Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda had assured Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar – despite his doubts – that he would remain the face of the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar in the 2024 national election and the state polls the year after that.
But that assurance has not done much to calm Mr Kumar and keep the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and the BJP alliance in Bihar humming smoothly.
Mr Shah’s perceived grip on Bihar through the selection of ministers seen as close to him remains to be viewed as a threat by Mr Kumar.
The latest friction point, or apparently the tipping point, was the exit of former Union Minister RCP Singh from the JD(U) two days ago, with a parting shot aimed directly at the Chief Minister – “I’ll just say that there’s no cure to jealousy…Nitish Kumar will not become Prime Minister in any of his seven lives,” Mr Singh had said as he bade his goodbyes to the JD(U).
Mr Kumar’s party had denied another Rajya Sabha berth last month to Mr Singh, who had taken a spot in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet last year without consulting Mr Kumar.
Also in the list of irritants that the Chief Minister has often cited as a big question mark over the continuation of the alliance has been Mr Kumar’s open contempt for the Bihar assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha, whom the Chief Minister wants removed. Mr Kumar had lost his temper more than once at the Speaker, who Mr Kumar has accused of openly violating the Constitution by raising questions against his government.
Smarting under the continuous humiliation by Bihar BJP leaders, Mr Kumar has already opened a communication line with Rashtriya Janta Dal, or RJD, leader Tejaswi Yadav. The Chief Minister continues to skip all events – an unspoken boycott – called by PM Modi or Mr Shah.
Sources close to Mr Kumar said he is upset over the way he was being attacked by Bihar BJP leaders, while the central party leadership looked the other way.
Part of his anger is also linked to change of line-up in Bihar by the BJP. Former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi was moved out of Bihar and former state minister Nand Kishore Yadav was recalled from being a minister, in what was seen as act of sidelining them after the assembly elections in 2020.
The BJP appointed Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi as Deputy Chief Ministers and Sanjay Jaiswal as Bihar unit party chief. Mr Kumar sees them as leaders who have no ear to the ground and with limited administration skills. The BJP’s own leaders have also complained the new appointees are not taken seriously and instead, the leaders have demanded more say in the state affairs.
All this was actually diminishing Mr Kumar’s clout, he seems to have concluded, as most decisions were being taken by the BJP’s central leadership, which he suspects has little priority for Bihar, unlike Gujarat or Maharashtra.
In the last one month alone, Mr Nitish first gave a miss to a meeting of all chief ministers called by the Law Ministry and the Chief Justice of India. He then avoided going to Delhi on an invitation by PM Modi for a farewell dinner for former President Ram Nath Kovind. He sent Deputy Chief Minister Tarkishore Prasad at a meeting called by Mr Shah to finalise how to leverage hoisting the national flag as part of the “Har Ghar Tiranga” campaign. Mr Kumar also skipped the oath ceremony of President Droupadi Murmu and did not participate in a meeting of the government’s think-tank NITI Aayog, where 23 Chief Ministers turned up.