Nitish Kumar continues to remain an enigma in Bihar. Having almost reached the verge of a political precipice when the campaigning began, he has, like the Phoenix, risen from the ashes again.

He has reached a position where he is calling the shots, and that too with only 12 Lok Sabha seats in his kitty! Though the I.N.D.I.A bloc has snatched 10 seats from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar, the real story in Bihar is how Nitish Babu has once again blabbered his way back to his favourite pastime, of making other and much bigger parties dance around him.

When most of the media was busy writing off Janata Dal-United (JDU) leader Nitish Kumar, owing to his frequent goof ups in his speeches (e.g. 4000 seats for the NDA, Modi will become chief minister again for the third time etc,), and his incoherent behaviour due to some mysterious ailment, so much so that prime minister Modi was reluctant to take him along on his campaign, Nitish babu is back.

And he came back with such a bang that not only the NDA, but even the I.N.D.I.A bloc is seeking to woo him back into their fold.

When the campaigning began in Bihar, it seemed the Nitish story was over because he did look ill, his behaviour in public was sometimes embarrassing, and his speeches were incoherent. Besides, his frequent flip flops had left Biharis red-faced.

The grapevine was abuzz that this election would most probably be the last for him, because it didn’t look like he would win too many seats. He was contesting on 16 while the BJP was contesting 17 seats, out of the total 40 in Bihar.

The target for the NDA was indeed huge, it had won 39 seats in 2019, with only one seat, Kishanganj, having been won by the Congress. In 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party and JD-U had almost a 99 percent strike rate.

The BJP won 17 out of 17 it contested and the JD-U 16 out of the 17 it contested. The Lok Janshakti Party had contested six and won all of them. Their collective vote share was 53.25 percent, with BJP having 23.58 percent, JD(U) 21.8 percent and LJP 7.86 percent.

In contrast, the Congress vote share was a measly 7.7 percent and one seat while the RJD, its alliance partner had not won a single seat out of 19 it contested. Their combined vote share was 30.6 percent.

So the task was cut out for the NDA, to win all 40 seats this time. But in a state where caste overrides everything else, the RJD-Congress-Left alliance seemed to be in a better position vis-à-vis the NDA because the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Economically Backward Classes (EBC) population, a whopping 63 percent in Bihar seemed to be tilted towards it.

Combined with the Muslim-Yadav base of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which seemed to have consolidated, the scale was definitely tilted in favour of the INDIA block when campaigning began. Field reports also suggested that the Extremely Backward Classes, which formed the bulk of Nitish’s vote bank, were shifting allegiance to I.N.D.I.A.

But the results which unfolded on June 4, 2024 have proved this assumption wrong. Though the NDA has lost nine seats to I.N.D.I.A, it is not like Uttar Pradesh where the BJP has been left a poor second by the Samajwadi Party.

The BJP in Bihar has won 12 seats out of 17 it contested, with 20.52 percent votes. The JD-U, which everyone assumed would lose substantially, won 12 out of 16 it contested with 18.52 percent votes.

The LJP, like 2019, won all the five seats it contested. The Congress and RJD, on the other hand, only marginally increased their vote percentage.

Congress won three out of nine seats it contested, with 9.2 percent votes, the RJD, which had drawn a blank in 2019, won four seats out of 26 it contested, with 22.14 percent votes. The real surprise in Bihar in I.N.D.I.A bloc has been the performance by the ultra Left CPI-ML, which has won two seats out of the three it contested.

What has become crystal clear is the fact that Nitish Kumar has once again emerged as the leader of OBCs in Bihar, otherwise he wouldn’t have won 12 seats in the first place.

Now with BJP falling short of the majority mark of 272, and I.N.D.I.A tantalisingly close to this figure, speculation is rife once again in Bihar whether Nitish Kumar would switch sides again to join hands with I.N.D.I.A, which he had helped create.

This speculation has started with Tejasvi Yadav claiming during campaigning that Nitish Kumar would take a big decision again after June 4. This has been repeated by Laloo yadav’s daughter Misa Bharati too who has said “Nitish Kumar is always welcome to come back home”.

Interestingly posters have sprung up overnight in Patna with the message that “Nitish Kumar sabke hain.” (Nitish belongs to all). What this means only Nitish Kumar can say, but his silence as speculation is rife, is only adding to the mystery.

Meanwhile, the Bihar results have some interesting aspects. Laloo Yadav’s daughter Misa has finally won the Patliputra seat, defeating Ram Kirpal Yadav with over a lakh votes.

His other daughter, Rohini Acharya, however, lost to BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy with a narrow margin of few thousand votes, from the Saran Lok Sabha seat which had seen an aggressive campaigning and some violence too a day after voting.

Another seat which had come into focus was Purnea which Congress wanted for Pappu yadav but Laloo Yadav refused to give. This resulted in Pappu Yadav contesting as independent and winning the seat, defeating JD-U’s Santosh Kumar. Laloo Yadav’s pick here, Bima Bharati, a JD-U import, finished a poor third with only a few thousand votes.

Another interesting contest was in Arrah, where BJP’s minister R. K. Singh was pitted against CPI-ML’s Sudama Prasad. In a surprise twist, Singh lost. In Karakat, CPI-ML’s Rajaram Singh defeated Upendra Kushwaha who has often been considered a rival to Nitish Kumar as he is supposed to enjoy support among the Koeri caste.

Among others, there are no major surprises in Bihar, except for the fact that Tejasvi Yadav, who was attracting huge crowds in his meetings, has not really managed to perform as well as Akhilesh Yadav in neighbouring UP, pulling the I.N.D.I.A tally down.

The only real story in Bihar is Nitish Kumar’s victory in 12 seats, and the speculation that he might once again flip. This perception gains ground as suddenly senior Congress leaders have started singing paeans for him.

“Nitish Kumar remains the sole leader of OBCs and EBCs in Bihar,” one Congress leader said, while another gushed, “despite being with BJP for so many years Nitish Kumar does not indulge in communal politics. He has not allowed riots to take place in Bihar.”

What this means we will only know in due course, but the man whose political epitaph was being written has risen from the ashes once again.