The personal chemistry between Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is expected to keep the relationship between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United) on an even keel, even as the power asymmetry between the alliance partners deepens after Bihar assembly election results. Although the JD(U) and its allies contested 123 seats, their strike-rate is not expected to cross 50 per cent. The BJP and its allies contested 122 seats and could win up to 75 per cent of those seats.
This is prompting those in the BJP, who are critics of Nitish’s style of governance, to demand the BJP must ask for more. But while there has been a relentless war of words between the state-level leadership of the parties, the understanding developed between BJP’s top duo and Nitish has staved off assaults, including those mounted by Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan.
And, as the alliance heads for victory, the cry within the BJP to dump Nitin is expected to get louder. It is learnt that Union Minister and MP from Arrah, R K Singh, might become a candidate for a BJP chief minister, though observers say this is a distant dream. “The respect accorded to Nitish by the BJP’s top leadership defines the quality of the relationship. The sooner everyone realises this, the better,” a BJP adviser said.
But the strain between the middle leadership of the two parties is lost on no one. A few days ago, senior BJP leader and minister of state for health Ashwini Choubey said Nitish was a skilled administrator who might feel more at home in the central government. Soon after elections were declared, R K Singh told ANI: “We are not going to break our alliance. Having said that, we surely are in a position to fight alone and form a government.” JD(U) General Secretary K C Tyagi, meanwhile, said: “The BJP has said Nitish will be CM if NDA wins.”
The worst victim of this tug of war is likely to be former deputy CM Sushil Modi, amid calls that the party would be better served if he were appointed a Governor. BJP sources say the appointment of Nityanand Rai, a militant BJP leader as minister of state for home and later as chief of the BJP campaign committee, suggests a plan to extract Sushil Modi from the state. If this is done, it would be the first signal that the BJP does not intend to play a straight bat with the JDU.