Why the future of Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) seems bleak

Amitabh Tiwari
·4-min read

Six out of seven MLAs of the Janata Dal (United) in Arunachal Pradesh have joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The two parties are in an alliance in Bihar with Nitish Kumar as chief minister despite the BJP emerging as the single largest party in the state.

Although Nitish Kumar downplayed the exit and said that they have gone their own way, JDU leader KC Tyagi expressed his anguish and said this is not a good sign for alliance politics.

This episode could create a trust deficit and strain the relationship between the two parties. It may even have an impact on the continuity and longevity of the National Democratic Alliance government in Bihar.

JDU and BJP share a tumultuous relationship. JDU was miffed with the BJP for propping Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan to reduce its strength in the recently concluded assembly elections in Bihar.

LJP candidates damaged JDU prospects in 33 seats as per my research.

Although the BJP kept its promise and made Nitish the chief minister, equations have changed and BJP is now the senior partner in the alliance. This has obviously made Nitish uneasy as he has been calling the shots all this while.

Meanwhile, Nitish has also gone ahead and appointed his close aide RCP Singh as President of the JDU. He had been criticised for holding both the posts for quite some time now.

The appointment of a loyalist who is considered a strategist and not a mass leader may foment trouble in the state unit.

Senior leaders like Bashisht Narayan Singh and Lallan Singh are reportedly unhappy. RCP is a Kurmi and belongs to the same community from which Nitish hails. Nitish is also being criticised for doing jaatiwadi politics through this appointment.

Future of the JDU

Samata Party was formed by Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes in 1994 after differences with Lalu Yadav. The party then merged with Sharad Yadav’s JDU in 2003. The party consists mostly of leaders from the erstwhile Janata Dal, Lalu’s RJD and a few from the BJP.

There are already question marks being raised about the future of the party. What would happen to JDU after the retirement of Nitish? He may not be in the fray in the next state elections in 2025.

The party could disintegrate as Nitish doesn’t have a family member as successor. Neither there is any tall leader in JDU apart from Kumar who would be acceptable to all. RCP, the new JDU president, is more of a proxy.

Impact of Arunachal on Bihar

There is an undercurrent of tension between the two alliance partners. Nitish holds BJP responsible for loss of seats. However, given the numbers, he can’t take revenge.

On the other hand, a large section of BJP leaders feel the party has the legitimate right to the chief minister’s post as it has almost double the number of MLAs.

However, Nitish has been made Bihar chief minister due to political compulsions as this also keeps him away from Lalu.

The BJP doesn’t want a repeat of 2015 and forces bête-noire Lalu and Nitish to join hands. The northern state of Bihar is very important in the larger scheme of things for BJP.

Nitish is often called the ultimate palturam of Indian politics who can do anything to keep his kursi. That’s why the BJP is treading with caution.

Options for BJP and Nitish

Given the numbers, expansionist strategy of BJP and exodus of allies from NDA, it is highly unlikely that party would allow Nitish to be the chief minister for the full term.

The BJP could try to persuade Nitish to accept a national role in Modi’s Cabinet. However, given the acrimonious past between Modi and Nitish this may not be easy.

Nitish, at one time, harboured prime ministerial ambitions and considered himself as equal and not junior to Modi.

The BJP in that case could also use the Arunachal model wherein majority MLAs of JDU joined the party reducing Nitish government to a minority.

NDA has 125 and Mahagathbandhan 110 MLAs in 243 member house. AIMIM has 5 MLAs. The majority mark is 122. Given the thin majority any such move needs to be planned with precision.

Since JDU has only 43 MLAs and doesn’t have the numbers Nitish needs the support of either BJP (74) or RJD (75) to remain in power. If BJP pushes him too much he may seek RJD help, but Tejashwi may or may not agree to make him the chief minister and might prefer re-polls.

In probably his last term, the wily Nitish will need to meander through serious challenges to remain in power for the full term. Interesting times ahead in Bihar, stay tuned.