New Delhi: Dumped by ally Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, the BJP has now set its sights on using the “betrayal” to its advantage in 2024, ThePrint has learnt.
Party leaders say the 2024 Lok Sabha elections have become a “little more difficult” with the JD(U) breaking ranks with the BJP and joining hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, among other parties, in Bihar.
The changed circumstances have also stoked some worry in the BJP with respect to the 2025 assembly elections, with leaders citing the “solid caste arithmetic” brought together by a JD(U)-RJD alliance.
Even so, some strategies have already been churned out to undo the split’s potential implications.
Apart from highlighting the “betrayal” — that Nitish split despite the BJP allowing junior partner JD(U) to take the CM’s chair — the party is looking to target the RJD over “jungle raj”, or allegations of lawlessness that have stalked the Lalu Prasad-led party’s stints in office, leaders in the party said.
State leaders also sense in this episode an “opportunity” — to strengthen the BJP organisationally and contest alone under the leadership of PM Modi, in line with the “demand of grassroots workers”.
Meanwhile, plans are also afoot to tackle the narrative — as alleged by the JD(U) in Bihar and former ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra — that the BJP looks to undermine smaller coalition partners to its advantage.
In the 2020 Bihar assembly election, the BJP emerged as the larger NDA ally with 74 seats to the JD(U)’s 43 (now up to 45). While the two allies have shared a difficult relationship since, Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced last month that the BJP would contest elections with the JD(U) again under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In one of the party’s first official reactions after the JD(U)’s split, BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal termed the entire episode a “betrayal of Bihar’s people and the BJP”.
“We fought the 2020 polls together under the NDA, the mandate was for JD(U) and the BJP. We won more seats and despite that Nitish Kumar was made the CM,” he said. “Whatever happened today is a betrayal of Bihar’s people and the BJP.”
A senior BJP leader added, “We have been saying this from day one — we have followed the coalition dharma and have done everything to ensure a smooth alliance.
“However, it is Nitish Kumar who decided to walk out of the alliance. Our focus is quite clear — to prepare for the 2024 elections and make the party organisationally strong. We have already done a lot of ground work and now we will try and reach out to every nook and corner of the state.”
On Monday evening, the BJP called a meeting of its core group to take stock of the current political situation.
Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) said the “BJP will emerge as a big political force in Bihar if we see their long term-politics”.
“But of course, the caste alliance is much stronger for the Nitish-RJD in 2024, where the BJP may suffer a setback,” he added.
‘Breaking its silence’
According to sources in the BJP, the party had so far asked its leaders — both at the state and central level — to refrain from commenting on Nitish Kumar and the JD(U).
This came after a spate of public statements by the BJP on Nitish’s governance brought out the differences between the two sides.
In light of the split, however, the leaders will focus on Nitish’s “betrayal” in order to garner public support, the sources said.
“We have been the victims in this entire episode and this is something that we will highlight as we go to the people,” said a party functionary.
Meanwhile, the plans to attack the RJD on “jungle raj” allegations — and pitch the BJP as the only option for good governance” — are something the BJP says helped it in 2020.
BJP leaders say the plan is to go a step further now and also focus on the “corruption” that opposition leaders have allegedly been indulging in.
BJP leaders have been told to attack Lalu Prasad’s “history of corruption” and Nitish’s “compromise with corruption”, once the JD(U) starts attacking the BJP after getting together with the RJD.
“Our first strategy is to build a narrative around the Lalu Prasad family’s corruption-related cases to send a message that when Prime Minister is fighting a war against corruption, Nitish Kumar — who in 2017 broke ranks with the mahagathbandhan on charges of corruption — has compromised his fight against corruption to save Lalu’s family,” a senior BJP leader from Bihar told ThePrint.
“This will not only build pressure on Tejashwi (Lalu’s son and Nitish’s likely deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav) but it will be difficult for Nitish to save Tejashwi on corruption charges, and running a coalition government will not be easy and smooth.”
In the run-up to the split, according to sources, the Bihar BJP leadership had complained to the party brass about their issues not getting resolved despite being in the government.
Even so, the sources added, the central leadership was willing to continue the alliance, given their “assessment that it would not be fruitful for them to go solo in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in the state”.
In light of the split, a section in the party is of the view that the changed equations will allow the BJP greater space to emerge a strong player in the state and focus on its own caste coalition.
While the BJP has been making efforts to spread its footprints in the state — it organised an outreach programme last month for all 243 assembly seats, which was attended by party president J.P. Nadda and Amit Shah — its members say they are aware they have their task cut out.
Sources said there is a sense in the party that the BJP will have to change its strategy for Bihar, knowing the caste coalition is likely to favour the mahagathbandhan in the 2024 Lok Sabha and 2025 assembly elections.
“Beating the JD(U) and the RJD in Lok Sabha elections is not that difficult a task and we did it in 2014. But, in the assembly elections in 2015, we saw that when we fought alone with the LJP and other small parties, we got only 53 seats while the JD(U) got 73 and RJD, 80 seats,” said a state BJP leader.
“The RJD’s Muslim-Yadav votebank and the JD(U)’s Most Backward Classes (MBC) votebank with Kurmi and other small castes, and their caste alliance will be more solid than that of the BJP. So while it is also an opportunity for the BJP to go alone, it can backfire too,” the leader added.
Had the alliance continued, the leader said, “it would have given the BJP time to grow organisationally in the state”.
“We will now have to make some changes to our plans and ensure we start groundwork to prepare for 2024 now itself and that too more aggressively,” the leader added.
‘Eating its alliance partners’
Another concern that the BJP central leadership has with yet another ally breaking ties is the narrative that it fears will be built by the opposition — that the BJP “ends up eating its own alliance partners”. “Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the opposition parties may focus on this and it might not work well in the perception game. However, there is quite some time for the Lok Sabha elections and time for us to emerge stronger on the ground, something which was visible even during the 2020 assembly elections in Bihar,” said a central BJP leader.
“We don’t want to send out a message that the largest political party is unfaithful with its coalition partner. Rather, we will now focus on the betrayal and ‘Paltu Ram’ image of Nitish Kumar,” said the leader.
A senior Bihar BJP leader said the party’s alliance with the JD(U) was one “of compromise after the 2020 mandate”.
“We were the single-largest party in Bihar but we sacrificed the chief minister’s post for the larger interest of the alliance. The JD(U)’s numerical strength shrank, but, despite that, we did not ask for the CM post,” the leader added.
“Although there was growing demand in the party to fight the election alone, we respected the partnership to keep Lalu away. But now that he (Nitish) has decided to join hands with Lalu, the BJP will get chance to start afresh in Bihar, keeping in mind the mood of grassroots karyakartas, who have been demanding to go it alone under Modi’s leadership in 2024 and 2025.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)