By Soroor Ahmed

After adopting a different tone from the alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, on two-child policy, Pegasus episode and Caste-based Census, is it really that the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, has once again started nursing the prime ministerial ambition? This question is being asked in the media circles simply because unlike a decade back – when he was first projected as the PM material – this time he is politically very weak and cannot afford to indulge in any such misadventurism.
Nitish may certainly be an ambitious man, yet he is not so naive to repeat the mistake he had committed on June 16, 2013 when he abruptly sacked all the 11 BJP ministers in his cabinet and snapped 17-year long
relationship with the saffron party. Those whom he had then sacked included the then deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who was among those who had called him a PM material and is still paying the price for it. Nitish’s drastic step came just three months before the then Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, was declared as the Prime Minister candidate of the BJP for the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
The ups and downs and several U-turns in the eight years are enough to make even a fool a wise person – and Nitish is certainly not a buffoon. Either he has exhausted all his political cards and is finding himself in a blind alley or has got trapped in the net woven by the sycophants in his own Janata Dal-United.
Like Mark Anthony’s famous speech in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar: “Brutus is an honourable man”, these JD-U leaders are chanting “Nitish is a prime ministerial material” at the most inappropriate time and thus playing into the hands of the BJP. Ever since the November 2020 election result, Nitish has been in a dilemma – whether to laugh at his own self or weep. Relegated to the position of the leader of the third largest party after RJD (75 seats) and BJP (74 seats) he was still asked to lead the government. With just 43 MLAs in the Assembly of 243–against 115 between 2010 and 2015 – this time his Janata Dal-United is exposed to poaching from either of the two big parties of Bihar, BJP and RJD.
So Nitish is trying to keep either of the two in good humour. Of late he has tilted towards the RJD and is crediting its leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav for reminding him about the Caste-based Census. Nitish led an all-party delegation to meet PM Narendra Modi on this issue on August 23.
Actually, he has been pushed to this position by the BJP which in the last 10 months is repeatedly cutting him to size. Perhaps, unable to make out anything in this present situation, Nitish is deeming it better to at least mend his fence with the Rashtriya Janata Dal. His own party, the Janata Dal-United is being pulled in three directions by three different leaders – they are union steel minister R C P Singh, national president, Lallan Singh, and the chairman of the party’s parliamentary board, Upendra Kushwaha. The last named was incidentally his bitterest critic till March 14, when he merged his party the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party with the Janata Dal-United.
While R C P Singh reportedly does not agree with Nitish on Caste-based Census, Lallan Singh is the man who, while delivering his speech at party’s National Council in Patna on August 29, once again called Nitish a prime ministerial material though he hastened to add that this does not mean that the Bihar CM is a PM candidate. Later the National Council also passed a similar resolution. The party’s chief spokesman, K C Tyagi, while talking to the mediapersons, spoke on the same line. But when Nitish was asked about it on the same evening, he downplayed the whole issue.
The next day (August 30) Lallan Singh said something peculiar. He said that though Nitish is a PM material, his face is not swikarya (acceptable) and pasand (liked) by leaders of other parties.
On the other hand, Upendra Kushwaha claimed on the same day that given the situation Nitish may even muster the number required for the post of PM. It was upon this that the Bihar BJP spokesman, Arvind Singh retorted: True, Nitish Kumar has the quality to become the Prime Minister, but there are several chief ministerial material in the state too. They are R C P Singh, Lallan Singh, (Union Minister of State for Home) Nityanand Rai, and (the state BJP chief) Sanjay Jaiswal. Arvind Singh further added that having PM quality is one thing, however it is none else but Narendra Modi that the people of the country have reposed faith in.
Thus the BJP spokesman’s statement made it amply clear as to who are the leaders of Janata Dal-United and BJP whom the saffron party is likely to project as the chief minister, if Nitish is ever replaced. This does not include Upendra Kushwaha.
Many Bihar-watchers are of the view that Nitish appears to be somewhat clueless as to how the things are taking shape within his own party. They are of the view that while R C P Singh and K C Tyagi are close to the BJP for obvious reasons, Lallan Singh is travelling on two boats. Nitish has made him the national president simply because he feared that Lallan too may be used by the BJP.
There is no dearth of political observers who suspect that the whole issue of PM material was raised once again by leaders of different factions within the Janata Dal-United for their own ulterior motive and it is not going to do any good to the present Bihar CM.
Of late Nitish is reposing faith in Upendra Kushwaha as he feels that the latter still has substantial hold on Koeri votes. In fact Nitish has made another Koeri, Umesh Kushwaha, as the president of the Bihar unit of the Janata Dal-United.
Though he is in no position to immediately join hands with the RJD yet in the name of Caste-based Census Nitish seems to be planning to bring about Koeri-Kurmi-Yadav alliance – a sort of Triveni Sangh of 1930s.
Some analysts are of the view that he wants to emerge as the leader of the Third Front as he is sensing that Narendra Modi has started losing his touch after the West Bengal debacle and second wave of corona virus.
But he is not going to take any such risk before the Uttar Pradesh election. His party (JD-U) is planning to contest on 200 seats in the next year’s Assembly election, provided no poll-arrangement is made with the BJP.
It is premature to say whether he is really dreaming of emerging as an alternative leader at the national level as at present he is not calling the shots even in his own party. Gone are the days when nothing would move without the tacit approval of Nitish.