Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar took oath as Bihar Chief Minister for the seventh time along with two Deputy Chief Ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi.
The BJP emerged as the senior partner in the alliance with 74 seats, compared to the JD(U)’s 43. However, as per the pre-poll power sharing formula, Kumar continues as CM.
In the 15-member Cabinet, six ministers are from the JD(U), seven from the BJP and one from the Hindustani Awam Morcha and Vikassheel Insaan Party. The Speaker’s position is likely to be held by the BJP.
Sushil Kumar Modi, who was Deputy CM with Kumar at the helm, was denied a berth this time around. In giving fresh faces a chance, the BJP appears to have a new strategy. Modi is close to Kumar and his detractors in the BJP have squarely blamed him for the BJP’s inability to grow in Bihar, and break from the shackles of the JD(U).
Modi posted a terse tweet after being denied Deputy CM post, where he thanked the party for giving him everything in his 40 year career. Devendra Fadnavis, former Maharashtra Chief Minister and BJP in-charge in Bihar, jumped in stating that Modi could be accommodated in the Centre. This indicates that all is not well within the Bihar unit of the BJP.
The party is divided into camps — the Sushil Modi camp, camps belonging to central ministers and now camps belonging to the two Deputy CMs.
Kumar claimed he wanted the Chief Minister’s post to go to the BJP, but was coerced by the BJP’s central leadership to continue in his position. The split in Cabinet berths doesn’t give credence to the theory that the BJP will have much higher representation in the Cabinet. The Deputy Chief Minister is more of a ceremonial position not mentioned in the Constitution. Moreover, the leaders appointed do not enjoy the charisma or the clout to take on Kumar, challenge his decisions or drive the agenda set by the BJP.
The party doesn’t have any leader who enjoys a state-wide appeal. The names of Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi were not widely heard by many outside Patna. It is precisely for the same reason, Vajpayee appointed Kumar as CM in 2000. Two decades later, the BJP’s Bihar unit is still grappling with the same issue.
The party also doesn’t have strong leaders in the Non-Yadav OBCs, the Most Backward Caste and the Mahadalits, which are considered as Kumar’s anchor voting segments. The BJP appointing Tarkishore Prasad, a Vaishya and Renu Devi, a Nonia, is an attempt to lay claim to Kumar’s loyal vote bloc. How far the party succeeds depends upon its ability to emerge as champion of these caste groups.
This strategy of not picking a first among equals from the state unit will also ward of any dissent in the party rank and file. With a slim majority the BJP cannot afford to take a chance.
Kumar knows about this weakness within the state unit of the BJP, and it is likely that he will exploit it to the hilt. By playing the various factions in the BJP against each other Kumar will be able to call the shots for some more time.
The pandemic and its effects has meant that the BJP needs Kumar who has a better grip on the state machinery to deliver on the central government’s economic recovery plans.
While Kumar has built a strong base for himself through a mix of social and economic justice, the BJP has been banking on the Hindutva agenda and on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. Many BJP MLAs benefitted immensely from the Narendra Modi factor. According to an Axis survey, 72% respondents voted for the BJP-JD(U) combine because of the good work done by the central government.
That said, the BJP has been unable to take credit for the reservations to the MBCs and schemes for Mahadalits despite being in the government. The truth is, the BJP never really aspired to be the bigger brother in the alliance.
Now despite having more seats than the JD(U), infighting in the BJP, a weak party organisation, a lack of popular state leaders and dependence on Narendra Modi, has meant that the national party will continue to play second fiddle to the regional party. Voter expectations from Narendra Modi and the state BJP are sky high—but, the state government is in Kumar’s hands, at least for the medium term.
Both the BJP and the JD(U) released separate manifestos — now with Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister and the BJP ostensibly the big brother, whose agenda will be implemented?Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate and investment banker-turned political strategist and commentator. Twitter: @politicalbaaba. Views are personal.