RIGHT ANGLE – Why Nitish Kumar is a Political Parasite
So, Nitish Kumar has ditched the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) again! His JD(U) and the BJP together got a popular mandate in 2020 to run Bihar for a period of five years. After two years, he has left the alliance, the same way he came into it in 2017 after assuming power in alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) and the Congress in 2015.
I am not surprised that the Bihar Chief Minister has just started a new innings on Wednesday, this time with the support of the RJD , the party he had betrayed in 2017 to come back to the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP. Because, loyalty is something that Nitish has never cared for in his life. The way he ill-treated his political godfather late George Fernades in the dusk of the late veteran leader’s political life is shameful to even write about. He displayed his terrible mean-mindedness towards my late dear friend Digvijay Singh, former union minister under Atal Behari Vajpayee, another disciple of George Fernandes. The latest victim in his disloyalty-trait has been RCP Singh, the former JD(U) President and union minister in the Modi-cabinet.
Many political watchers think that by leaving the company of the BJP, Nitish wants to be the alternative candidate for the post of prime minister against Narendra Modi in the 2024 general elections. I do not want to go into that issue to find out this time how strong an opponent of Modi he can be , when two other chief ministers – Mamata Banerjee of West West Bengal and K C Rao of Telangana – nurture the same ambition, not to speak of the “eternally young” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
One thing, however, I would like to stress. And that is – Nitish leaving NDA is a very good riddance for the BJP. Because, by aligning with Nitish, the BJP was only hurting itself in Bihar, one of the country’s most politically significant states. And I would like to prove it with hard facts and figures.
Contrary to the popular perception that Nitish’s coming in 2017 helped Modi in 2019 general elections, the fact remains that it arrested the onward march of the BJP, thereby impacting its long-term prospects in Bihar.
BJP, or for that matter the NDA, did lose badly in the 2015 Assembly election in Bihar when Nitish had parted ways. But despite being the loser, the BJP had, as a matter of fact, emerged as the largest political party in the state. Let’s go by some hard facts. On a single-party basis, the BJP managed a vote share of nearly 24.8 percent, which was higher than 18.5 vote share of of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and 16.7 per cent of the Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) or JD(U). The Election Commission data shows that BJP got over 91.5 lakh votes on a consolidated basis, followed by RJD’s 67.9 lakh votes and about 62 lakh votes for JD-U. The Indian National Congress, which fought elections as part of the grand alliance with Lalu and Nitish, could manage a vote share of just 6.7 percent.
In the 2014 General Elections to Lok Sabha, the NDA had swept the polls in Bihar by securing 38.8 percent votes. It had won 31 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats. But in the 2015 Assembly election in Bihar, the NDA managed just 34 percent votes. Given the well-known fact that there will always be a difference in the voting percentages between general elections and Assembly polls, the NDA’s overall vote-base in Bihar was more or less fine. It lost because Nitish and Lalu, who had fought separately in the general elections, came together along with Congress to fight the Assembly elections. Arithmetically, their alliance was bound to prevail over the NDA. And that was exactly what happened.
However, the point remains that even in victory, Nitish suffered a great defeat. In fact for this writer, Nitish was the biggest loser in the 2105 Assembly election. For the last 11 years, he had been the undisputed numero uno (number one) leader of Bihar, but not after 2015. He might have remained the Chief Minister of Bihar, but he was no longer the number one leader with Lalu Prasad Yadav and RJD emerging as the single largest party in the so-called “Mahagathbandhan”.
In the 2010 Bihar Assembly election, JD(U) had won 117 seats. But in the post-2015 Assembly, Nitish’s party had just 71 seats, which means JD(U) suffered a loss of as many as 44 seats. Secondly, from being the premier political party in the state, JD(U) had been reduced to a third place after the BJP and RJD.
Viewed thus, by returning to the NDA-fold, Nitish recovered all his losses of 2015. On the contrary, the BJP had to make compromises and cede space to Nitish and JD(U). Take for instance the fact that in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP got 22 MPs from Bihar. But under the alliance with Nitish, between 2004 and 2014, BJP was allowed to contest only on 15 seats.
Now let us see what happened during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Nitish’s JD(U), which had only two Lok Sabha MPs in 2017 was given 17 seats to contest of which it won 16. On the other hand, the BJP , which had 22 seats in 2014 sacrificed 5 (five) seats to contest in 17 seats(on the basis of parity with JD U that Nitish demanded) and won all of them. Obviously, the BJP was the loser. The BJP managed to grab 23.6% of the total vote in Lok Sabha election 2019. The saffron party had 29 % vote share in 2014.
The vote share of JD(U) in the Lok Sabha election 2019 was 21.8%, while it was just 16% in 2014. The jump in vote share sent a clear message that the JD(U) benefited a lot from the alliance with the BJP. In 2014, the party had contested all 40 seats and had managed to win just two seats.
It is perhaps underplayed that Nitish has always risen high in the company of BJP and not the other way round. He became the chief minister of Bihar for the first time in 2000, though for exactly a week (3 March, 2000 to 10 March, 2000) when the BJP-led government at the Centre (under Atal Bihari Vajpayee) released him from the Union cabinet to just have a chance towards an NDA regime in the state. That time, BJP had 39 seats in the Bihar Assembly whereas Nitish’s party had only 18 seats. For that matter, in the 1999 General Elections to Lok Sabha, the BJP had 23 Lok Sabha seats from the then undivided Bihar, whereas JD(U) had only eight. In the 1998 General elections, BJP had 19 Lok Sabha MPs, against 10 from Nitish’s then Samata party.
The point that emerges from above data is that despite the fact that Nitish has been much behind in terms of share of support-base, the BJP leadership has always promoted him. And to such an extent that after he became the chief Minister with a comfortable majority in 2005 in alliance with the BJP, the latter, by and by, ceded space to become a junior partner in every sense of the term. In other words, until 2005, the BJP was the largest NDA constituent in Bihar, but the then Vajpayee-LK Advani leadership promoted Nitish to the extent that the JD(U), the younger brother to the BJP in Bihar, became the elder brother.
It should also be borne in mind that Nitish, along with his mentor George Fernandes, has always been the BJP since 1995. They have contested all elections — Assembly or Lok Sabha — together, save the one in 2014, when Nitish parted ways on the ground that a “communal Modi” as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was not acceptable to him.
As an observer of Indian politics, one has to admit that contrary to the common perceptions, BJP (or its previous incarnation, Jana Sangh) has always been an honest and accommodative partner in the game of alliance politics, but this gesture of the party has rarely been reciprocated. Despite constituting the largest block in the Janata Party after the 1977 elections, it had inadequate representations in Morarji Desai’s cabinet. It had an alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party, once, in Uttar Pradesh, but BSP chief Mayawati stabbed the BJP.
In the 1998 General Elections to Lok Sabha, Biju Patnaik was no more in the scene and all over Odisha people were talking of Vajpayee. And yet the BJP willingly became a junior partner to the newly formed Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led by Naveen Patnaik.
In Maharashtra, as long as Shiv Sena was the elder brother, BJP did not have any chance to grow. The party separated in the 2015 Assembly polls of Maharashtra because of Shiv Sena’s reluctance to give adequate seats. The BJP proved its worth by bagging more than double seats than the hitherto elder brother. Even after Shiv Sena’s return to the NDA, it did not get even half of the BJP’s tally in 2019 elections. That its leader Udhav Thackeray betrayed the BJP and went to form the government by disregarding the people’s mandate is a different story.
It is really unfathomable why Nitish has left the NDA now or for that matter before the 2014 polls. It is a dubious theory that as a “secular” leader, Nitish could not remain in the NDA. Of course, Nitish’s discomforts with Modi are not new, given the importance of the Muslim votes in Bihar. But then Nitish had been doing business with BJP for long and BJP had not become “communal” all of a sudden because of Modi. In fact, Nitish was the railway minister when Gujarat riots took place in 2002.
As pointed out, Nitish has been one of the oldest allies of BJP, and this alliance predates even the alliance between the BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal. Nitish fought elections along with BJP in 1996 General Elections to Lok Sabha when Shiv Sena and the Haryana Vikas Party of Om Prakash Chautala were the only allies of BJP.
I really wonder why the BJP has always given so much importance to Nitish. I think his capacity to garner the most backwards among the OBC category( the so-called EBC) has always been over-magnified. He is not Laloo Yadav, who always has retained a solid vote base of 20-22 percent in Bihar. In contrast, just look at Nitish. In 2010, he had 117 MLAs, in 2015 he had 72 and he now has 43. Come next elections, his number will further go down, if the trend continues. And I think that Tejaswi Yadav is not fool not to realise this, unless he wants to commit a political suicide by agreeing to be Nitish’s Deputy. In fact, the Chief- Ministership of Bihar at the moment legitimately belongs to Tejaswi.
Viewed thus, Nitish, as I pointed out in the beginning, is a good riddance for the BJP. Nitish, truly speaking, has always been a political parasite. Alone, he can never win any elections; but in alliance, he soaks the blood of the partner by snatching the top position for himself.
(This was first published in Uday India)