Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi at the Raj Bhawan.
Senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi was also sworn in, and would be the deputy chief minister.
The deft political manoeuvres by the Janata Dal-United chief Kumar left the opposition stunned as he joined hands with friend-turned-foe-turned-friend BJP. The two parties were in alliance for 17 years until 2013, when Kumar walked out of the NDA fold after Narendra Modi was made the BJP’s campaign committee chairman for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Modi was later declared the prime ministerial candidate.
However, Kumar, who was seen by the opposition as a possible answer to Modi in 2019 amid shrinking Congress clout, seemed to have accepted the popular thinking that the Modi- wave would continue even after two years.
The governor has asked Kumar to prove his majority on the floor of the House on Friday. “Whatever decision we have taken will be in the interest of Bihar and of its people. It will ensure development and justice,” Kumar told reporters after the swearing in.
“This is a collective decision. I ensure that our commitment is towards the people of Bihar,” he said.
Union Health Minister J P Nadda and BJP leader Anil Jain were present at the brief ceremony where only Kumar and Sushil Modi were sworn in.
Immediately after the swearing in, the JD-U announced that it will support the BJP-led NDA government in both the Houses of Parliament.
The swearing in capped breathtaking political developments in the state with Kumar quitting his post Wednesday night following a fall out with the RJD over corruption charges against Lalu Prasad and his family members. Chief among them is Prasad’s son, Tejashwi Yadav, who was the deputy chief minister in the outgoing government.
Yadav had refused to step down after the Central Bureau of Investigation filed corruption charges against him and had also ignored Kumar’s advice to explain his conduct. Kumar cited this as the reason to resign and ally with the BJP to become the chief minister for the sixth time.
The sharp reactions from the opposition were predictable.
“He (Nitish) had joined hands with us in the anti-communal fight, but Nitish Kumar, for his personal politics, joined hands with those against whom he had fought,” said Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
“People do anything for their selfish motives. There is no principle, no credibility. They can do anything for power,” he said.
Modi congratulated Kumar and said he looked forward to working together for Bihar’s prosperity.
Nobody from the RJD or the Congress attended the swearing-in ceremony protesting the “denial of chance” to the RJD, the single-largest party in the state assembly, to form the government.
After taking oath, Sushil Modi said the development process will be back on track in the state with the return of the NDA.
“The JD-U-BJP alliance had earlier taken Bihar to new heights. At that point of time, the people of the state used to take pride in saying ‘I am a Bihari’. But in the last 20 months something went wrong. But now the JD-U-BJP alliance will again take Bihar to newer heights,” he said.
On the RJD’s claims that it has the numbers, JD-U national spokesperson K C Tyagi said, “They should stop making tall claims and if they really have the numbers, let them prove it in the floor test. We have our numbers and we will prove it.”
The NDA alliance had submitted a list of 132 MLAs on Wednesday to the governor. These include 71 of JD-U, BJP 53, RLSP two, LJP two, HAM one and three independents.
In the 243-member Bihar assembly, the RJD has 80 MLAs, the Congress 27 and the CPI-ML has three.
Tyagi said the decision of his party to form the grand alliance government in Bihar was “a mistake” and ruled out any possibility of a patch-up with the RJD.
“It was a mistake to forge an alliance with RJD. We had information that to save themselves from CBI cases, they were in touch with the union ministers in Delhi and were planning to topple the Nitish Kumar government”, Tyagi said.
“We regret our decision to run the government with such a person (Lalu Prasad) for 20 months. We blame ourselves for committing a mistake of taking their MLA count from 22 to 80,” he said.
Tejashwi Yadav, who led a protest march to the Raj Bhawan after midnight, on Thursday threatened protests across the state against Kumar, saying he “will find it difficult to move around”.
“My performance perturbed our ally and BJP. Vendetta against me exposes their viciousness”, Yadav said in a tweet.