The Chirag Paswan-led LJP has put Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar in a fix by threatening to field candidates against JD(U) but not BJP. To make matters tricky for Nitish, LJP isn’t leaving the NDA. JD(U) has reason to protest, but BJP may not oblige it. The latter has, after all, let Chirag train his guns on Nitish for several months. Even if Nitish secures LJP’s ouster from NDA, Chirag’s gameplan is clear. The young Paswan wants to test his party’s independent standing and dethrone Nitish in the elections. Moreover, BJP will argue it has no reason to antagonise Chirag who readily accepts Narendra Modi’s leadership.
LJP’s antics also mean that the JD(U)-BJP alliance will start on a testy note. Many Bihar BJP leaders have chafed for long at the party playing second fiddle to Nitish. If BJP wins more seats than JD(U) it will have a legitimate claim for the CM post. But Nitish is a seasoned politician with an incredible track record of flitting effortlessly between political divides. In 2017 he returned to the NDA fold just as easily as he embraced UPA in 2015. BJP’s challenge is to prevent a replay of Maharashtra last year, when Shiv Sena joined hands with UPA to bag the CM post.
In Bihar politics, all permutations are possible except a BJP-Congress and perhaps RJD-BJP tie-up. So current pre-poll alliances may or may not last beyond the elections. Nitish must worry about LJP because it was a similar gambit by Ram Vilas Paswan in 2005, contesting against RJD in 178 seats though both were national partners in UPA, that ended Lalu Prasad’s 15-year-long sway over Bihar. LJP won 29 seats and cornered a 12.3% vote share. If history were to repeat, this would be Nitish’s turn to be tripped by another Paswan after another 15 year hegemony.
A recent opinion poll points to Nitish’s unpopularity while predicting a conclusive NDA victory. This is bad news for JD(U). In a closely fought race the votes polled by LJP, however marginal, could give BJP or even RJD the edge in pushing their CM of choice. Chirag has garnered the spotlight by openly challenging Nitish. But Nitish’s success in growing his party beyond a narrow caste base is worth studying for Bihar’s younger politicians even as they hammer away at his failures.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.