Nitish hemmed in

BJP’s surprise picks for two deputy CMs are intrinsic to its goal of widening its social base and winning a verdict on its own in Bihar

After its own stupendous showing and the decimation of its alliance partner in the Bihar Assembly elections, there were questions galore about whether the BJP would have its own Chief Minister or continue with its nominee and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar. The latter himself was believed to have offered to give up his position, considering his party was undeserving of the chair. But the BJP held on to Nitish, partly because it wanted to hold on to high moral ground, that of not dumping a regional ally in distress. It certainly didn’t want to appear power-hungry or absolutist. And partly because his hold on Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and Mahadalits is still intact and the BJP needs the façade of an inclusive rainbow to best its performance and become the single largest party convincingly next time, the last tag having been proudly claimed by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in this bout. Besides, so long as the RJD is focussed on belittling Nitish, it would be able to quietly go about its own gameplan. That doesn’t mean it has allowed Nitish a free run but has cleverly encircled him with its chosen few and even removed its once deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, who had a comfortable equation with the former. In fact, Nitish has his hands tied up badly with the BJP naming not one but two Deputy Chief Ministers — Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi. By moving Sushil Modi, who has in no small way contributed to the party’s growth in the State over the years, to Delhi for a Central assignment, the BJP is clearly resetting the entire template of the State. The Assembly verdict has been a close call and it certainly doesn’t want past baggage but is keen to start out on a clean slate, the sole aim being taking down the RJD and forming a Government on its own. Sushil Modi is too strong a leader with opinions that perhaps would not be conducive for the growth of lesser known but more efficacious leaders. And from the looks of RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s popularity, his youth following, his dalliance with a resurgent Left and his prioritising economic justice for all Biharis instead of bartering away caste privileges, the challenges are quite big. Both Prasad and Devi are low key leaders, who have risen from the ranks and have worked the grassroots, the kind favoured by the BJP’s top duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to do their bidding, and can expand the party’s network without drawing unnecessary attention. Tejashwi reaped the benefit of being an underdog in this election but now that all lenses are trained on him, the BJP wants to lie low. Prasad is not even a mass leader but has moorings in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He has been instrumental in the party doing well in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region, perceived to be a RJD stronghold. Some say that he has some appeal among bordering districts with West Bengal and may be deployed for the Assembly polls there.  Renu Devi has obviously been a concession to the women voters of Bihar, who swung the verdict in the BJP’s favour. Besides, Prasad belongs to Other Backward Castes (OBC) while Devi is EBC, a fact that will help the BJP claim representative caste credentials on its own than rely on JD(U) in the future. The announcements should come as no surprise, considering that they are in line with the Modi-Shah duo’s earlier chief ministerial choices in Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Manohar Lal Khattar, Devendra Fadnavis and Vijay Rupani were chosen above popular State leaders simply because the central leadership wanted a continuity of command and strategy. Besides, some BJP insiders believe that if an election has been won in the name of Modi, he should make the final call.

The BJP is not happy with statistics, something that it bases its strategies on. Mathematically, the RJD increased its vote share to 23 per cent compared to the BJP’s 19 per cent while contesting lesser seats than last time. Its galloping support among non-Yadav voters, particularly its rainbow coalition that split the upper caste vote, and its messianic appeal among the classless poor have given furrowed brows to the BJP. So the Hindu vote in Bihar, too, is not as cohesive as the party would want it to be. Hence the choice of two earthy faces as Nitish’s deputies, who, given their consistency in winning successive elections, have proven that they have their ears to the ground. Most importantly, the BJP wants to tell its rank and file that the organisation is not status quoist and that it not only rewards gritty performers with posts but also grooms them into leadership positions. This also helps it posit itself vis-à-vis the dynastically privileged Tejashwi or even Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan. The BJP further realises that it needs the likes of Prasad and Devi to hold its own against the Left parties, which not only guarded their votebanks but came together with the RJD-led alliance to trounce the BJP-JD(U) in Bhojpur and Magadh regions bordering Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Tejashwi’s co-option of the Left may be the glue for a larger anti-BJP alliance. And though it is allowing Nitish the top post in the last days of his political career, the BJP is making sure that governance is at its bidding. Five years are too short for a turnaround and the BJP certainly doesn’t want to waste any seeding efforts. As for Nitish, apart from being a seventh time Chief Minister for the record books, there are no expectations of sushashan anymore. He will at best be a visage of respectability as the BJP pulls all the strings. Nitish is seemingly powerful and actually powerless. Perhaps this is his worst political compromise yet. For it is not just about survival. It is about never being able to prove himself worth it.

Source: The Pioneer