Bihar Trust Vote-Nitish’s Return Strengthens BJP’s 2024 Bid

The newly formed National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Bihar, led by Nitish Kumar, won the trust vote as the opposition, led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), staged a walkout. A simple majority in the House is 122; the NDA had the support of 127 MLAs, with three legislators from RJD cross-voting.

During the confidence motion, former Deputy Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Tejashwi Yadav, unleashed a barrage of sarcastic taunts, dubbing Nitish Kumar as “palturam” and questioning whether PM Modi could guarantee that Nitish would not backtrack again. This trust vote became necessary as Nitish, the orchestrator of the opposition I.N.D.I.A bloc, in a surprising move, made a U-turn and rejoined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA last month. In classic Nitish style, this somersault was executed with finesse and ease, with his resignation from Mahagathbandhan and swearing-in as NDA Chief Minister occurring within a single day.

Nitish’s Move May Weaken Bihar BJP

While Nitish’s return strengthens BJP’s ‘Mission 400’ bid for 2024, it weakens the local unit’s attempts to gain a foothold in the state without relying on Nitish. Social media had a field day, flooded with memes about “palturam’s” latest flip-flop. One meme that caught my eye humorously stated that in Bihar, the Chief Minister resigns, but it is the deputy chief ministers who lose their posts.

The BJP has declared a ‘Mission 50% vote share’ target and a ‘Mission 400+ seats’ tally for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to break the record of 404 seats achieved by Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. With the I.N.D.I.A bloc failing to take off, the opposition in disarray, hurdles in seat-sharing talks, and a positive, emotionally charged environment created in the country after the consecration of the Ram Mandir, the BJP senses an opportunity.

The Janata Dal (United)’s (JD-U) return to the NDA fold also neutralises, to a large extent, the narrative that allies are leaving the BJP. With the JD(U)’s re-entry, the NDA’s seat tally is back to around 350 seats, close to the 2019 tally of 353. The ruling alliance now needs just 50 more seats to cross the magical mark.

A Rainbow Coalition

With Nitish back in the fold, NDA is expected to repeat its 2019 tally of 39 seats out of 40, as shown by a latest NDTV survey. Without the JD(U), surveys predicted a loss of around 15 seats. According to the survey, 53% of respondents are likely to back NDA, while only 23% favour the I.N.D.I.A bloc, with 18% respondents undecided.

In case Nitish had stayed with the I.N.D.I.A bloc, it would have been a dead heat, with 35% of respondents backing both the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan, with 20% undecided.

The NDA now boasts a rainbow coalition of upper caste, Kurmi/Koeri, Most Backward Classes (MBCs), Mahadalits, and Paswans, which account for roughly 60%-65% of the state’s population. Party strategists believe there is still scope for gaining 16 seats in Uttar Pradesh, one in Bihar, two in Jharkhand, two in Chhattisgarh, one in Madhya Pradesh, and one in Rajasthan, totalling 23 seats in North India, helped by the fervour around Ram Mandir.

However, readmitting Nitish Kumar deals a blow of sorts to the BJP’s ambitions of strengthening the party on a standalone basis in Bihar. The party had appointed the firebrand young leader from the Koeri community, Samrat Chaudhary, to lead the brigade and develop the party base, aiming to weaken Nitish Kumar’s hold on a section of lower OBCs. With the induction of Jitan Ram Manjhi, it hoped to develop new leadership amongst Mahadalits. Nitish’s return into the NDA just 1.5 years ahead of state elections next year derails those ambitions.

Voters May Get Confused

In the 2020 state elections, Nitish alleged that the BJP strategically placed Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) candidates in its seats to weaken him, resulting in the JD(U) bagging just 43 seats, a decrease of 28. Data shows the LJP damaged JD(U)’s prospects in 30 odd seats, which was one of the bones of contention between the two parties and a prime reason why Nitish left the NDA in 2022.

All of this could send confusing signals to its core voters, an admission perhaps that the BJP doesn’t have leaders to match Nitish Kumar’s popularity and charisma in Bihar. Today in Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav is the clear number-two leader who is young, dynamic, and has administrative experience too.

The MGB got a 37% vote share in the 2020 state elections, similar to the NDA’s, falling eight seats short of the majority. Had Congress performed better (it had the worst strike rate of 27%, winning just 19 of the 70 allocated seats), MGB would have done much better.

The Question of Accommodating Nitish At Centre

The specifics of the deal are not public. Will Nitish continue as Chief Minister till 2025? Will the 2025 state elections be fought under his leadership? Will the BJP want him to step down and project its own CM face? Easing out Nitish before 2025 and adjusting him at the Centre is not going to be easy due to “kissa kursi ka”. Why would he want to be an inconsequential minister under Modi at the Centre when he could be the king of a state with less intervention?

Nitish Kumar’s return indicates short-term gains for the BJP but comes with possible long-term pain. Will there be yet another realignment after short-term gains realised?

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

Source link: https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/bihar-trust-vote-nitishs-return-strengthens-bjps-2024-bid-5043851

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