Can Nitish Be The Rallying Point For Anti-Modi Opposition?

The sudden turn of events in Bihar seems to have galvanised anti-BJP forces in the country. With Nitish Kumar, whose U-turns could soon become part of India’s political folklore, taking oath as the chief minister of the state for the record eighth time, leading the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) government one more time, there is renewed hope among them that the seemingly invincible Narendra Modi can be brought down after all.

Their hopes have been fueled in no small measure by Nitish’s comments soon after oath-taking. Throwing a challenge at the Prime Minister, the Janata Dal (U) boss said, “He (Modi) may have won in 2014 but he should worry about 2024.”

Was it a case of political bravado or was he actually hinting at the evolution of a plan to unseat the BJP from power in Delhi in the next general elections? Since the leader, who emerged on Bihar’s political horizon along with Lalu Prasad Yadav during the JP movement of 1974, has also indicated that he may not be a contender for the chief minister’s chair in the next Assembly election in the state, there is enough room for conjecture that he would be moving to Delhi and taking the national stage.

Though it is still early days, Nitish could be the rallying point for anti-BJP opposition for a number of reasons, the most important being the fact that he is among the most experienced politicians in the country, leading a state with 40 Lok Sabha seats. Only Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra account for more Lok Sabha seats. Being a heartland state, the developments in Bihar have a much bigger impact on the country’s polity than West Bengal or Maharashtra. Only UP stands above it in this respect. Given that advantage, Nitish is capable of sending a strong message to the electorate across the country with his political moves in future.

In fact, he has already sent across a strong message by foiling the BJP’s alleged plan of doing an Eknath Shinde on him with the help of his estranged JD(U) colleague RCP Singh who, following his exit from the party, was hobnobbing with the saffron leadership. Nitish, who had a rather uneasy relationship with its coalition partner, the BJP, since the 2020 Assembly elections in Bihar, dumped his ally just in time and joined hands with the Mahagathbandhan to lead a new government.

The BJP, with a history of toppling governments by breaking parties and engineering defections, has rarely been outsmarted in this manner. Given the current political equations in Bihar, finding a good ally in the state will be a struggle for the saffron leadership and there seems to be absolutely no chance of its return to power anytime soon.

The new ‘Mahagathbandhan’ (Grand Alliance) comprising Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), JD(U), Congress and Left has 164 MLAs in the 243-strong Bihar Assembly, almost a two-thirds majority, which should provide enough stability to the government. The vagaries of modern-day politics notwithstanding, it is hard to imagine BJP wooing any of Nitish’s allies, especially the big ones who really matter. Against BJP’s 77 MLAs in the state Assembly, RJD, the biggest party in the Mahagathbandhan has 79 MLAs followed by JD(U)’s 45, Congress’s 19 and CPI-ML’s 12. With any compromise between any of these parties and the BJP ruled out, BJP’s “jod-tod ki rajneeti” (politics of engineering defections) is unlikely to work in Bihar.

That is a disaster of sorts for the BJP, as Bihar is a strong symbol of political power and losing the state can have repercussions for the party, which has a total of 303 members in the Lok Sabha, just about 31 more than the halfway mark of 272. With Nitish parting ways, and Bihar slipping from its grasp, things could become that much more difficult for the party in 2024.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP-led NDA had won 39 of the 40 seats in Bihar with the saffron party emerging victorious in all the 17 seats it contested. That would be difficult to repeat in the next general elections in the changed scenario, with RJD commanding the bulk of the state’s over 31 per cent Yadav and Muslim (MY) votes and  Nitish taking care of the non-Yadav other backward castes.

Under the circumstances, Nitish could easily become the rallying point for the opposition, which sees a flicker of hope for 2024 in Bihar. Much, however, would depend on how Nitish plays his cards and the willingness of opposition leaders to make adjustments (read sacrifices) for the sake of the larger goal of defeating Narendra Modi.

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