Nitish back in NDA, Lalu-Congress left in lurch – what it means
Nitish Kumar, regarded as Bihar's 'Vikas Purush', is a master of political one-upmanship.
After nearly 20 months of ruling the state in alliance with RJD, Nitish Kumar finally decided to part ways with his partner, crushing the opposition's dream of forming a 'Grand Alliance' to counter 'Force Modi' in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The fast-paced dramatic developments on July 26 and 27, which saw Nitish tendering his resignation and becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar again in just a few hours, has given a big boost to the BJP which wants to continue its winning streak by clinching the maximum number of states for the big battle in 2019.
Nitish has not only dumped Lalu Prasad, the corruption-tainted RJD chief, but he has also dealt a severe body blow to Congress, which has been trying hard to stitch an alliance of like-minded secular parties to challenge an 'invincible' Narendra Modi.
From the CBI raids on Lalu's family, the Enforcement Directorate action against his daughter Misa Bharti and serious corruption allegations against his son Tejashwi - Nitish eventually snapping ties with RJD was a foregone conclusion.
The script to this effect was written much earlier, and actors like Nitish Kumar and Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who has waged a crusade to expose Lalu, were just playing their part with clinical precision.
Nitish's open praise for the Narendra Modi's government's go-ahead to the Indian Army to conduct surgical strikes along the LoC and his support to the demonetisation decision – a move which was severely criticised by RJD, Congress, SP, BSP, etc - had already reflected his 'change of heart' towards the BJP.
The veteran Janata Dal United leader further rubbed salt on the face of 'Magathbandhan' partners when he vowed to support NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind against Opposition's joint candidate Meira Kumar.
Despite mounting criticism for not sacking Tejashwi as Bihar's Deputy CM, Nitish never spoke his mind since he knew that RJD will never concede to this demand, particularly at a time when Lalu is badly cornered and isolated.
While tendering his resignation as the chief minister, Nitish Kumar said that he had been trying his best to provide "good governance" but "the circumstances so developed that it was difficult for me to continue to be in power".
He knew that he could easily snap ties with Lalu in the event of RJD refusing to withdraw Tejashwi from the government, claiming that the 'corruption taint' on his alliance partner was maligning his reputation.
However, in the event of RJD sacking Tejashwi to save the Nitish government from further embarrassment, the situation would have been entirely different. Nitish Kumar, for his pro-development image, could well have been the Opposition's answer to the BJP in 2019.
Nitish’s Janata Dal United, which was reduced to two MPs in the 2014 polls, had aligned with the RJD for 2015 Assembly polls and returned to power with a thumping majority, handing BJP its second crushing defeat under Modi's leadership.
JDU has 71 MLAs and BJP-led NDA 58, Nitish would still be largely comfortable in running the government.
For BJP, this is an incredible victory. With Bihar now coming in its fold, only a few big states like Punjab, Karnataka, Tripura, Kerala, West Bengal and Odisha remain outside its kitty.
The political realignment in Bihar also signals that corruption will now remain the major poll plank. Clearly, after Nitish's exit, the Mahagathbandhan is left with RJD and Congress in Bihar.
Though, Lalu has vowed to teach a lesson to Nitish by stitching an alliance with Congress, BSP and SP, it is a fact that BJP virtually has no opposition at the moment. Losing Bihar has further reduced Congress to a regional rump. The Modi-Amit Shah combine has already swung into action to 'nip in the bud' Opposition's plan to stitch a 'Grand Alliance' ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Amid murmurs of BSP chief Mayawati being propped up as the joint Opposition candidate from Phulpur constituency, the BJP is likely to ask its Phulpur MP Keshav Prasad Maurya to resign as Uttar Pradesh deputy CM and continue as MP.
BJP can take comfort from the fact that the Rahul-Akhilesh friendship in UP failed to put up a challenge to Narendra Modi. After wining UP, Bihar was a major worry for the party. With Nitish Kumar back with the National Democratic Alliance, the BJP's prospect of triumphing in the 2019 show has only gone up by several notches.
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