The dramatic homecoming of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to the NDA fold is a massive blow to the Opposition’s plans to cobble together a national front to take on the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The dream to replicate the successful Bihar model of Mahagathbandhan at the national level now lays shattered. Ironically, Nitish, a dyed-in-the-wool socialist veteran with a clean image, was the favoured prime ministerial challenger to the charismatic Narendra Modi in the next elections. The swift developments in Patna, leading to the collapse of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance and the revival of JD(U)-BJP friendship, could have far-reaching consequences for national politics with a potential for re-alignment of forces. An already tenuous coalition arrangement in Bihar came under severe strain following a string of corruption cases against Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family members, including his son and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav. For Nitish, who is known to zealously guard his clean and pro-development image, it became increasingly untenable to continue with the tainted ministerial colleagues. The failure of the two-year-old Mahagathbandhan experiment exposed the inherent contradictions in the arrangement. The CBI raids targeting Lalu’s family members and fresh revelations of graft have precipitated the crisis. Moreover, there were also allegations that Lalu’s emissaries had approached some Union Ministers, offering to pull the rug from under Nitish’s feet in return for the Centre’s help in bailing out their boss from legal troubles. The Bihar developments serve as a shot in the arm for the BJP, savouring a string of recent electoral victories and adding one more State to its kitty.
Barely a day after resigning, citing irreconcilable differences with the RJD, Nitish was back as Chief Minister for the sixth time with BJP’s Sushil Modi as his deputy in a repeat of the old arrangement. However, the daggers are out with friends turning into foes overnight. Lalu and his party leaders have cried foul and accused the Chief Minister of hatching a conspiracy with the BJP for several months to break the alliance and cheating the people of Bihar. They also insisted that the RJD, being the single largest party, should have been given a chance to prove its majority in the House. The Bihar drama has also exposed the ineffectiveness of the Congress central leadership in defusing the crisis. As a party, which has greater stakes in the opposition unity, the Congress could have brokered a truce between the warring allies and persuaded Lalu to extract resignation from his graft-tainted son in order to save the alliance. The collapse of Mahagathbandhan may well reflect the writing on the wall for the opposition. They seem to have lost the 2019 battle even before it has begun.