As BJP Weighs Nitish Kumar's Terms, A Lesson From His INDIA Bloc Exit

There has been speculation, though, that the Congress-led INDIA bloc - which has 232 seats - could attempt to lure Nitish Kumar, a founding-member, back to its side.

As BJP Weighs Nitish Kumar's Terms, A Lesson From His INDIA Bloc Exit

Lok Sabha Election Results: PM Modi, Chandrababu Naidu, and Nitish Kumar.


Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his incoming Andhra Pradesh counterpart Chandrababu Naidu have emerged as kingmakers after Tuesday's Lok Sabha election result, which left the BJP 32 seats short of majority and dependent on them for support to form and run the new government.

Mr Naidu's TDP has 16 and Nitish Kumar's JDU has 12 MPs, the second- and third-largest parties in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. In fact, the rest of the NDA put together has only 25 seats - not enough to carry the BJP's 240 MPs past the majority mark of 272 and form the government.

The TDP and JDU are, therefore, critical to the BJP's hopes of a third term, a fact underlined by Narendra Modi when he mentioned the two state leaders in his victory speech on Tuesday night.

There has been speculation, though, that the Congress-led INDIA bloc - which has 232 seats - could attempt to lure Nitish Kumar, a founding-member, back to its side. Sources close to the Bihar Chief Minister ruled out this possibility but left a sting in the tail, stating the BJP top brass would do well to remember that Nitish walked out of the INDIA bloc over delays in naming him as its Convenor.

READ | INDIA Bloc+? Congress May Send Feelers To Naidu, Nitish Kumar

Recalling the January 13 meeting, and the events that followed, sources said an agreement to that effect (and another naming Congress boss Mallikarjun Kharge the bloc's Chairperson) had been reached. However, this was deferred after Rahul Gandhi spoke up; the Wayanad (and now) Raebareli MP asked for the deferral since Trinamool boss Mamata Banerjee was absent from that meeting.

Mr Gandhi argued the appointment needed a sign-off from all senior leaders.

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The intervention was not well-received by the JDU; Nitish Kumar and two of his closest aides, Rajeev Ranjan alias Lallan Singh, and Sanjay Jha, who immediately switched off their video conference lines.

There were, we were given to understand, other reasons why Nitish quit the bloc, including a sharp social media post by Rohini Acharya, the daughter of long-time ally-rival Lalu Prasad Yadav.

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Nitish Kumar has maintained radio silence on this or any related topic, even after the JDU boss and his former ally, the RJD's Tejashwi Yadav, set tongues wagging when photographed on the same Patna-Delhi flight, en route to NDA and INDIA meetings to review poll results and plot next moves.

READ | BJP Short Of Majority, Chandrababu Naidu, Nitish Kumar Dictate Terms

Sources, though, have confirmed the JDU has informed the BJP of what it expects - two cabinet and a junior Union Minister berth, as well as a common minimum programme - in return for support. The Railways Minister post - held previously by Nitish Kumar - is among those the party has its eye on.

In the first two Modi governments the BJP - strengthened by not needing NDA partners to remain in power - enforced a strict limit on berth allocation - one post to each allied party - to NDA members.

This, in fact, was why Nitish Kumar quit the NDA after the 2019 general election; back then he - infamous for his flip-flops - had ditched mahagathbandhan partner RJD and allied with the BJP.

This time around - given the BJP needs Nitish Kumar's support - sources close to him said they expect the saffron party to meet the JDU's demands without (too much) of a fuss.

Should the BJP dither too much, the JDU is expected to remind it that "other doors are open", which has been seen as a clear reference to a possible switchback to the INDIA bloc.

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The BJP, for its part, is believed to understand that a greater degree of flexibility is required at this time, but it is unwilling to hand over key posts - such as the Lok Sabha Speaker's Chair (demanded by Mr Naidu's TDP) or critical ministries like Finance, Home, Defence, and External Affairs. In Modi 1.0 and 2.0 allies received relatively low-key portfolios, such as food processing and heavy industries.

The party - which finished the 2024 election as the single-largest - will also not want to hand over portfolios key to its infrastructure push, such as road transport and highways, or its welfare agenda.

Sources have said the JDU may be offered Panchayati Raj and/or Rural Development, while the TDP may get Civil Aviation and Steel. Junior roles in big ministries, like Finance, are also an option.

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