Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Image Credit: Supplied

Bihar’s chief minister and Janata Dal (United) supremo, has pulled another fast one. Both on his allies and rivals. But it is hard to tell which was which and who was who.

He has wrecked his own coalition government and has trucked with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), whose dominant, if not principal party is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Over the years Kumar has acquired the none-too-complimentary sobriquet “paltu.” Paltu means one who twists, turns, even somersaults. But its connotation is not entirely translatable. Because it also has the negative sense of one who shifts sides and allegiances as it suits them.

His present ally, the BJP, the dominant force in Indian politics, and the main party in the ruling NDA, was very much a part of his government. Until he switched sides in August 2022 to save his gaddi or seat as the CM by joining with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Now, just before the general elections scheduled for May 2024 or even earlier, he has returned to the fold of BJP and NDA.

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I.N. D. I. A alliance is practically dead

Sworn in as Bihar’s 22nd chief minister nine years back on Feb. 22, 2015, he had already served as chief minister since 2005, except for a short gap during 2014-2015. On Jan. 28, when he was sworn in once again as chief minister and back in the NDA, it was for an unprecedented 9th time. Kumar is easily Bihar’s longest-lasting CM, having cumulatively served for about 18 years.

No matter that this term will be very short, possibly just three months. For Bihar is likely to opt for simultaneous Lok Sabha and state assembly elections. But Kumar’s volte face sends an unmistakable message: the I.N. D. I. A alliance is practically dead.

For Rahul Gandhi, the fallout will be ekla cholo re or walk on alone, to invoke a famous song by national poet Rabindranath Tagore. Gandhi, instead of being at the Congress headquarters in Delhi, trying to save his party’s if not the INDIA alliance’s electoral fortunes, is away in remote parts of the country. Or MIA, missing in action, as a capital wag wryly put it.

Nitish Kumar’s latest caper may or may not fetch him and the BJP many more seats in the all-important Lok Sabha or general elections of the country coming up in May or sooner, let alone guarantee his return to power in the Bihar next state assembly hustings. In fact, word is that even if the NDA sweeps the latter, Kumar will be shunted out of Bihar to leave the BJP to run the state unfettered. In other words, this is all but Kumar’s swan song.

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A one-man show

What, then, does it spell? The end of Kumar’s long innings and, even more significantly, his party? Without Kumar, JDU seems to have a very bleak future. Unlike the RJD in Bihar or the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the JDU is not even a family party, made up of sons, daughters, daughters-in-law, cousins, and uncles of the founder.

It is practically a one-man show. After Kumar comes the flood. More bluntly speaking, the BJP. The latter must win most if not all the Lok Sabha seats in UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, to mention the key states of the Hindi belt, if it is to cross its current tally of 303 seats in the Lower House.

If Nitish Kumar is signing, so to speak, his own political death warrant, he is also hoping to deal a deadly blow to the opposition. Especially its efforts to build an anti-Modi, anti-BJP common front, christened as the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance or I.N. D. I. A for short.

With its constituents scampering and scooting, Kumar’s exit is sure to cause a huge psychological setback to a unified opposition. In different parts of the country, the leading regional parties, such as Mamata Banerji’s All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC), are likely to seek a one-on-one contest, if not head on collision, with the BJP.

While nothing is certain in politics, Kumar’s exit from I.N. D. I. A clearly means it is advantage BJP. A demoralised and broken opposition will be in no position to stop the Modi steamroller. Kumar’s about turn, ghar wapasi or return home — call it what you will — may have saved his political skin for the 9th time. But, as the popular saying goes, even a cat has only nine lives.

He has certainly lost respect and had to eat humble pie. After trying to project himself as a rival to Modi for the top job of the land, Kumar will play not even second, but not even be a front row performer in the India’s political circus after the general elections.

The gains he brings to BJP may also not amount to much in the long run. Sadly, the real losers in this latest round of political musical chairs are again the people of Bihar. They certainly deserve better leadership and governance if their living conditions are to improve.