The Magical Bihar Formula
Nitish Kumar's last shot at survival
Bihar has always been at the centre of Indian politics, contributing some of the most powerful national leaders in the last few decades. As the saying goes, there is one thing that comes naturally to the people of Patliputra: politics.
The art of political warfare has been perfected by many here and over the last two decades we have seen the most flexible, sharp and ingenious political moves from the JDU and Nitish Kumar to retain power, creating the magic formula of Bihar politics where governments change, alliances change, but Nitish remains.
But was it this time a politically calculated move to stay in power? Or only a last shot at survival?
The 2020 Bihar Assembly election result was the biggest shocker for Nitish Kumar. JDU in its prime in 2010 was able to garner a 23% vote share in the state, and come 2020 its vote share had plummeted to 15.8%. JDU was the biggest loser seat-wise as well, as they came down from 71 seats to 43, making them only the third largest party in the state, placing them exactly where BJP was in the previous election.
2020 was also the year the BJP played the "Paswan" card well against the JDU, ensuring their defeat in 20+ seats.
What happened to the LJP post-2020 is a political lesson that BJP allies should be wary of. The political insult of once being commander and now playing second fiddle had bothered JDU and Nitish, and the political assessment that going forward with the alliance would completely eradicate them in 2025 was quite valid.
To be honest, what history tells us is that BJP does eat into their allies. Shiv Sena is only the latest example not the last.
Nitish Kumar has been the modern day embodiment of this political phrase – the last three times were about keeping the throne but this time it's about keeping the palace intact.
BJP's second phase of the expansion plan kickstarted post their Hyderabad National Council is focused on weakening the already weak opposition - effects of which we have already seen in Maharashtra and Goa and will soon see in Gujarat.
For Nitish, it was not only about the threat of the BJP infiltrating his party through RCP Singh, even though that's the public narrative cited, more about how BJP has been infiltrating the JDU's vote bank across the state, in a way not tagged to any specific community.
It was more about how Nitish Kumar's space in the households of rural Bihar is being replaced by the saviour image of Narendra Damodardas Modi, which is an even scarier proposition for the chief minister and JD-U.
The second phase of the BJPs expansion plan is not just focused on capturing power, it's about sustaining it, to be unchallenged in the world's largest democracy.
Little surprise then, that a political alliance with the BJP has proven to be the deal with the devil for many of its allies, starting from Shiv Sena to the Lokjanshakti Party to AIADMK, the list is quite long.
Everyone talks about the Shiv Sena betrayal in 2019 but no one seems to remember how Shiv Sena has shrunk under the NDA alliance, how BJP has encroached into Shiv Sena strongholds and eaten into their target voter groups.
Similarly in Bihar today we are seeing the latest version of it – it was LJP first and JDU second. But the important question here is will a Maharashtra happen here in Bihar? and the answer is that it's unlikely.
Although Nitish might have saved his throne for the time being and Tejaswi might have got his "Yuvraj" crown of heir apparent, there is a major political aspect they are missing out on.
They just made BJP the primary opposition in the state. For a party that became the big brother in the NDA alliance for the first time only in 2020, there could be no better political opportunity.
For the next 3 years, BJP is the sole alternative for the people of Bihar, and the much criticized political leadership of Bihar, which is responsible for its lack of development, has all come together under one banner.
Now ask yourself the question again – did Nitish outwit the BJP, or did BJP just get the best political opportunity to finally capture Patliputra?
The road ahead for Nitish will definitely be tricky, as the alliance big brother the RJD would resort to their form of Governance, and the golden hat of solutions will slowly become an administrational burden.
The logical option for the BJP is to wait and watch and let things take the natural course, and, in a way, get public sympathy for being the ones betrayed. Its social media wing is more than capable to generate that feeling and portray Nitish Kumar and JDU as power hungry opportunists. Who can do it better than BJP anyways!?
BJP would definitely want to pull off a Shiv Sena and they would have already activated a plan which would have begun bargaining, purchasing and threatening legislators across the state.
If there is any lesson to be learned from Maharashtra, it is that patience and political will is a virtue you need to admire about the BJP - they will hit you when you least expect it and when they need that political knockdown very badly.
Come 2024, Bihar will be an exciting battle and if history is any indication, it's Nitish Kumar's last shot at survival.
Subrahmanyan TD is National Head, Strategy and Research, I-PAC