When Bihar’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party leader and Union minister Upendra Kushwaha said ‘delicious kheer can be prepared with milk from the Yadavs and rice from the Kushwahas’, there were hints that something was getting rotten in chief minister Nitish Kumar’s kitchen. Positions have since hardened further and Kushwaha has met Loktantrik Janata Dal founder Sharad Yadav, indicating that his party may be on its way out of NDA. There may not be any threat to the Nitish ministry because he has managed to ‘poach’ both MLAs of Kushwaha’s party, but it can certainly cause headaches to NDA ahead of 2019.
Nitish Kumar has a reputation, or notoriety, depending on how one looks at it, for splitting alliances and parties. He rocked the boat of Mahagathbandhan and crossed over to the Opposition BJP to form his new government, leaving Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Congress in the lurch. And when it came to individual parties, he has managed to split BSP, RJD and even Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti party. Now he has virtually taken over Kushwaha’s MLAs by offering one of them a ministerial berth and the other a Lok Sabha ticket. The MLAs have not yet formally joined JD(U), but that is expected to happen any time now.
If it was merely an issue between Nitish and Kushwaha, there was nothing much to bother for BJP and NDA. But it is more than that. JD(U) and RLSP share a similar social base and with Nitish joining the NDA, Kushwaha’s position in the ruling alliance has been under pressure. So, when BJP chief Amit Shah and Nitish ironed out a seat-sharing formula, providing for both parties contesting an equal number of seats for the Lok Sabha elections, it was clear that the minor partners led by Paswan and Kushwaha would have to make sacrifices. Accordingly, Kushwaha was offered two seats, but he was not ready to settle for anything less than four. Paswan has been more diplomatic by not airing any displeasure publicly, but is believed to be waiting for the results of the Assembly elections before disclosing his cards.
Kushwaha has a point in the sense that he had double the number of seats held by Nitish’s JD(U) in the current Lok Sabha, as he had parted ways with NDA just before the elections and managed to win only a couple. Now there is a complete reversal of the picture, with his JD(U) becoming the main partner of NDA while his erstwhile allies RJD and Congress have ended up as the main Opposition. So there is nothing by way of guidance from the 2014 arithmetic and that is the confusion that Nitish has tried to turn to his advantage. Given its high volatility, the only certainty about Bihar politics is its continuing uncertainty.