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BJP picks up the pieces in Bihar after Nitish blow

‘Our approach is forward-looking. The central leadership wants young leaders to lead the charge now. This will also send a clear signal that lapses will not be tolerated. We are targeting beyond 2025.’

Satyavrat Mishra reports.

It was July 30, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers in Bihar were in a celebratory mood.

The party’s national president, JP Nadda, was in Patna, and busloads of party workers were ferried to give him a grand welcome.

The president even had a roadshow with former Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, state unit chief Sanjay Jaiswal and then deputy chief ministers Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi by his side.

The leader claimed that the BJP’s alliance with the Janata Dal-United, or JD-U, was rock-solid and socialist stalwart Nitish Kumar would continue as chief minister till 2025. He even indicated Nitish would continue beyond that.

A month ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Nitish at the Bihar assembly’s centenary celebrations as a “popular leader” and a “valuable ally”.

However, when the alliance ruptured, such was the shock that Jaiswal could utter only two sentences in a hastily called presser in Patna: “Nitish Kumar has betrayed the people of Bihar. They will teach him a lesson.” He refused to take questions, and retreated to his room in the party office.

Caught unawares

The BJP state leadership was oblivious of JD-U leaders’ intentions despite warning signs.

The bonhomie between Nitish and Tejashwi Yadav had been growing.

The issue of a caste-based census strengthened it. They had a closed-door meeting in May and were found on the same page the next month.

They again expressed similar views in the assembly in July, protesting against the Agnipath scheme.

And — also in July — Nitish did not attend four high-profile meetings, including called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We had some idea that something was going to happen. We had been accommodating for a long time now, but when someone is bent on betrayal you can’t do much,” said Bihar BJP leader Nikhil Anand.

Insiders in the BJP and JD-U point to the lack of communication and trust between the former partners.

BJP leaders considered close to Nitish, such as Sushil Kumar Modi and Nand Kishore, were pushed to the margins.

Union ministers such as Giriraj Singh and Nityanand Rai, considered not very fond of Nitish, were brought into the limelight.

Former Union Minister RCP Singh’s rebellion against Kumar finally broke the alliance.

“RCP Singh was given the task of negotiating with the BJP. However, the BJP tried to poach him and project him as the JD-U’s Shinde (Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde). He even ‘approached’ some JD-U lawmakers. The fact that the BJP never cared to explain agitated the chief minister more than the rebellion itself,” said a JD-U functionary.

A spirited Nitish Kumar said after the split: “They (the BJP) were trying to break our party. They conspired against us during the 2020 polls. While our people were busy ensuring their victory, they were working to undermine our electoral fortune.”

“Our rank and file was against such an insulting partnership. We acted accordingly.”

The road ahead

A stunned BJP has made it look like an allegation that the Bihar chief minister has “national ambitions”.

“Nitish Kumar wanted to be vice-president (V-P). Several of his party leaders even approached us. They told us to make him V-P and we would get to rule the state,” said Sushil Kumar Modi.

Giriraj Singh said: “Nitish Kumar is living in the dream that he can be prime minister, but he doesn’t know there is no vacancy till 2029. The Lalu family will make him a rubber stamp.”

The Bihar chief minister responded: “What a joke!”

RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari said: “For the past five years, the BJP believed Nitish Kumar can’t go back to the Grand Alliance. They thought even if he wanted, the Lalu family — especially Rabri Devi and Tejashwi — would not accept him at the helm of the new government. They forgot Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad are master tacticians.”

“Nitish’s sudden move gives the impression senior leaders of the BJP didn’t know what was happening on the ground,” added Tiwari.

The BJP is trying to get back on its feet. The Bihar BJP’s core committee members had a meeting with the central leadership in New Delhi recently.

“Amit Shahji and (JP) Naddaji called this meeting to get feedback from the state leadership. Our leaders brainstormed over the current political situation in Bihar. The central leadership has made it clear that it is keeping a keen eye on what’s happening in the state,” said Jaiswal.

“We will contest the 2024 election under the leadership of Narendra Modi. This time we will win more than 35 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar,” Jaiswal added. (In 2019, the parties together won 39.)

However, this doesn’t mean that no action will be taken against state leaders. Just a day after this meeting, senior BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain was removed from the party’s central election committee. According to sources, the leadership has also decided against extending the tenure of Jaiswal.

Clear indications have been sent by the leadership that those considered close to Nitish will have a tough time.

The party may also have a new face for the posts of leader of opposition in the assembly and legislative council. Senior leaders will be sent “to tell people how Nitish Kumar betrayed (the alliance)” and to connect with ground-level workers. The immediate focus of the party will be on the parliamentary seats where its leaders are losing support.

The party will try to bring backward castes, particularly the Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs), to the BJP’s fold. For this, they have been asked to highlight atrocities committed against those sections by the traditional voters of the Grand Alliance.

It is Nitish who nurtured the EBCs as a vote-bank.

The party will try to bring Chirag Paswan and RCP Singh into its fold.

“Our approach is forward-looking. The central leadership wants young leaders to lead the charge now. This will also send a clear signal that lapses will not be tolerated. We are targeting beyond 2025,” said a senior BJP leader.

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