With Nitish Kumar announcement, Amit Shah has killed 2 birds with one stone

Days before he makes way for JP Nadda to take over as the party chief, Union home minister Amit Shah, who continues to head the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made a crucial but not unexpected announcement.

Amit Shah said on Thursday the BJP will contest the Bihar assembly elections scheduled to be held later this year under the leadership of its ally Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United).

The clear-cut pronouncement lays at rest any doubts that the party’s own leaders may have harboured and also is a clear sign to the ally that the BJP believes the partnership, which has repeatedly delivered in Bihar in the last two decades, is mutually beneficial.

Insiders say that in many ways, the Bihar state elections are a three-horse race with the BJP, JD(U) and Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) each having their own areas of strength.

“No matter which of these two join, the balance will tilt in their favour,” said a leader adding that this combination considerably diminishes the RJD’s hopes of making a comeback.

The BJP would also bank on Ram Vilas Paswan’s considerable clout, especially among Dalits, to ensure it wins the Bihar test.

Led by the charismatic Narendra Modi, the BJP has dominated the national elections but has faced formidable challenges in most state polls.

The party was trounced in Jharkhand last year and even in the upcoming Delhi assembly polls, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is the clear favourite. In Maharashtra, the BJP did well in the state polls only to see ally Shiv Sena walk out and form a government with rivals Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress.

“Add to it the factor that the BJP in Bihar does not have a face that can match the popularity of Nitish Kumar or arguably that of Tejashwi Yadav, and the decision to contest polls in Bihar would make sense,” the leader cited above said.

The RJD’s slogan for the polls too is: ‘2020, Hatao Nitish’ (Remove Nitish in 2020).

While the BJP continues to hold sway among the forward castes and a segment of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), it is Kumar who brings in additional supporters from the weaker sections.

Significantly, the RJD has named Jagdanand Singh, a Rajput, as its state chief to dent the BJP’s sway on this segment.

The decision to name Kumar as the leader also comes at a time when the BJP struck an alliance with Pawan Kalyan’s Jan Sena in Andhra Pradesh.

Significantly, before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had not accommodated another ally, the RLSP’s Upendra Kushwaha, which many felt was a gesture aimed at keeping Kumar in good humour. Kushwaha had been highly critical of Kumar.

Kumar, on the other hand, demonstrated to the BJP that he is capable of charting an independent course while also being flexible enough to again change tracks.

In the 2015 assembly polls, Kumar tied with the RJD to successfully lead the Mahagathbandhan to victory. However, a couple of years later, Kumar was back to being an ally as the BJP replaced RJD as his partner.

And as the campaign for Bihar elections builds, Kumar has again made independent noises. He spoke against the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which has been a key political thrust.

However, with Shah emphasising that the polls will be contested under Kumar, the old allies will find enough meeting ground.