Nitish Kumar has switched sides yet again. An arrogant BJP which was claiming to have shut its doors for ever for Nitish Kumar has again embraced him as Chief Minister of NDA. Nitish Kumar, who had vowed to prefer death to again joining hands with the BJP, has reneged on his vow to return to the BJP's fold. Ahead of the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, the BJP was desperate to grab power back in Bihar and Nitish Kumar has offered himself to be used as a pawn for this BJP operation. The BJP hopes to have turned the tables on INDIA by weaning Nitish Kumar away from the opposition camp. But more than anything else, the BJP's desperation shows its weakness and sense of insecurity about facing the combined might of the opposition in Bihar. The memories of 2015 Assembly elections when the BJP tally had dropped to 53 seats in the face of a combined opposition must still be haunting the party.
Speculations are rife as to what prompted Nitish Kumar to switch sides yet again. In the terrain of pragmatic politics Nitish Kumar is known as a great survivor, even greater than the late Ram Vilas Paswan who had left the NDA camp after the 2002 communal carnage in Gujarat and returned to the BJP's fold after a decade's association with the Congress-led UPA. Nitish Kumar remained a long-standing ally of the BJP till 2013 when the BJP started projecting Narendra Modi as its main national leader, went back to NDA in 2017 after winning the 2015 Assembly elections with RJD and Congress and running the government with Tejaswi Yadav as Deputy CM. In August 2022 Nitish Kumar once again parted ways with the BJP only to return to the NDA camp now after seventeen months.
Ram Vilas Paswan is widely remembered with the epithet of "Mausam Vigyani" (weather scientist) and Nitish Kumar is now better known as "Paltu Ram" (somersault expert) or "Kursi Kumar" (throne clinger). But was Nitish Kumar feeling endangered as CM of the Mahagathbandhan government that he had to cross over to secure his position? Facts are clearly to the contrary. It was to counter the growing pressure from the BJP that he had left the NDA in the first place and if anything he will be facing even greater pressure now after returning to the NDA camp. It also does not make sense to attribute his desertion to his not being made convener of the INDIA coalition. It is one thing to criticise the INDIA coalition or its constituents to improve the cohesion and conduct of the coalition and completely another to desert it and join hands with the prime adversary of the coalition.
A self-styled socialist leader who remains a steadfast ally of the BJP even after the Gujarat carnage and who rejoins the BJP camp in the Modi era twice before successive Lok Sabha elections should hardly leave us in any doubt about his basic political orientation. In spite of his dubious track record the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar and the INDIA coalition on the national level treated Nitish Kumar with due respect as Bihar CM and an important ally in the all-India context. Yet Nitish Kumar chose to ditch the INDIA coalition just before the crucial 2024 elections when the whole country was looking to Bihar for a broad unity among political forces in defence of democracy, federalism, social justice and communal harmony.
Nitish Kumar's desertion therefore can only be seen as an act of great betrayal to the cause of democracy and social justice. What made this betrayal most unscrupulous was the occasion chosen for executing this somersault - the birth centenary of Jannayak Karpoori Thakur and the 74th anniversary of the Indian Republic. Nitish Kumar presents himself as the self-styled successor of Karpoori Thakur, but the two trajectories could not be more contrasting. In his time Karpoori Thakur had to face the most virulent opposition of Bihar's feudal-communal camp, the RSS and Jan Sangh in particular for his pioneering role in implementing OBC reservation which also included backward castes within the Muslim community. His two stints as Bihar CM were extremely short-lived and he spent most of his political life as an opposition leader and staunchly advocated communist-socialist unity in post-Emergency Bihar, especially with the rise of the revolutionary movement of the rural poor under the leadership of the CPI(ML).
As far as the BJP's game plan is concerned, it is well known that the party is desperate to have direct political control in all major states. Non-BJP governments are a complete anathema to the Modi regime. After toppling the Maha Vikas Aghadi government of Maharashtra and stripping the Delhi government of all its powers, its eyes have clearly been on the eastern region states of West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand. Without losing a moment after recapturing power in Patna the Modi regime has intensified the ED assault on Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar and Tejaswi Yadav and Hemant Soren in Jharkhand.
The other major factor behind the BJP-orchestrated coup in Bihar is the Sangh brigade's fear of Bihar inspiring a countrywide popular assertion for democracy and social and economic justice. The caste census and socio-economic survey in Bihar aroused countrywide interest and became a pivotal template for the demand for an all-India caste census and increased reservation. Within Bihar the focus had also turned to the massive scale of poverty, the urgency of adoption of poverty-alleviation measures and provision of government jobs and a secure future for Bihar's youth. The sizable scale of recruitment of teachers raised the hope of rapid filling up of vacancies in different departments. The BJP was desperate to abort this agenda and divert people's attention away from this agenda of people's rights and welfare to the Sangh's agenda of hate-filled communal polarisation.
We must remember that while the NDA had managed to sweep the polls in 2019, within a few months the opposition succeeded in mounting an effective challenge in the Assembly elections. The entry of the CPI(ML) in Bihar's grand alliance broadened and strengthened the social unity and political assertion of Bihar's oppressed and deprived millions and the NDA could retain power with only a very narrow majority. The return of Nitish Kumar has only exposed the weakness of the BJP behind its aggressive rhetoric and is bound to increase tension within the NDA camp while the Mahagathbandhan can now march ahead with greater cohesion, determination and energy. The hope and dynamism generated in the wake of the 2020 Assembly elections and the recent caste count, socio-economic survey and recruitment of teachers must be harnessed and the mass anger against the BJP's coup and Nitish Kumar's betrayal must be channelised towards a stronger assertion of the INDIA coalition in Bihar in the coming elections.