New Delhi November 11, 2020 UPDATED: November 11, 2020, 15:59 IST
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led ruling NDA scraped through the Bihar Assembly election 2020 as the results showed a close fight and photo-finish with final results being declared past midnight on the day of counting. In the end, the NDA finished with 125 seats, three more than the required half-way mark. The rival Mahagathbandhan, led by RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, finished at 110 but not before moving to the Election Commission alleging electoral malpractices committed by the ruling coalition.
As the Bihar election results settled in the NDA’s favour, it is certain that Nitish Kumar will take oath as the chief minister in coming days for the sixth time. This will be the third time that Nitish Kumar will take oath as the Bihar chief minister despite being the leader of the junior party.
Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United won 43 seats in the Bihar election while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 31 more to finish second-largest party in Bihar Assembly with 74 MLAs. For the record, the JDU had contested 115 seats while the BJP had its candidates on 110 seats.
The BJP and the JDU had settled for a 121-122 seat-sharing formula for Bihar election. The BJP had to accommodate the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) of Bollywood set designer-turned politician Mukesh Sahani, and the JDU was to part with its seats with the Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM) of former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi. Both the VIP and the HAM finished with four seats each.
NITISH TO BE CM
It was in 2000 that the BJP had announced Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate of the NDA in Bihar election. The party has not swayed away from its backing to Nitish Kumar in every election the BJP and the JDU have fought together. There were speculations this time that the BJP might remain non-committal on Nitish Kumar remaining as the CM face and leave the matter to be settled after Bihar election results were announced.
But much before the seat-sharing formula arrived at the BJP had announced Nitish Kumar’s chief ministerial candidature. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had announced Nitish Kumar as the NDA’s CM candidate as early as January this year while addressing a public rally in Vaishali district, in the middle of the row over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Later on, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president JP Nadda endorsed Nitish Kumar as the NDA’s CM face in Bihar. This happened in the face of strong opposition from the other BJP ally in Bihar, the LJP, which ultimately contested Bihar election on its own.
On the day of counting, as the BJP surged much ahead of the JDU in Bihar Assembly election, voices emerged from the Bihar BJP demanding that the chief minister should be from the party. Ajit Chaudhary, Bihar BJP’s SC/ST Morcha chief, said it is time for a BJP chief minister in Bihar.
However, the party’s senior leaders in Delhi and spokespersons repeatedly maintained that Nitish Kumar would remain the chief minister in Bihar. They referred to Amit Shah’s comment that Nitish Kumar would remain NDA’s chief minister irrespective of who gets how many seats in Bihar election.
NITISH KUMAR’S PAST EXPERIENCE
On two previous occasions, Nitish Kumar had sworn in as Bihar chief minister as junior party leader. In 2000, the BJP had won more seats than Nitish Kumar’s party 67 to 34 but he took oath as chief minister. The government did not survive as the coalition lacked a majority. He was the chief minister for eight days only.
After that Nitish Kumar headed a senior party in the NDA coalition until 2015 when he joined hands with arch-rival Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The JDU won 71 while the RJD got 80 seats in the Bihar election five years ago.
It was the second time that Nitish Kumar became the Bihar chief minister as a junior party leader of the ruling coalition. His stint with the RJD’s support was a troublesome one. At 26, Tejashwi Yadav was his deputy chief minister.
Reports suggest that Nitish Kumar was not happy with the way the coalition functioned particularly with Lalu Prasad’s alleged interference in running the government. In 2017, Tejashwi Yadav faced allegations of corruption. His locations were raided.
But Nitish Kumar could not get his deputy to issue a statement clarifying his position. Ultimately, in July 2017 around 18 months after the Bihar election, Nitish Kumar broke away from the alliance with the RJD and joined the NDA.
In a way, Nitish Kumar’s experience of being a CM with his party being a junior partner in the coalition has been bad. His fresh stint as the Bihar CM is coming at a time when the BJP is increasingly getting assertive in the state with its support base expanding considerably.
FOUR OTHER POSSIBILITIES
Word in the political circles in the BJP and the JDU is that Nitish Kumar may not complete his full term out of his own volition and end his Bihar chief ministerial innings on moral high ground. This gains currency from two related developments.
It is certain that the BJP will contest the 2025 Bihar election with its own chief ministerial candidate declared or decided. Secondly, Nitish Kumar has announced that this was his last Bihar election.
Four possibilities are being speculated if Nitish Kumar does not complete his tenure as Bihar chief minister. That Nitish Kumar has accepted Narendra Modi a superior leader and banked on his popularity for a win in Bihar election, it is likely that he may move to the Centre as a Union minster with an “appropriate” portfolio. This will give the BJP a hurdle-free path to have a CM of its own in the crucial Hindi heartland state of Bihar.
The second possibility is Nitish Kumar retires from electoral politics and assumes governorship of some state before the Modi government completes its term in 2024. Nitish Kumar enjoys a comfortable personal rapport with leaders across the parties, he could easily complete his term in the gubernatorial position.
There is also an outside chance of Nitish Kumar running for the vice-presidential election, due in 2022. Naidu is likely to run for the presidential election the same year. This will allow the BJP to keep its allies within the NDA fold and attract new state parties to the alliance ahead of next parliamentary polls. The BJP has in recent times faced the challenge of its allies TDP, Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha partying ways with it. The next Lok Sabha election will be held in 2024.
The fourth possibility is also remote but given the experience of 2015, it cannot be ruled out. If things come to a breaking point within the NDA due to BJP’s anticipated assertion in Bihar, Nitish Kumar may resign and support Tejashwi Yadav in forming a government. The RJD is the single-largest party with 75 seats and its alliance has 110 seats only a dozen short of the majority mark.
Besides, there is an unlikely possibility of Nitish Kumar retiring from politics altogether a retirement with grace, a concept more popular in cricket than politics.