Why did ‘Paltu’ Kumar become indispensable for the BJP?

Geeta Singh

Nitish Kumar, famous for his political moves, has once again changed loyalty. His switch raises questions about the motives behind his choice, its effect on Bihar’s electoral outcomes, and the complex relationship of caste and politics.

On January 28, Sunday, Nitish Kumar marked his fifth switch in political allegiance within the last decade, joining hands with the BJP, a party he had separated from in 2022. Resigning as Chief Minister, he was sworn in again, this time with a new partner, all transpiring within a matter of hours. The 72-year-old leader, colloquially dubbed ‘Paltu Kumar’ for his frequent shifts in stance, has earned a witty yet insightful moniker in a local joke: “Nitish Kumar is the only chief minister who, while being chief minister, resigns as chief minister so that he can remain chief minister.”

On a more serious note, this unexpected alliance shift not only raised eyebrows but also exposed deeper fault lines within the opposition alliance-INDIA. With just a month remaining before nearly a billion Indians cast their votes for the next government, Kumar’s departure from the alliance deals a significant setback to the opposition’s ability to challenge Modi, who is seeking a third term as Prime Minister.

The question arises: why did the BJP, which had previously declared closing its doors to Nitish forever, welcome him back as an ally?

The answer lies in the internal survey conducted by the BJP, prompting the party’s top leadership to exert pressure on Nitish Kumar. It is believed that the party recently conducted a survey regarding the Lok Sabha polls, and the data revealed a concerning trend. The survey indicated that most voters from the extremely backward class in Bihar would align with Nitish Kumar during the Lok Sabha elections, potentially causing the BJP to lose more than 10 seats in Bihar.

While BJP initially believed it had secured the extremely backward vote bank due to the charisma of PM Modi and the policy schemes of the Central Government, the survey results shocked the high command. According to recent caste-based census data, the largest 36% population in Bihar belongs to the extremely backward classes.

Sources close to the BJP reveal that the party’s current focus is solely on the Lok Sabha polls, with the goal of maintaining or improving PM Modi’s track record, aiming for more seats in 2024 than in 2019. The internal survey emphasised that this could only be achieved if Nitish Kumar remained with the BJP, given his strong influence on the extremely backward vote bank.

At the time of changing his loyalties, Nitish Kumar was also angry with the INDIA alliance for not receiving any significant responsibility and the proposal of Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge as the President of the alliance.

Nitish, belonging to the Kurmi community, wields significant influence on electoral outcomes in Bihar, surpassing the BJP’s strength in the state. Except for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Nitish’s vote percentage has never fallen below 22%. Even during the 2014 Modi wave, he garnered 16% of the votes, showcasing his influence beyond Bihar in neighbouring states like Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bundelkhand.

Adding complexity, the internal dynamics of the ‘INDIA’ alliance led by the Congress appears puzzling. Delays in seat-sharing talks and emphasis on Rahul Gandhi’s image-building initiatives have strained relations within the alliance. Disagreements over seat-sharing and leadership roles have led to the departure of key regional players like Mamata Banerjee, casting uncertainty over the future of the alliance. Challenges in accommodating diverse regional interests and formulating a cohesive election strategy pose significant hurdles. Opposition parties may need to reassess state-level alliances and anticipate post-election scenarios.

With the elections looming, the dynamics of power play, seat-sharing negotiations, and the struggle for political space are poised to shape the narrative of Indian politics in the coming months.

Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music, and society giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian.

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