The stage was set for the final showdown on February 20, but then one of the principal protagonists suddenly left the arena, giving walk over to his opponent.
And the opponent, the three-term chief minister of Bihar, was inaugurated for the fourth term today.
Nitish Kumar is the chief minister of Bihar again. And as he says – that his predecessor, Jitan Ram Manjhi, who was handpicked by him last May, had derailed the state from the path of progress – he has some eight months, as the current Bihar assembly is completing its term on November 29, 2015,
to bring the state back to the growth trajectory that he claims he had achieved for the state.
Nitish has been apologising for leaving the office of Bihar’s chief minister last year and letting Bihar on a negative growth spiral and his ‘Kejriwal act’ is being much talked about and discussed.
Probably, after seeing the brilliant success of Kejriwal’s apology act, Nitish thought he could do the same to deflect questions on his last year rhetoric that he would not come back to the office unless he gets a fresh mandate from Bihar’s voters.
Another pretext that he is speaking about is Manjhi’s misrule. Nitish says he was forced to come back as people were disappointed and angry with governance of the day in Bihar.
Now that he is back, he has to come out with 100% on his performance amid intense media and opposition scrutiny that would run along with a union government headed by his bitter political rival Narendra Modi.
While the good will go in mitigating the ‘bad’ of his ’emotional decision’ last year, any bad will have amplified repercussions on his chances to score positively.
Can Nitish deliver when he has just eight months, given the fact that he was ‘forced’ to come back as Manjhi had brought bad days back?
The ‘bad days’ that he is also responsible for as bringing in Manjhi was his unilateral decision.
Now, the BJP may not ask this question to milk the better prospect of wooing the Mahadalit voters in the name of ‘Nitish insulting a Mahadalit leader and chief minister’, the young and educated voter would certainly think about it.
Also, the realpolitik of the day is different. The good governance days of Bihar under Nitish Kumar were from a coalition government with the BJP as an equal partner. It was in fact widely analysed that the BJP ministers were better performers.
Now Nitish is dependent on Lalu Yadav and his Rashtriya Janata Dal. Lalu is convicted in the fodder scam and is barred from contesting polls. The Bihar of his days, either under him or his wife’s rule, was seen as a failed state, a state where development politics had become a ‘forbidden political paradigm’.
Nitish changed that. He rode to the power promising development and delivered. But all this while, he was with the BJP.
Now as he is with Lalu Yadav and Bihar is heading for polls in few months, his political rivals will ask this question day and night. Now, only time will tell (and polls will tell) how effectively Nitish will be able to counter this question.
Nitish-Modi rivalry to surge: Though Narendra Modi tweeted to congratulate Nitish Kumar after his swearing-in ceremony and Nitish Kumar said the differences he had with Modi were ideological in nature and there was nothing personal, the history of Nitish-Modi rivalry says another episode is in making with the upcoming assembly polls in Bihar.
And we saw its first signs today when, after taking oath, Nitish told everyone that the mandate of 2010 was in his name only.
Now, Bihar is a make or break electoral proposition for both, the BJP and the JD(U).
After the humiliating loss in Delhi, the BJP must win Bihar to bounce back in the race of becoming a major political force and that cannot happen without having a winning or a major presence in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two state that count for 120 Lok Sabha seats and 37 Rajya Sabha members.
For Nitish, who had tied his political future with Modi’s political prospects, he is already on the back foot, retracting on his ‘quit rhetoric’ of last year.
With Modi having the advantage of the general elections win, a loss to Modi in Bihar polls would throw Nitish on the political periphery of Bihar and he would find in the similar situation Lalu Yadav is in.
Both, Modi and Nitish have their ‘make or break’ reasons to take on each other in the Bihar polls and each of them will try all to outdo the other.
And for Jitan Ram Manjhi, the chief minister till February 21, he was always a non-entity in Bihar’s politics before his sudden elevation. But his acts soon made it clear that Nitish had miscalculated in reading him. The ‘perceived yes man’ soon started spreading out, undoing moves by Nitish Kumar, transferring officials, installing his family members and making overtures to reach out to others including the BJP. It was soon going to be ‘enough is enough’ for Nitish Kumar to digest any further. His ‘yes man’ was working to dig his master’s grounds and the master was feeling increasingly unsettled. And it was just a matter of days.
Now, how much relevant Manjhi is going to remain will be gauged by the outcome of the polls only.
Though the BJP was seen in a tight spot on its decision to support Manjhi in the trust vote, that it could take only a day before, on February 19, after Manjhi’s equally sudden demotion on February 20, the day of the floor test when Manjhi resigned to flunk the test, the party breathed easy.
Supporting Manjhi had the inherent risk of alienating many caste blocks in the caste-ridden politics of Bihar. Also, going with someone like Manjhi, who is perceived as an inefficient leader with a trail of corruption and nepotism to talk about, could have alienated the young and the educated voters from the middle class.
Now, with the relief from Manjhi’s volte-face, the BJP, in fact, can expect to gain some good political mileage. With the Lok Janshakti Party and Ram Vilas Paswan, the BJP is already in comfortable position on Dalit votes with Paswans forming some 31% of Bihar’s Dalits.
Now, through Manjhi, the BJP would try to alienate another chunk of the Dalit voters away from Nitish Kumar. And Manjhi as a humiliated Dalit leader leading a front against Nitish Kumar would be a perfect beginning.
Bihar is heading for interesting, colourful political events in the run-up to the assembly polls.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey–/