This Article is From Jul 03, 2022

Opinion: What's Chipping Away At The Nitish Kumar-BJP Alliance

To check the status of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's relationship with senior partner BJP, take a quick look at three incidents from the five-day assembly session last week.

1.For the first time since 2005, when Nitish Kumar was chosen leader of the NDA in Bihar, there was no legislature party meeting of the alliance before the session. The meeting is SOP - all MLAs of the alliance sit together and articulate their grievances before the Chief Minister. Nitish Kumar did call a meeting, but only for MLAs of his party Janata Dal United (JDU).

2.On Day 2, Bihar Assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha suddenly raised a motion on offices for MLAs. Instead of a voice vote, he curiously asked the members to stand - an option used only during a division of votes. Nitish Kumar seethed with anger, according to sources close to him, as the vote amounted to open interference in the work of the government. Nitish Kumar would have issued an executive order but the Speaker went ahead with the vote anyway. The Chief Minister, avoiding an outburst like in the Budget session, controlled his anger. Barely.

3.The next day, the Speaker insisted on a discussion on "best legislator" in the house despite Nitish Kumar's suggestion that the subject be handled by a committee. Then the unthinkable happened. A message was verbally conveyed to JDU MLAs to skip or boycott the session. Never has the ruling party bunked assembly business like this. Two JDU ministers present in the house rushed out when they realised their party colleagues were missing. With more than half the class missing, the Speaker was forced to call off the discussion within half an hour.  

Every time the alliance hits a bump, the national BJP steps in to mollify Mr Kumar with a public declaration of support.

As Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, now the BJP's special emissary to Bihar, landed in the middle of the session, his first stop was 1, Anne Marg (the Chief Minister's home). Then came the expected quote - Nitish Kumar will remain Chief Minister, he stressed.

It was essentially a message for state BJP leaders preoccupied with baiting Nitish Kumar that they should back off, for now.

There is a pattern to this toxic relationship. First Bihar BJP leaders pummel Nitish Kumar with so-called examples of his incompetence. The BJP leadership follows with the reassurance that Nitish Kumar is very much in charge.


Nitish Kumar with Union Minister and  BJP's special emissary to Bihar, Dharmendra Pradhan.

The truth is, Nitish Kumar has no friends left in the Bihar BJP after Sushil Modi and Nand Kishore Yadav. He can hardly endure BJP leaders like Sanjay Jayasval or Nityanand Rai, the current favourite of Union Minister Amit Shah.

The strain is telling on the longest occupant of the Chief Minister's chair in Bihar.

With every confrontation, Nitish Kumar loses his lustre. His harshest critics are not in the opposition but within the partnership he reembraced five years ago.

The latest clash is over the Agnipath scheme. Nitish Kumar's party was among the fastest to urge the Centre to review the military recruitment plan. On his watch, the Railways took the maximum hit during protests; property worth over Rs 300 crore was burnt in three days. When Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi's (BJP) house was attacked, Nitish Kumar put out no statement of condemnation. Not even a standard appeal for peace.

When BJP offices were burnt in front of the Bihar Police, the Centre sent paramilitary jawans to protect their party offices, besides a dozen leaders including legislators, MPs and ministers.

Where is "Sushasan Babu", asked BJP leaders.

The erosion of Nitish Kumar's authority did not happen overnight.

It started when his liquor ban backfired. Even his own supporters concede the colossal failure of prohibition in Bihar, which seeded a nexus of bootleggers, criminals and cops. It not only robbed the state of much-needed resources worth crores but also encouraged criminals to strike at will. The reaction of the police depended on the clout involved.

There is hardly any office or department where you can get work done without forking over cash. Tainted officials are transferred but brought back. The Bihar Public Service Commission exam papers were leaked and the main accused, Shambhu Kumar, was from the Chief Minister's party.

An officer, Jaivardhan Gupta, was reinstated after his arrest a few years ago for bribe-taking. He was even given a posting of his choice.

The man who said he would never compromise on corruption looked away.

Dharmendra Pradhan's assurance notwithstanding, the two biggest partners of Bihar's ruling alliance are behaving like adversaries.

Nitish Kumar sensed the day he was spurned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on central university status for Patna University that the "double engine sarkaar" is a farce.

After the 2020 Bihar election, he grew even more suspicious that the BJP is out to cut him down to size. He was more or less convinced that Chirag Paswan fielding candidates only against his party was plotted by the BJP's strategists. Nitish Kumar finished third in the race and was reduced to junior partner for the first time in his alliance with the BJP.

His tumbling graph features another variable - his frosty ties with the media. There is an unwritten ban on journalists at his Monday Janata Durbar. Only three media outlets are allowed and on his terms - their questions must be submitted in advance.

Nitish Kumar may be at the wheel but someone else is driving. He is assured of the alliance till the 2024 national election at least. But it will be on the BJP's terms, given that anti-incumbency is at an all-time high.

(Manish Kumar is National Editor at NDTV)

 Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.