Cornered Nitish rallies home base, Bihar waits for his play

Cornered Nitish rallies home base, Bihar waits for his play

For over a fortnight now, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been on a “personal” trip, covering two areas that are his strongest base in the state, meeting people, registering grievances, collecting applications. One of the small breaks he took was to attend Yogi Adityanath’s swearing-in in Lucknow, where he publicly appeared to shed any last vestiges of animosity towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

So what exactly is Nitish, the consummate politician known to weigh his every move, up to? Particularly as elections are at least two years away – Lok Sabha in 2024 and Bihar in 2025. Bihar is abuzz, discussing several possibilities.

Nitish has been touring Barh, which has ceased to exist as a constituency following delimitation, and Nalanda, represented by him five times in Parliament as well as twice in the Assembly. A common theme is the CM expressing his gratitude to people for putting their faith in him. He has dropped in on former friends, party workers and even second and third generations of people who have helped him.

With MLC polls coming soon and a model code of conduct in place, there is no talk of politics or any speech-making, and more emphasis on reforging personal ties. At some places though, Nitish reminds the people gently of his governance record, particularly the time when Bihar didn’t even have proper roads.

During the Mokama trip a fortnight ago, Nitish met the wife of former BJP leader Vaidyanath Sharma, who had introduced Nitish to the late BJP leader and PM Atal Behari Vajpayee.

JD(U) workers close to Nitish claim he has been wanting to do such a tour for a long time. However, observers wonder whether this is Nitish signing off from state politics – something he has said he is ready to do. Typical of his vacillating politics, there is a third category who say exactly the opposite – that the JD(U) leader wants to convey to ally BJP the stolidity of his support base and his “indispensability”.

The trip incidentally coincides with the sharp exchange of words between Nitish and Assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha recently, where the CM questioned Sinha’s tackling of an issue in the House. With Sinha’s party BJP taking umbrage, Nitish may be trying to stave off heat. The Lucknow appearance – where Nitish was the only non-BJP CM on stage – may be part of that.

Others see another target in Nitish’s line of vision – R C P Singh. Once the unofficial JD(U) No. 2 and one of Nitish’s closest aides, Singh has been drifting away from the CM since taking over as Union minister in 2020. Nitish was reportedly against the move as he had earlier refused the BJP’s offers of just a post or two for the JD(U) in the Union Cabinet. Singh is now the only JD(U) minister at the Centre.

The JD(U) organisational general secretary and later its national president for years, Singh has deep contacts at the grassroots. Nitish may be trying to neutralise this by reviving his old connections in the party.

Incidentally, accompanying Nitish during the trip is Manish Verma, a fellow Kurmi and aide. Verma also happens to be a former IAS officer who took voluntary retirement to take up his new assignment; just like Singh once did.

Yet another conjecture is that Nitish might be paving the ground for return to Parliament as the MP from Nalanda in 2024. The BJP has already overtaken the JD(U) as the senior partner in the alliance, having won more seats between the two in the 2020 Assembly elections. With the merger of all the three Vikassheel Insaan Party MLAs with it, the BJP is now the largest part in the Assembly – a reversal of fortunes Nitish is hardly likely to be comfortable with.

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Author: Shirley