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How The BJP Plans To Shackle Nitish Kumar

January 30, 2024 08:54 IST
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'The BJP will use Samrat Choudhary and Vijay Kumar Sinha to check Nitish Kumar.'
'They will not allow him to function freely as before.'

IMAGE: Janata Dal-United President Nitish Kumar takes oath as Bihar's chief minister for the ninth time after his party joined the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, January 28, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Hours after Janata Dal-United President Nitish Kumar was sworn as chief minister, hours after the JD-U joined the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, his latest political gambit is being dissected in Patna, Bihar's capital.

Unlike the past when the BJP played second fiddle to the JD-U, the BJP this time is prepared to be the dominant partner in the alliance.

On January 27 and 28 the BJP bargained hard with Nitish Kumar before extending its support. He was asked to resign first; the BJP's letter of support came later.

"Our party has certain terms and conditions, keeping the experiences of the past in mind," says a senior BJP leader, who was involved in the secret process that resulted in political realignments in the state nearly 17 months after Nitish Kumar pulled out of the alliance with the BJP in August 2022.

The JD-U has 45 MLAs in the Bihar assembly; the BJP has 78 MLAs.

Samrat Choudhary and Vijay Kumar Sinha, who have been tough critics of Nitish Kumar, were sworn in as deputy chief ministers.

Political watchers say the JD-U has no option but to go along with what the BJP demands.

For one, the JD-U has limited social support in caste-ridden Bihar. Two, its vote share has declined in recent years. Three, Nitish Kumar's political credibility is at a low due to his changing sides repeatedly in recent years.

BJP leaders, it is said, have assured Nitish Kumar that the JD-U will be given a dozen seats to contest in the 2024 Lok Sabha election unlike the 2019 polls when the BJP and JD-U contested an equal number of 17 seats each.

The BJP won 17 and the JD-U 16. The Lok Janshakti Party, another NDA constituent, won 6 seats. The Congress won one seat, the Rashtriya Janata Dal none.

JD-U leaders admit that the 'Nitish factor' is no longer visible in the state and the party is banking on the Modi and Ram factors to do well in the 2024 election.

IMAGE: Bihar Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar with the newly sworn-in Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy CMs Samrat Chaudhary and Vijay Kumar Sinha. Photograph: ANI Photo

In the last NDA government that was formed in 2020, the BJP's Renu Devi and Brajkishor Prasad, both belonging to the Extreme Backward Castes, were appointed deputy chief ministers.

Earlier, senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who belongs to the Vaishya OBC community, was the deputy chief minister; Nitish Kumar and Modi shared an amiable relationship.

Samrat Chaudhary and Vijay Kumar Sinha were voluble in their criticism of Nitish Kumar during the 17 months of the Mahagathbandan government. Sinha, who was the assembly speaker during the previous NDA government, had an inimical association with Nitish Kumar even when he was an NDA CM.

The turban wearing, bearded, Choudhary, who belongs to the OBC Koeri caste, declared last year that he would not remove his head gear till Nitish Kumar was ejected as chief minister.

During Sunday's swearing in, Choudhary's turban stayed in place.

When the BJP's central leadership picked Choudhary as the Bihar party chief, RJD leaders reminded him that 24 years earlier, it was the BJP that had protested against him, resulting in his removal from the state cabinet on the charge of being underage.

Then Bihar governor Suraj Bhan, who had been a senior BJP leader, sacked Chaudhary in November 1999 as minister of horticulture, weight and measurement in Rabri Devi's RJD government, after the BJP and Nitish Kumar's then Samta Party alleged he was underage.

Bhan directed the then state government to lodge a case of fraud, forgery and misrepresentation against Chaudhary and sought recovery of salary and allowances paid to him as minister.

Chaudhary had reportedly displayed three different dates of birth in documents presented at different places.

IMAGE: Nitish Kumar meets JD-U supporters after taking the oath as chief minister. Photograph: Kind courtesy Janata Dal (United)/Twitter

Samrat Chaudhary joined the BJP five years ago, in 2018. His father, Shakuni Chaudhary, a former soldier-turned-Socialist politician, was a minister and former MP, considered close to the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav duo.

Before joining the BJP, Samrat Chaudhary was with the RJD till 2014 and after that with the JD-U.

Bihar BJP leaders say Home Minister Amit Shah chose Samrat Chaudhary to lead the state party. Till early January, Choudhary projected himself as the BJP's CM candidate for next year's 2025 Bihar assembly polls.

Vijay Kumar Sinha, who belongs to the powerful Bhumihar upper caste, had described Nitish Kumar as 'loktantra ka hathiyara (murderer of democracy)' in 2022 when he was speaker of the Bihar assembly.

Sinha's denunciation came during a heated exchange with Nitish Kumar, then an NDA CM, in the assembly.

"The BJP will use Choudhary and Sinha to check Nitish Kumar. They will not allow him to function freely as before," a senior BJP leader says.

IMAGE: Deputy Chief Minister Samrat Chaudhary being felicitated at the BJP office in Patna, January 29, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Political activist Satyanarayan Madan points out there was a time when the BJP was dependant on Nitish Kumar, deploying 'Brand Nitish' to fight the RJD.

The BJP projected Nitish Kumar as chief minister in the 2005 assembly election and it clicked with the voters.

This formula was repeated in 2010. In 2013, Nitish Kumar dumped the BJP and contested the 2015 assembly polls with the RJD.

In 2017, he dumped the RJD and returned to the NDA. After the 2020 assembly polls, in which the JD-U won only 43 seats, he became CM with the BJP's support. The BJP won 74 seats in that election.

After dumping the BJP in August 2022, he formed the Mahagathbandan government with the RJD (which has 79 seats in the assembly), the Congress and the outside support of the Left parties.

On Sunday, he returned to the NDA. Only this time, he was no longer the leader who always had his way in an alliance with the BJP.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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