Nitish Kumar took oath as the Chief Minister of Bihar today for a record eighth time, forming a government with Tejashwi Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and other parties as a new "Grand Alliance". Tejashwi Yadav took oath as his deputy.
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Speaking after the oath ceremony, Mr Kumar threw a challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, questioning whether he would be re-elected in 2024. "I'm not an aspirant for the PM's post. The question to ask is -- if the person who came in 2014 will win in 2024," Mr Kumar said. He also repeatedly assured that he would work hard for "Opposition unity".
Mr Kumar formed government with Tejashwi Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and other parties as a new "Grand Alliance" – following a bloodless coup where he ended ties with the BJP within just 48 hours.
"I didn't want to be the Chief Minister after the 2020 results but I was put under pressure," Mr Kumar said in his address. Countering the BJP accusation that he has let down the people and betrayed their mandate, he said, "Whether I stay or not, let the people say what they have to say."
The BJP held a massive protest in Patna today and declared that they will extend it to the districts too. State BJP chief Dr Sanjay Jaiswal said the people of Bihar will never forgive Nitish Kumar.
The BJP also said Nitish Kumar had ambitions to become the Vice-President of India and when he was refused, chose to end the Bihar alliance. "JD(U) people had come asking that Nitish Kumar be made the Vice President and we should rule in Bihar," said Mr Kumar's former Deputy Sushil Modi, who is now a member of the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP knew Nitish Kumar was on his way out but made no effort to hold him back, party sources had indicated yesterday, denying that its top leadership had contacted the Chief Minister on Monday. This was because the BJP knew of Nitish Kumar's national ambitions, where he saw himself leading the opposition in the 2024 general elections, sources said.
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tarkishore Prasad, however, told NDTV that Amit Shah did indeed speak to Mr Kumar to save the alliance. "But Nitish ji's ambitions had become so huge, he no longer trusted the alliance," he added.
Nitish Kumar ended the alliance with the BJP after he felt that Union Home Minister and the BJP's chief strategist Amit Shah was attempting a repeat of the Maharashtra model – where the Uddhav Thackeray government was dismantled after the BJP-backed rebellion by senior Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde. The BJP rewarded Mr Shinde with the post of Maharashtra Chief Minister.
Needled by state BJP leaders since his party's lacklustre performance in the 2020 state polls, Mr Kumar decided to take action after reports that Amit Shah was foraging within the JDU for defectors. The Chief Minister felt his party's senior leader RCP Singh, who joined the union cabinet, was being used to turn the JDU against him. He refused to extend RCP Singh's term in the Rajya Sabha, ending his stint in the Union cabinet. Over the weekend, the party accused him of corruption. He quit the JDU in protest.
Switching partners mid-term is an established trait of Nitish Kumar -- one that has triggered vast criticism of his ideological flexibility and willingness to trade principles for power. In 2013, he ended his decades-old partnership with the BJP, once it became clear that Narendra Modi will be the NDA's Prime Ministerial candidate. In 2015, he formed the government with Lalu Yadav and the Congress. In 2017, he stomped out of alliance, claiming he could not tolerate the insatiable corruption of Tejashwi Yadav as a minister.