Decoding BJP’s Bihar plan

nitish kumar and Sushil Modi

BJP has inducted faces from Extremely Backward Caste in cabinet giving an indication that it would try to expand its social base beyond forward and trader community in Bihar

By Asit Manohar

After pulling out of the RJD-Congress Grand Alliance in Bihar, when RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav was away from Patna to appear before the court in Ranchi in connection to fodder scam, Nitish Kumar joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to return as the chief minister for the sixth time in the last 12 years. To ensure the smooth ‘gharwapsi’, both BJP and JDU did everything in a hurry and the new government was formed within 24 hours forcing the governor to work overnight. After a rushed swearing-in, the new Cabinet was sworn-in in last fortnight. It comprises 14 JDU, 12 BJP MLAs and a lone LJP member.

But, once the new government has been formed, people are not concerned about the longetivity of the new alliance, as they know neither Amit Shah nor Narendra Modi suffer from the short-term memory. Hence, being befooled once by Nitish Kumar ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, BJP is putting each step carefully and by going through the new cabinet, one can easily understand that BJP is not banking upon Nitish Kumar too much. But, yes, till they are in alliance, the ‘party with difference’ doesn’t want to repeat the same mistake which Atal-Advani committed earlier. Now the BJP is looking to expand its social base in Bihar. It is in mood to remain tagged with a party of forward and trader community. They want to reach out towards OBC and Dalits as they did in Uttar Pradesh.

SOCIAL EXPANSION

So far, the BJP looks like the biggest gainer in Nitish Kumar’s new Cabinet. The junior partner in the alliance received 12 berths — its highest ever in the last 12 years. In 2010, the party had 11 ministers, when the BJP had 91 MLAs. According to a report published in Hindustan Times, the increased representation of the BJP reflects that a “weaker” Nitish Kumar wants to bank on the Centre to fulfill its promise of development in Bihar.

Notably, the Centre had promised the Rs 1.65 lakh crore development package for the state in the run-up to the 2015 Assembly elections. However, the package was put in cold storage after NDA’s debacle. The report noted that the BJP was alloted the portfolios of agriculture, road construction, health, urban development & housing, art and culture, and backward and extremely backward classes. These portfolios are likely to help the party strengthen its social base ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which became a major problem for the BJP when Nitish Kumar unceremoniously axed BJP out of its 17 year old alliance in 2013, forcing the BJP to align with Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP and below par Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM. But, taking lesson from its experience with Nitish Kumar, BJP don’t want to rely on its alliance partners any more in Bihar. Probably, this is the reason that Nitish Kuamr allowed LJP’s Pasupati Kumar Paras into his cabinet but rejected the RLSP claims to his cabinet.

CASTE CALCULATION

The BJP also kept the caste factor in mind while recommending names for the Cabinet. A report in The Economic Times said that the BJP focused on bringing in EBC (Extremely Backward Caste) faces into the Cabinet to shed the image of being a upper caste party.

The report noted that the backward castes and EBC ministry will be lead by a BJP minister for the first time, while the new agriculture minister is BJP’s prominent EBC face Prem Kumar. Both these factors are key as the party is looking to tap the social base of Bihar, the report noted.

The BJP also considered the regional representation while deciding on the ministers. According to the report, BJP gave representation to MLAs from Kosi and Seemanchal after the party had performed poorly in those regions in 2015.

RLSP, HAM NOT IN CABINET

However, not all seems well for the NDA in Bihar. RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha was reportedly miffed after none of his MLAs received a berth in the Cabinet, The Indian Express reported. The report said that the Union minister had sent the names of two MLAs to the BJP, which approved the name of Sudhanshu Shekhar. However, Nitish Kumar shot down the recommendation, the report added. According to a report, Kushwaha and Nitish share the Koeri vote bank which will put both leaders in an electoral conflict.

With Nitish back in the NDA fold, Kushwaha’s position in the alliance was weakened, which will further strain RLSP’s relationship with JDU. Apart from Kushwaha, the one-member Hindustan Awam Morcha, led by former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi was also left out of the Cabinet. However, Manjhi is lobbying for a Cabinet berth for himself and his son Santosh Suman.

“You have given a seat to a person from the Paswan family who is not even an MLA or MLC. Hence, there’s nothing wrong if I seek a role. I am disappointed but hopeful,” Manjhi told while referring to LJP getting a berth in the Nitish Cabinet. However, after the 2015 elections, when the BJP alliance with the HAM failed to tap the Mahadalit vote bank, the party is wary to keep Manjhi in the Cabinet. Manjhi’s former party JDU also boasts of a strong Mahadalit vote bank which may not work in the electoral calculations of Nitish.