Nitish Kumar is on track to be sworn in as chief minister of Bihar for the seventh time.(Bloomberg)
Nitish Kumar is on track to be sworn in as chief minister of Bihar for the seventh time.(Bloomberg)

Bihar Election 2020: Nitish factor still relevant despite drop in JD(U)’s numbers

The JD(U), which ruled the state for 15 uninterrupted years, faced a stiff challenge in the three-phase assembly polls that concluded on November 7
By Arun Kumar | Hindustan Times, Patna
PUBLISHED ON NOV 11, 2020 12:25 PM IST

Nitish Kumar, the outgoing Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) leader, has underscored his relevance and negated the oft-quoted anti-incumbency factor and the belligerent stand of an ambitious Chirag Paswan (37), the chief of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), who had succeeded in his game plan of spoiling the CM’s election party.

Though the JD(U)’s seats have dropped to 43 -- the lowest ever since the party’s ascent to power in 2005 -- the trend was on expected lines.

But, Kumar, a part of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) along with the minor ally, Bharatiya Janata Party, which has exchanged places with the JD(U) thanks to an impressive strike rate, has crossed the magic figure --- 122 is the half-way mark in the 243-member Bihar legislative assembly -- and is on course to be sworn in as the CM for the seventh time.

Also Read: Full coverage of Bihar assembly election 2020

The JD(U), which ruled the state for 15 uninterrupted years, faced a stiff challenge in the three-phase assembly polls that concluded on November 7.

The BJP stood firmly behind Kumar to set the electoral arithmetic right and also expanded to emerge as the big brother to a shrinking JD(U) amid changing political equations because of the LJP snapping ties with the NDA in the run-up to the assembly polls.

However, it was premature, on the part of pollsters and political analysts, to write Kumar’s epitaph.

The CM has come out victorious, albeit scathed by Chirag’s antics and is still smarting from the reversal in at least 40 assembly polls.

The NDA has 125 seats in its kitty and the seventh CM term for Kumar is a foregone conclusion since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly thrown his lot behind him for the coveted post.

Besides, the composition of the assembly leaves little room for any other permutation and combination, despite the rough and tumble of Bihar politics.

“Bihar’s voters are politically very mature. They have voted silently for the NDA, as a lot of noise was being made after the first phase of polling on October 28. They have experienced the change and they know what it has taken to pull the state out of the jungle raj. They never fall for empty rhetoric,” said Vashishth Narayan Singh, president of JD(U)’s Bihar unit.

Kumar was sworn in on November 24, 2005, as the 33rd CM of Bihar, at the historic Gandhi Maidan in Patna, which ended the 15-year rule of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

A galaxy of leaders, including former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then BJP president LK Advani, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Parkash Singh Badal and National Conference’s (NC) head Farooq Abdullah, had attended the gala function.

Kumar, who is called the modern-day Chanakya for his astute political acumen, has been in the CM’s saddle since then.

Kumar, an engineer by profession, blended his secularist ideology with realpolitik to emerge as the key cog in Bihar politics.

In the 2010 assembly polls, he had recorded the biggest-ever win on the back of his impressive development work. Bihar was untouched by winds of change, despite economic liberalisation having struck deep roots in the country in the early 1990s. Kumar pushed through a development agenda at the expense of identity politics.

In 2015, however, he did a volte-face to join the Grand Alliance (GA), or the Mahagathbandhan (MGB), comprising the arch-rival RJD and the Congress.

Kumar’s politics has been characterised by a sustained tussle between his head and heart.

He had indulged in several flip-flops during his long and illustrious political career, and the decisions, in retrospect, were largely guided by his heart. However, if those moves backfired, then he quickly applied his analytical mind to do a course correction for another shot at power.

The GA had stopped the BJP’s juggernaut in Bihar in 2015, despite Modi’s impressive win in the parliamentary polls a year ago.

Kumar was credited for the GA’s show in the 2015 assembly polls. The alliance had cashed in on anti-BJP votes and Kumar ensured that a new political axis was formed.

This was Kumar’s payback time to PM Modi after the JD(U) had managed to win only two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

But Kumar’s honeymoon with the RJD proved to be short-lived. In two years, he parted ways with his new-found ally and went back to the NDA fold over differences with his the then deputy Tejaswhi Prasad Yadav on corruption charges against the latter.

The BJP lapped up Kumar and he was sworn in as the CM for the sixth time in July 2017.

Though both Kumar and RJD chief and former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad, who is languishing in a Ranchi jail following his conviction in multiple fodder scam cases, had emerged out of the Jayaprakash Narayan’s (JP) students’ movement, the strains in the mutual ties first came to the fore in 1990.

Kumar and Prasad started drifting apart after the latter became the Bihar CM in 1990.

In 1994, Kumar broke away from Prasad and formed the Samata Party with Socialist stalwart leader, George Fernandes.

In 1997, Prasad also broke away from the Janata Dal and formed the RJD, which marked the starting of a political rivalry that intensified over the years.

Kumar, a four-time Member of Parliament (MP), who had served as railway and agriculture minister in the Vajpayee government, was first sworn in as the CM of undivided Bihar on March 3, 2000.

However, his first stint as the CM lasted for only seven days, as he did not have the seven votes required to pass the trust vote on the floor of the assembly amid the growing “communal vs secular divide” that had consumed the state, as identity politics took centrestage.

Prasad thwarted his CM’s ambitions in 2000, much to the jubilation of the RJD supporters.

Though Kumar’s Samata Party enjoyed the Valpayee government’s support, Prasad ensured his wife Rabri Devi would occupy 1 Anne Marg, the Bihar CM’s official residence.

Kumar clawed his way back five years later and the BJP was willing to give him the cushion, despite differences between the two party’s brand of politics.

That difference reached a nadir in 2014, when the BJP projected Modi as its PM candidate. Kumar’s severance of ties with the BJP proved costly in the parliamentary elections, when the JD(U)’s tally was reduced to two Lok Sabha seats. Kumar owned up moral responsibility and handpicked Jitan Ram Manjhi as his successor.

He was back in the CM’s saddle after he had serious differences with Manjhi in 2015 ahead of the last assembly polls.

He won the trust vote after the BJP staged a walkout and the RJD, Congress and the Communist Party of India (CPI) backed him.

But the shot at power was not easy, as he had to face a torrid time to make Manjhi give up his claims on the CM’s post.

Though he had tried to cosy up to the RJD in the past couple years, the politically expedient move was rebuffed by the latter.

Kumar’s contribution to Bihar’s politics cannot be ignored, despite several flip-flops.

“In politics, winning or losing is a part of the game. He infused a new lease of hope for a state, where development has all along been given a miss. He empowered women along with all-round growth and development. Perhaps, this is what made the difference in the end, despite a spirited show by RJD-led GA,” said NK Choudhary, a political analyst.

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