Politics in India is often compared to a game of chess, where those with knowledge and experience know when to make the right move. On the Bihar political chessboard, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar has made that move which for now seems to have cornered Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan. The JD(U) is believed to be behind the overnight coup in the LJP which has led to Paswan’s isolation in his own party.
Five of the six Lok Sabha MPs from the LJP have led a rebellion against Paswan. Pashupati Kumar Paras, Chirag Paswan’s uncle, has been elected as the leader of the LJP in the lower house of the assembly, and Surajbhan Singh appointed as working party chief.
Paras is considered more pro-Nitish Kumar than pro-Bharatiya Janata party (BJP). With this coup, the LJP could get a place in the state cabinet, sending a positive signal to the numerically important Paswan community in Bihar (6 percent).
This move will bolster Nitish Kumar’s image as a champion of social justice—and that is a larger goal the Bihar strongman wants to achieve. For 70-year-old Nitish Kumar this could perhaps be his last term as Chief Minister if he were to make way for young leaders within his party. Given this, Nitish Kumar will want to re-establish his image of a man who follows a principle-based politics. He would want to revive the same acceptability/popularity he once enjoyed in Bihar across social groups.
Last year, Paswan had put up candidates against the JD(U) during the assembly elections and ran an aggressive campaign against Nitish Kumar, despite both the LJP and the JD(U) being part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Critical of Nitish Kumar, Paswan called himself Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Hanuman’, and claimed that the LJP and the BJP would form the government in Bihar. Towards this, the LJP did not field candidates against the BJP. Rumour is that Paswan’s rebellion had the tacit support of a section of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Paswan’s actions cost the JD(U) dearly and its tally in the assembly went down from 71 in 2015 to 43 in 2020. This led to the JD(U) becoming a junior partner in the NDA, and the BJP with 74 seats bagging more ministries in the cabinet. This was a major blow for the JD(U) which until then was the dominant NDA ally in Bihar. While the BJP has been magnanimous in retaining Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister, he has lost the moral authority in the alliance.
Now, with this ‘coup’ in the LJP, Nitish Kumar is sending a signal to the BJP as well that he should not be taken lightly.
The grapevine is that in the upcoming cabinet expansion, the BJP was aiming to make Paswan a minister — however, Nitish Kumar was vehemently opposed to the idea.
The latest political development in Bihar makes it clear that Nitish Kumar is on mission mode to bridge the gap between the JD(U) and the BJP in the assembly. By this, he expects to blunt the advantage the BJP has over him in the day-to-day governance of the state.
Towards this, the JD(U) has inducted two MLAs, one each from Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and one from the LJP, taking its tally to 45. Next in line could be the embattled state unit of the Congress. News report suggest that 13 Congress MLAs are in touch with the JD(U), and this could take the JD(U)’s tally in the house to 58.
With the return of Upendra Kushwaha, the JD(U) is also working on the five AIMIM MLAs. The JD(U) might also try its luck with MLAs from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
Nitish Kumar has also timed his move at a time when the BJP is on the back foot. With the exit of key allies, the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal, the JD(U) is now the oldest and the most important NDA ally for the BJP. The BJP’s loss in West Bengal and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s loss in Tamil Nadu has further strengthened the JD(U) in the NDA. Given this, it is likely to push for inclusion in the Union cabinet and demand more berths than what was offered in 2019.
With the ‘coup’ Nitish Kumar has hit two targets with one arrow.