Though Kumar is likely to become CM if NDA touches the magic number of 122 in the 243-member assembly, as PM Modi had promised this during the election campaign, it is doubtful that BJP will let him occupy the chair for the full term. Counting was still on till press time.
BJP is fighting hard to ward off allegations of not treating its allies well and forcing their exit from the NDA (Akali Dal and Shiv Sena being latest examples) and this may be another factor for not pressing for the CM’s post now.
JDU and its erstwhile avatar Samata Party were among the oldest allies of BJP. Samata Party leader George Fernandes was made defence minister by Atal Bihar Vajpayee in the NDA-I government while Kumar was railway minister. Samata Party was part of NDA since 1996 and the partnership continued when JDU was formed on October 30, 2003.
BJP happily played second fiddle to JDU in Bihar though the clout of Kumar, a leader from the Kurmi community (classified among other backward classes) which constitutes only 3% of the electorate, was due to his clean reputation and later his image of ‘Sushasan Babu’, a CM who gave good governance after 15 years of Lalu Prasad’s ‘jungle raj’. Top BJP leaders would dismiss all suggestions from the cadre of going it alone in Bihar as the saffron party stood nowhere with just the upper caste support and had no leader to match Kumar’s charisma.
Kumar brought the non-Yadav OBC and the Mahadalit votes for NDA. In October 2005, Kumar led the NDA to victory in Bihar (with LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan doing his bit to pull down his then ally Lalu Prasad).
As the senior partner, JDU contested 139 seats and won 88 while BJP fought on 102 seats and won 55. The NDA improved its performance in 2010 assembly polls, with JDU winning 115 of the 141 seats it fought while BJP got 91 out of 102. Kumar called the shots in Bihar NDA. In 2010, he cancelled a dinner for BJP leaders who had gathered in Patna for their national executive meeting. Kumar was miffed with Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, a Hindutva face who could antagonise his Muslim support base, issuing newspaper ads proclaiming his state had given funds for flood relief to Bihar.
On June 16, 2013, Kumar walked out of the NDA after the BJP made Modi its election campaign committee chief for 2014 Lok Sabha polls. However, a dismal JD(U) performance in the general election, where it won only two seats, and then differences with the RJD in the Mahatgathbandhan (grand alliance) government in Bihar led the JD(U) to walk back to the NDA in August 2017.
Though Kumar has been NDA chief minister since and the BJP gave it 17 seats to contest in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Modi and his deputy Amit Shah have steered the alliance to suit the saffron party. Many see the LJP’s attack on Kumar during the Bihar polls as a ploy to deflect anti-incumbency against the BJP by pinning all the blame for the migrant issue, growing unemployment, shortcomings in Covid fightback and flood relief on him.
The Road Ahead
Even if Kumar becomes CM, questions remain whether BJP will allow him to complete his full term. He may be moved to the Centre as a Union minister. BJP may continue to egg LJP on to attack him. However, JDU is useful for NDA as it commands the extremely backward caste and Mahadalit votes in Bihar. Its presence in NDA also helps the BJP fight the perception that it is doing away with its allies.
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