Having sensed Nitish’s resentment over his diminished status, BJP had tried to assuage his sense of hurt even as it leveraged its improved numbers in the Bihar assembly and the newfound strength to extract better terms from him. The “balancing” was seen as an essential precautionary measure from the objective of ensuring the third consecutive harvest in 2024 – BJP along with smaller allies had worsted JD(U) and RJD in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
As sole opposition force in Bihar House, BJP has its task cut out
The tactical consideration would require Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan to travel to Patna twice to reassure the Bihar CM of BJP’s friendly intent. More importantly, Union home minister Amit Shah recently said that Nitish would continue as CM until 2025.
Now that their fears have come true, BJP realises that it now has its task cut out in Bihar, where it received a solid thrashing in the 2015 assembly elections at the hands of the RJD-JD(U) combine. RJD, with its grip over Muslims and Yadavs, who together command nearly one-third share in the electorate, is a formidable rival in its own right. Its alliance with Nitish, who enjoys the support of Kurmis and Kushwahas as well as the goodwill among a myriad of most backward castes, further lengthens the odds against BJP.
But while BJP recognises the challenge, it is not daunted by it, its hope stemming from Narendra Modi’s popularity, especially his persona as an OBC PM, which is quite an advantage in Bihar which is often seen as the Tamil Nadu of the north because of the huge population of “backwards”. The state, like others in north India, has also seen a rise in support for Hindutva, which can help it blunt the tenacious appeal of the caste factor. “It is difficult to predict what is going to happen two years from now. But 2024 is certainly not going to be 2015,” said a senior BJP functionary, the reference being to the success of Lalu Prasad and Nitish turning the assembly elections seven years ago into a “forward vs backward” duel to BJP’s acute detriment within a year of its success in Lok Sabha polls when JD(U) and RJD had contested separately.
The changed power configuration leaves BJP as the sole opposition force in the Bihar assembly, exposing it to forlornness against a band of aggressive opponents. Party managers, however, also see the isolation as an opportunity to dominate the opposition space and exploit the incumbency that has accumulated against Nitish and which RJD could have cashed in on if it had not moved to the treasury benches. “Nitishji does not represent freshness. There is a discernible fatigue with him, which was getting transferred on to us as well,” said a source as he referred to the promise to generate 19 lakh jobs that the NDA allies were forced to make in 2020 polls to counter Tejashwi’s audacious pledge to give 10 lakh government jobs on his first day in the CM’s office.