Nitish Kumar’s reinstatement as chief minister has proved that the Bihar strongman has not lost his firm grip on the party. This should be enough encouragement to him because the state goes to the polls this year. Since last year, Mr Kumar has been facing crisis after crisis.
First, it was the disastrous Lok Sabha performance of the JD(U). Then came the string of rebellions against Mr Kumar, blaming him for the debacle. This put Mr Kumar is such a tight corner that he thought it wise to install the low-profile Jitan Ram Manjhi in the chief minister’s office so that he could concentrate on party work.
The move misfired and led to the possibility of a break-up in the JD(U). That he could avert such an eventuality goes to show that for once the politics of horse-trading has not succeeded and Bihar stands a few notches higher as far as political rectitude is concerned.
The one entity that has shown itself in a poor light is the Bihar unit of the BJP. Ever since its creation the BJP has said it is a party with a difference, in the sense it believed in clean politics. But it will never be able to justify the support it offered Mr Manjhi as soon as he fell out with Mr Kumar. Would it have ensured better administration in the state? Also the party’s disavowal of caste politics makes untenable its position that it supported Mr Manjhi because he is a Dalit.
Not only did the BJP stoke the embers of discontent in the JD(U), it also left the field open for MLAs changing sides.
Now that Mr Manjhi is out of the JD(U), his political career looks to be in jeopardy because he is unlikely to be honourably accommodated in any party. He simply played into the hands of the opposition parties in Bihar and nothing but political isolation stares him in the face.
Years of groundwork can earn a politician a niche. It is inconceivable that the Dalits of Bihar will rally round Mr Manjhi in the way they did round Mayawati in UP.
All this has put the BJP in a dilemma as to which way it should go. On the one hand, it will not be inclined to press the Hindutva card because aggressive religiosity is getting discredited day by day.
The party is now left with the option of mobilising the upper-castes, which extensive campaigning by PM Narendra Modi might be able to achieve. On the other hand, Mr Kumar’s way to go has already been laid, i.e. consolidating the backwards.
And while his decision to review all the decisions of Mr Manjhi may raise the political pitch, he has done well to strike a conciliatory note by promising to work with the Prime Minister in the right spirit.