February 5, 2024


Will Nitish Kumar’s return help the BJP in Bihar?

(Image credit: Shivam Setu, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and the INDIA alliance are pulling out all the stops to ensure they get some kind of electoral advantage. Rahul Gandhi has embarked on another yatra amidst constant talk of whether the alliance can stick together.

Part of that talk is due to what Nitish Kumar did recently. In a surprising turn of events, he quit the INDIA bloc. He rejoined the BJP to form a new government in Bihar. The state, with its 40 Lok Sabha seats, is seen as crucial. Has the move bolstered the BJP’s prospects in the state and for the election overall?


Being sworn in as Chief Minister of Bihar is now probably second nature for Nitish Kumar. The most recent was his 9th time. This new phase comes at a crucial time for his party, the Janata Dal (United) (JDU), the BJP, and the opposition INDIA bloc.

He’s no stranger to politics. A long-time veteran of this now, he began his journey by participating in the socialist movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s. The plunge into electoral politics came in the 1980s when he aligned with the Janata Dal, a mainstay in Bihar’s political landscape. In 1989, he supported the Janata Dal and backed Lalu Prasad Yadav as leader of the Opposition in the Bihar assembly.

In 1994, he and George Fernandes started the Samata Party. Two years later, he aligned with the BJP and became a minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Cabinet. His first tryst as Chief Minister came in 2000 but didn’t last a week since his government was reduced to a minority. In 2005, with the BJP’s support, he was Chief Minister again and completed his five-year term. His policies paid off in the 2010 assembly elections as the JD(U) won 115 seats.

He had Prime Ministerial aspirations and felt let down when the BJP picked Modi. In the 2014 elections, his party performed poorly, and he resigned. Jitan Ram Manjhi took over but resigned in 9 months, and Kumar was back again.

For the 2015 elections, he decided to align with the Indian National Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The RJD won 80 seats, and the JD(U) only 69. RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav offered Kumar the Chief Ministerial post and he took it.

The partnership with the RJD snapped in 2017, and he returned to the BJP and formed the government. Despite a disappointing performance in the 2020 assembly elections, he became Chief Minister for the seventh time. His eighth time as Chief Minister was with the RJD after leaving the BJP-led alliance again.

Safe to say, it’s understandable why Nitish Kumar has gotten the tag of being a flip-flopper and political gymnast. It has marked his political career, moving from one alliance to another and then back again. Now, he’s with the BJP, he’s once again the Chief Minister and the Lok Sabha elections are coming up. Does the BJP have Bihar in the bag?

VIEW: It’s the BJP’s to lose

The results of the 2020 Assembly elections gave a mandate for the BJP-JD(U) pre-poll alliance. The BJP won 74 seats, just one less than the RJD. While Kumar ousted the party from power in 2022, both sides are back at a crucial time. The term “double-engine government” will certainly be brandished by the BJP as campaigning picks up. It has worked for the BJP in other states.

Looking at the opposition, it’s clear their strategy rests on social justice. It was first proposed by the DMK at an all-party meeting last year and gained momentum in Bihar. Demands for a caste-based survey increased. Nitish Kumar supported the call and commissioned it. The survey showed that 63% of the state’s population were from backward castes. Now, with the BJP, he’s going to take credit despite what the opposition says.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for the BJP is the message recent events send out. By managing to wrestle the JD(U) back into their fold, the narrative around opposition unity continues to go downhill. Messaging in elections is crucial. People want some sense of stability at the Centre and the BJP projects that. The INDIA bloc doesn’t. With the JD(U) now in the fold in Bihar, it gives the BJP impetus to pursue alliances in other states.

COUNTERVIEW: Not so fast

There’s certainly a narrative advantage that the BJP gets from the Nitish Kumar coup. However, he isn’t as popular as he once was. During the 2019 state elections, his party could only get 15.39% of the total votes polled and secured only 43 seats, down from 71 in the previous elections. In the past several years, he hasn’t been able to lift the state on several indicators like education, employment, and healthcare.

One person who’s not high on Nitish Kumar’s return to the BJP alliance is political strategist Prashant Kishor. He doesn’t have high hopes this time around. The BJP will have to deal with the overall sharing of seats. Besides the JDU(U), the BJP has Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Aawam Morcha – Secular (HAMS), and others. They’ll all want a piece of the pie, and there’s only so much to go around – 40 seats.

On the ground, there’s not much love for Nitish Kumar in the state. His constant flip-flopping hasn’t exactly led to great things for Bihar. There’s the RJD led by Tejashwi Yadav, which emerged as the single largest party in the 2020 elections. On the same day that Nitish exited the Mahagathbandhan, the RJD authorised Lalu Prasad Yadav, its President, to make all the decisions in the wake of new developments. The BJP’s prediction of “40 out of 40” seats in Bihar is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Reference Links:

  • Nitish Kumar’s political journey: From humble beginnings to key ministerial roles and 9th term as CM – Moneycontrol
  • Nitish Kumar and the art of staying in power: A look at his political journey – DailyO
  • Bihar Politics: How Nitish Has Been Alternating Between Love And Hate For BJP, RJD – India.com
  • Nitish Kumar, Man Of Many U-Turns, Gets New Team With BJP As Ally – NDTV
  • The political convulsions in Bihar – What are their wider implications – India Today
  • Four gains for the BJP from the Bihar coup – Moneycontrol
  • Nitish’s Return to NDA: It’s Wrong to Conclude a Cakewalk for the BJP in Bihar – The Wire

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Nitish Kumar’s return will help the BJP in Bihar.

b) Nitish Kumar’s return won’t help the BJP in Bihar.


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