Nitish’s Gambit is Based on Arithmetic
Within 24 hours of a Lok Sabha election that saw the Modi-led BJP come to power, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar resigned. Promptly, he announced Jitan Ram Manjhi, a leader from the Musahar community — the “lowest” in the hierarchy of Bihar’s caste matrix — would be a caretaker CM of sorts as Nitish prepares for the assembly polls. This ploy ensures the extremely backward castes, which Nitish had sought to woo, would stay with him while other political parties feel chary about opposing the arrangement. The thinking is the social justice platform can challenge the inroads made by Modi. Nitish broke his alliance with the BJP, claiming Modi’s entry on the national stage marked a turn to communal politics. It seemed strange then: Nitish had been a BJP ally for 17 years and a central minister at the time of the 2002 Gujarat riots. The tie-up with the BJP worked well for him in Bihar, where he stormed into power in 2005 and 2010, with the saffron party getting upper-caste votes and Nitish appealing to backwards and some Muslims. Murmurs have now emerged about an alliance with his former colleague and later arch-rival, Lalu Yadav of the RJD. This would seem to be a strange alliance. After all, Nitish wrested Bihar from Lalu in 2005 after replacing the latter’s caste empowerment slogans with talk of economic development. But the Lok Sabha vote shares tell another story. While the BJP’s 29% was the highest among all parties in Bihar, the RJD notched up 20%, its ally the Congress 8%, and the JD(U) 16%. If all three come together and voting patterns remain the same, simple arithmetic shows the combine would have 44% of all votes. If polls are held this year, instead of 2015, Nitish probably figures this alliance will triumph. Cold arithmetic, not rhetoric, underlies such moves.