Nitish Kumar will be sworn in as Chief Minister of Bihar for a seventh time on Sunday with support from the Bharatiya Janata Party, his on-again-off-again ally, sources told NDTV Friday, as the churn in the state’s political landscape spins to a conclusion. For its backing, the BJP will get two Deputy Chief Minister berths, which mirrors the deal after the 2020 election.
The Assembly won’t be dissolved, and a poll won’t be held, at this time, sources also said. Bihar will vote next year anyway, so it is understandable neither party is in a rush. The immediate focus will be on the Lok Sabha election.
Sources said the Janata Dal (United) boss has cancelled all his engagements for January 28, including addressing a public meeting, sparking buzz he is set to reclaim his ‘paltu Kumar’ nickname by reversing his 2022 jump from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP to Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, which itself was a reprisal of his 2017 shuffle of loyalties.
NDTV has been told Nitish Kumar’s return to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance will follow a detailed game-plan that will begin with the nomination of an Assembly Speaker and include re-shuffling of the cabinet – one ministerial berth for every four MLAs – to accommodate BJP leaders.
Crucially, the terms of Nitish’s ghar wapsi are said to include a reduction in Lok Sabha seats offered to the JDU. In 2019 the party contested 17 and won 16 seats, but will have to be satisfied with 12-15 seats this time, given its weakened position – coming off this switch – and the need to accommodate other NDA partners.
Nitish’s BJP re-alignment, though not yet confirmed, gained currency after his former deputy (and close aide), Sushil Kumar Modi’s “in politics, doors are not permanently closed” comment. “Politics is a game of possibilities, anything can happen,” Mr Modi, replaced by Tarkishore Yadav and Renu Devi after the 2020 poll, said. Now a Rajya Sabha MP, he has been a frequent critic of Nitish Kumar since an apparent breakdown in ties, making his ‘open doors’ remark significant.
The BJP ghar wapsi has triggered mixed reactions from Bihar’s political players and, according to a second set of sources, a divide within Nitish Kumar’s party. Lalan Singh, deposed as the JDU boss by Nitish last month, is understood to be against dropping the RJD, while a group led by Sanjay Jha and Ashok Choudhary is pushing for a tie-up with the BJP.
Former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and his Hindustan Awam Morcha – for now a JDU ally and part of the state government – are also being courted, with junior Union Home Minister Nityanand Rai tasked with getting that deal done. Mr Manjhi has been cryptic so far, only saying he had predicted Nitish’s jump.
#WATCH | On the current political situation in Bihar, Former Bihar CM and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi says, “Recently I had said that there would be a change in Bihar after January 25 and the basis of this was Nitish Kumar’s statement. He has said many… pic.twitter.com/U5uslt7mHl
— ANI (@ANI) January 26, 2024
“Therefore, after breaking alliance, he may contest Lok Sabha elections independently or join other alliance…” he said.
The INDIA bloc has not lost hope, at least not publicly. A Bihar Congress leader, Prem Chandra Mishra, told ANI, “I can say with confidence Nitish Kumar will remain with the alliance… (he) has resolved to throw BJP out and we trust him.”
The RJD is also (publicly) optimistic; party spokesperson Shakti Yadav said the tie-up talk reflected a “scared” BJP and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav today spoke about the state government fulfilling its promises on employment.
#WATCH | Patna: Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav says, “…Today the biggest enemy is unemployment. Our government has done historic work on this. We have given more than 4.5 lakh jobs. No state government has done such work. This will not stop… we will fulfil all the promises we… https://t.co/mOeCDbAGsypic.twitter.com/nHz3bYHkMO
— ANI (@ANI) January 26, 2024
Nitish set the cat among the pigeons Thursday – first snubbing an invitation to join Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’, and then leaving the Congress-led INDIA bloc on edge by reaching out to the BJP. By the day’s end, he – credited with coaxing the opposition into the unlikely alliance – was closer to re-aligning with the BJP than being able to oust Mr Modi.
Should, as is now most likely, Nitish Kumar re-align with the BJP, there were several factors that would have led to his political fifth flip-flop in 11 years – one that could reshape the state’s political landscape in the BJP’s favour.
Among these are friction with the RJD, amplified by the (now deleted) social media posts by Lalu Yadav’s daughter, Rohini Acharya, and discord within INDIA, where Nitish’s name had been snubbed as both PM candidate and Convenor.
With inputs from NDTV