Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is set for another term, but what's next for him

File Photo: Nitish Kumar
In the 2020 Assembly polls, Bihar will be sitting on the cusp of a profound social and political transition. Its impact will transcend the geographical boundary of the state: Perhaps Bihar will be the weathervane to indicate if India is heading towards a long spell of single party-dominance.

Politics in Bihar is more than just caste arithmetic. The National Democratic Alliance  (NDA), headed by Nitish Kumar in Bihar, appears all set to win the election. The Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party-Lok Janshakti Party (Paswan) is a formidable social combination and can overpower any other alternative. 

But politics is never as easy as it looks. The trust deficit between lower-rung leaders of the BJP and the JD(U) persists. Junior leaders of the BJP are encouraged to take periodic potshots at Kumar, evoking quick retributions. The BJP camp has been giving the impression that the party is capable of winning on its own; the party had won all the 17 seats it contested in the state in the Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP has, of late, has significantly expanded its social base in Bihar. That becomes formidable in the company of Kumar, who retains his charm as a mass leader by roping in subalterns. Though the BJP has made inroads in the social base of other backward classes (OBCs), the party is largely seen as representing the interests of upper castes and dominant OBCs. Kumar’s presence as the leader fills that vacuum.

Assuming that Kumar leads the NDA in the 2020 election, it will be probably his last election for the chief minister’s position. He will be entering 70s — not the age to take up new challenges. Being an astute leader, Kumar knows only too well that his party like any other regional party is individual-centric. In such a setting, it is ap­p­ears too hard to retain a distinct identity in alliance with a powerful national party like the BJP. 

If one looks at the available option to Kumar, the situation looks even bleaker. Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is unlikely to get a reprieve from jail.  What makes the situation worse is the fact that his political legacy is getting debilitated every day as the Yadav clan gets embroiled in internecine feuds. Lalu’s two sons — Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav — are fighting it out in open. His daughter Misa Bharti is also a claimant to her father’s legacy, though she is hardly a leader of consequence.

The RJD, which appeared a powerful regional outfit when it aligned with the JD(U) in the 2015 state election, is gradually becoming a caricature of a political party. 

Tejashwi has neither shown the astuteness nor the grit of his father to infuse confidence among party workers and lead the party. On the other hand, his name, along with sister Misa, figured in corruption cases related to the dubious sale of railway properties in Patna and Ranchi. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have been probing these cases. These corruption charges were the ultimate reason for Kumar breaking ranks with the RJD and aligning with the BJP to form the government in July 2017. Tejashwi in his role as leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, too, has turned out to be amateurish and ill-prepared to take on veterans like Kumar and Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi. The RJD might have fared much better if the leadership had been assigned to veterans like Jagtanand Singh or Raghuvansh Prasad. But like other regional parties, the RJD, too, is a running personal fiefdom of Lalu’s clan.

In the 2020 polls, Kumar, at in later half of his career, is unlikely to venture into any juvenile political experimentation with the RJD’s leadership or a marginalised Con­gress. Though a group of state BJP leaders does claim of “fighting it alone” in Bihar, it has not been taken seriously by the BJP’s central leadership. 

Bihar could be an instructive lesson for regional parties — that they would survive only in the embrace of the BJP, however stifling it may appear.

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