In Bihar, all is not well in the NDA
Not a month has passed in the last eight months, since the NDA government was formed in Bihar, when a constituent of the NDA — the BJP, HAM-S and the VIP — has not voiced their dissent against the government. The fourth NDA constituent is CM Nitish Kumar-led JD(U)
Not a month has passed in the last eight months, since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was formed in Bihar, when a constituent of the NDA — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM-S) and the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) — has not voiced their dissent against the government. The fourth NDA constituent is chief minister (CM) Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal-United or JD(U).
So much so that the leading Opposition force, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), has claimed that the government will fall very soon and Tejaswhi Yadav would unfurl the national flag on August 15. Although that was a tall claim and is not happening, the RJD claims shows the unease in NDA and the rifts between allies and Kumar, who has, barring one brief interregnum in 2014-15, been in power for 16 years.
For Nitish Kumar, the problems have been posed by both smaller parties that became part of NDA because of the BJP and some aggressive BJP legislators.
Last week, VIP boycotted the NDA meeting held to discuss issues to be taken in the state assembly monsoon alleging that in NDA only two parties, the BJP and JD(U), speak.
HAM-S president and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, in January 2021, created a flutter in NDA by saying Tejashwi Yadav is future of Bihar and had a meeting with Tej Pratap Yadav in June. The same month, he had demanded the formation of a “Coordination Committee” within the NDA.
Voices of dissent against Kumar have also come from the BJP also. Its state unit chief, Sanjay Jaiswal, in Bettiah, a couple of months back, expressed displeasure over administration failing to prevent crimes against Dalit by a particular section. The BJP leaders have alleged that atrocities on Dalits by Muslims in Purnia, Champaran, Gopalganj and Jamui were on the rise.
A senior BJP leader and a minister, Samrat Choudhary, claimed that his party would form the next government in the state in 2025 on its own. This was strongly countered by JD-U.
Kumar is also facing resistance on governance issues. Some recent decisions, such as bringing in a bill for three new universities, with the CM as their chancellor, has not gone well with the BJP. “How can the CM become a chancellor instead of the governor? This is an issue related to academic democracy,” said former union minister and BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan. The Governor functions as the chancellor of all state universities.
To counter the increasing influence of BJP within Bihar NDA, Kumar had again raised the demand of caste census after Union minister of state for home, Nityanand Rai, told the Lok Sabha that the government had decided there will be no caste census other than the enumeration of Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribe population. Kumar has also again raised the demand for special status to Bihar with some JD (U) leaders claiming that Bihar position was worst on Niti Aayog’s state governance index was due to lack of special status.
“There is no denying the fact that the bonhomie, the commitment in NDA-4 is missing. The message that despite being bigger party of the alliance, the BJP does not have much say has not gone well with party workers who are disillusioned and disenchanted. In department allocation, barring two departments, the party has not gained,” said a senior BJP leader and former MLA.
Another BJP MLA felt that the present crisis was due to weak state leadership and the two deputy CMs. “The party state leadership has failed to assert the BJP’s dominant position in government formation,” the second BJP law-maker, who was not willing to be named, said.
The roots of the rift
One reason attributed to the absence of camaraderie in NDA 4 is the numbers. After 2005, when NDA came to power in Bihar, this is the first occasion when the BJP has surpassed the JD (U) in terms of number of members of legislative assembly (MLAs) in 243-member Bihar assembly.
In 2005, BJP won on 55 out of 102 seats it contested. The JD (U) won 89 out of 139 it contested. In 2010, JD (U) won 115 out of 141 it contested and BJP 91 out of 102 it contested.
In next assembly election in 2015, JD (U) and the BJP parted ways and in 2020, when it again contested as NDA, JD (U) slipped to 43 seats out of 115 it contested, and the BJP increased its tally from 53 in 2015 to 74 out of 110 seats it contested. The JD (U) had won on 71 seats in 2015 assembly elections while contesting in alliance with RJD and Congress.
The NDA-4 government was formed with 127 MLAs in the 243-member house. Two MLAs, one from Bahujan Samaj Party and one of Lok Janashakti Party switched over to JD (U) taking its tally to 45. However, two JD (U) MLAs died due to illness. VIP and HAM-S have four MLAs each and they have ability to dislodge the government.
Nawal Kishore Choudhary, former principal of Patna College, said the wafer-thin majority of the NDA (125 MLAs against 122 required for majority) has put the government on the edge. “The pressure to NDA is from within itself. HAM-S and VIP has compounded its problem through their anti-government statements on important policies. To me, they have the backing of BJP on these issues,” said Choudhary. He added that the dip in JD-U’s numbers had hurt the CM and weakened its bargaining power on paper. “But in reality, the CM has not given much to BJP when it came to ruling the state. And, this is a reason for the growing animosity,” said Choudhary.
D M Diwakar, former director of A N Sinha Institute, was harsher than Choudhary in his assessment. “His (Nitish Kumar) USP of good governance is gone. His three C’s—Corruption, Crime and communalism – has become a misnomer, governance is not being felt, his call for prohibition has failed to nail the real culprits. He is not the same Nitish Kumar we have seen in the last four terms,” said Diwakar.
JD (U) state president Umesh Kushwaha, however, rebuffed reports of tension in NDA as “rumours” and said all NDA constituents were with the CM and government will last its full term. The BJP officially backed the CM too. “He (Nitish) is a time-tested, development-oriented leader,” said BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel.