Plunger in a churn: Nitish Kumar and Bihar politics

Nitish Kumar’s manoeuvres have been forcing other parties in Bihar into realignments

If politics in Bihar is in continual churn, then the plunger in the barrel is Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister and leader of the Janata Dal (United). Each time Mr. Kumar ditches an old friend or chooses a new ally, the other parties are forced into a realignment. The latest to shift camps is Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party. After the BJP and the JD(U) reached an agreement on sharing an equal number of seats for next year’s Lok Sabha election, the other allies of the BJP felt squeezed for space in the National Democratic Alliance. With the BJP, which won 22 of the 30 seats it contested in 2014, cutting down its own share of the seats in order to make room for the JD(U), both the RLSP, which won all its three seats in the last election, and the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan, which won six of its seven seats, were expected to do the same. But more than the LJP, the RLSP found the situation uncomfortable as Mr. Kushwaha had built his party in opposition to Mr. Kumar over the last five years. The BJP made no serious attempt to retain the RLSP within its fold, in a way glad that the pressure on the process of allocation of the 40 seats in Bihar would ease a bit. If the NDA got crowded after the entry of Mr. Kumar and the JD(U), the alliance led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal remained a mahagathbandhan only in name. Both Mr. Kushwaha and Hindustani Awam Morcha’s Jitan Ram Manjhi, a former ally of the BJP, were easily accommodated by the RJD-Congress combine in the mahagathbandhan.

In a way, the exit of Mr. Kushwaha has strengthened the bargaining power of Mr. Paswan and the LJP. The LJP seems unwilling to surrender any of its sitting seats to accommodate the JD(U). Like many of the other parties in Bihar, the LJP has switched sides often, choosing between the Congress and the BJP on the basis of how it reads the political winds. With the RJD steadfastly wooing the LJP, the BJP has been trying hard to keep the party within the NDA. The bilateral agreement with the BJP was a victory of sorts for the JD(U). It was very much the senior partner in the NDA right until 2013, when it broke away from the BJP, protesting against the nomination of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. But since then the party appears to have conceded a lot of ground to the BJP. Another change of alliance partners for the JD(U) is unlikely. As things stand, the RJD may not entertain such an option. The JD(U) has been the most important player in Bihar’s politics in the last 13 years, but Mr. Kumar’s room for political manoeuvre is now severely limited. The plunger might have just done its last churn in the barrel.

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