Why Nitish Kumar’s exit is a huge embarrassment for the INDIA bloc ahead of 2024 polls

Why Nitish Kumar’s exit is a huge embarrassment for the INDIA bloc ahead of 2024 polls

Why Nitish Kumar’s exit is a huge embarrassment for the INDIA bloc ahead of 2024 polls

It feels like déjà vu all over again. Nitish Kumar is back to where he was in early 2022 — with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On Sunday (28 January), the Janata Dal (United) {JD(U)} chief took the oath of office for the ninth time with the support of the BJP, after dumping his former allies — the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the INDIA bloc.

It’s no surprise that the JD(U)’s flip — fifth time in over 10 years — has earned him the title of ‘Paltu Ram’ in Bihar politics.

Shortly after he took the oath of chief minister, he was congratulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders. On the other hand, leaders from the INDIA alliance voiced their displeasure with the veteran politician, with some even describing him as a turncoat and ‘girgit’ (chameleon).

But Nitish Kumar remains unfazed. He asserted that there is now no question of leaving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-fold. “I was with them (NDA) earlier, too. We went on different paths, but now we are together and will remain so… I came back to where I was (NDA), and now there is no question of going anywhere else,” the 72-year-old said.

But as Nitish makes a ghar wapsi to the NDA, one can’t ignore that his exit will negatively impact the INDIA grouping. We take a look how.

Why Nitish Kumar left INDIA

After much speculation and conjecture, Nitish Kumar on Sunday tendered his resignation as chief minister on Sunday morning, ditching the Mahagathbandhan and the opposition bloc INDIA. Shortly after, the 72-year-old was administered the oath of office by Bihar Governor Rajendra Arlekar at Raj Bhavan for the ninth time, in the presence of BJP leaders, including party president JP Nadda.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Kumar told reporters: “I have come back where I was earlier. Now there is no question of going back.”

He indicated that he wasn’t happy with the way things were going in the alliance in the state as well as the newly formed Opposition grouping, INDIA.

There have been rumblings of cracks between the JD(U) and the RJD for quite some time, with many speculating that Nitish would flip sides. Upendra Kushwaha, who heads the Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal, claimed that Kumar was trying to quit the Mahagathbandhan as he was feeling “suffocated”.

“Nitish Kumar has built an image where everyone keeps guessing about his future political moves. It is true that he is not comfortable as RJD is part of the Mahagathbandhan. He is feeling suffocated,” he told PTI on Friday.

JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi also offered insights as to why Nitish Kumar quit the INDIA bloc and rejoined hands with the NDA. “The attitude of the Congress from day one had not been very positive… They wanted to finish all of us non-Congress parties as part of a conspiracy,” he alleged to Indian Express.

He further added, “They (Congress) also wanted to hijack the leadership of the INDIA bloc. It was decided in Mumbai that the alliance will not project a face. But through some intrigue and manipulation in the night… Jairam Ramesh and co ensured Mallikarjun Kharge’s name was proposed at the meeting. What was the need for such intrigue and manipulation? Although Kharge politely refused, it was the Congress’s conspiracy to hijack leadership (of the bloc).”

BJP president JP Nadda and JD(U) leader and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar during the swearing-in ceremony of new state government, at Raj Bhavan in Patna. PTI

How INDIA reacted

Nitish’s flip, understandably, has shocked and irked the INDIA bloc. Tejashwi Yadav, the son of Lalu Yadav and former deputy chief minister of Bihar, said, “The JD(U) will be destroyed in the upcoming Assembly polls”.

“The game is not over for us. The game has just begun,” said the young leader. His elder brother, Tej Pratap Yadav, and sister, Rohini Acharya, also ridiculed the Bihar chief minister, likening him to a “chameleon.”

Convenor of the INDIA grouping, and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge also minced no words when asked about Nitish Kumar’s volte-face. He said that he knew it would happen, adding, “There are many people in the country like ‘Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram’.

“Earlier he and us were fighting together. When I talked to Lalu ji and Tejashwi, they also said that Nitish is going. If he wanted to stay, he would have stayed but he wants to go. That’s why we already knew this, but to keep the India alliance intact, if we say something wrong, the wrong message will be sent. This information was already given to us by Lalu Prasad Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav. Today that came true. There are many people in the country like ‘Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram’,” Kharge said.

Bihar governor Rajendra Arlekar administers the oath of office to JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar as state chief minister during the swearing-in ceremony of new state government, at Raj Bhavan in Patna. This is the ninth time that Kumar has been sworn in as chief minister. PTI

Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool Congress matriarch and West Bengal chief minister, also expressed her anger at Kumar’s actions. A source close to her told The Telegraph, “Didi thinks that if Nitish Kumar leaves the INDIA bloc, it would be good riddance. “She thinks that the anti-incumbency facing the Nitish-led government would have cost the alliance.”

Another senior face of the Opposition alliance, Sharad Pawar, said people will give a befitting reply to the politics of “frequently shifting loyalties” being played by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, perhaps, had the best take on the events. Using his impeccable English skills, he called Kumar a snollygoster — which means “a shrewd, unprincipled politician”. Incidentally, this was the same word Tharoor had used for the veteran leader had parted ways with the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar.

How Nitish’s exit hurts INDIA

While the leaders may project Nitish’s exit as non-significant, it is hard to ignore him or his impact on the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

First and foremost, Nitish’s exit hurts the alliance, as it reinstates the narrative that the BJP has pushed on the grouping — of it being non-reliant and unstable. Kumar’s shift will now add to the NDA’s momentum and the INDIA bloc will have to come up with some major gamechanger to take on the NDA.

Secondly, his crossing over to the NDA, boosts the ruling alliance’s numbers for the upcoming polls. Analysts note that Nitish’s exit from the INDIA bloc also puts the grouping in a conundrum over the matter of caste equations. After all, it was Nitish Kumar who was the architect of the Bihar caste survey — a template that the Opposition has used for a pitch against the BJP. As the Indian Express reports, Nitish’s move to the NDA also reinforces the “Hindutva plus social justice” plank which the BJP has repeatedly underlined as the foundation of its electoral appeal and success.

The leaders of the INDIA bloc have expressed their displeasure with Nitish Kumar on his exit. Mallikarjun Kharge and West Bengal CM and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee have slammed the JD(U) chief for his turn to the NDA. File image/PTI

Nitish’s exit also hurts the INDIA bloc, as he was the one who initiated it. Critics will now question the viability and existence of the grouping now that the JD(U) chief has walked out.

Furthermore, his exit comes at the worst time for INDIA; the TMC and Aam Aadmi Party have announced that they would be going solo in West Bengal and Punjab respectively, making voters question if the alliance is of any sense.

Poll pundits also note that with Nitish leaving the Grand Alliance in the state of Bihar, the RJD is left to depend on the ‘MY’ combination — Muslim, Yadav base. For instance, an ABP-CVoter survey from a month ago predicted 21-23 seats for the INDIA bloc and 16-18 for the NDA. But this seems very hard now with the JD(U) chief dumping the alliance.

Nitish dumping the INDIA bloc also reinforces the anti-Congress stance. JD(U) leaders have blamed the Grand Old Party for their leader’s move and this will hurt their reputation and chances in the general elections. It also puts pressure on the Congress in its negotiations with allies like Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

Clearly, the exit of Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) is a massive embarrassment for the INDIA bloc, whether it would like to acknowledge it or not.

With inputs from agencies