People were left stunned when earlier this year, Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s longest-serving chief minister, jettisoned his JD(U) party’s larger partner in power — the BJP — with deft maneuvering forming a new alliance with his rivals in the RJD as well as the centrist Congress and a Left bloc led by CPIML (L).
Proving wrong those who thought he was looking forward to retirement, the 71-year-old politician is now back in the reckoning for a possible “national role”, positioning himself as a champion of the cause of a “united opposition” which could take on the Narendra Modi juggernaut in the next Lok Sabha elections.
The wily leader, who seems to have neither forgotten nor forgiven any slight by the ruling dispensation at the Centre, pulled the plug on the alliance with BJP shortly after having supported the NDA in the Presidential and Vice Presidential elections, in a manner reminiscent of the adage that revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold.
Before calling off the alliance, he displayed a swift ruthlessness in getting rid of RCP Singh, a former protégé whom he suspected of having become a BJP mole, sent to break his party. The bureaucrat-turned-politician was denied another term in the Rajya Sabha, which caused him to give up his coveted Union cabinet berth, before being virtually elbowed out of the JD(U) of which he was the national president till about a year ago.
Kumar’s arch-rival, RJD president Lalu Prasad, recovering from a kidney transplant, has junked past hostility mindful of an assured future for favourite son Tejashwi Yadav, whom Kumar has taken under his wings as a deputy and made it unmistakably clear that a plan has been drawn to pass on the mantle to him when the time comes.
The chief minister’s reputation as an administrator, though, was called into question as the state witnessed several hooch tragedies, including the biggest so far that took place in Saran district recently, a massive embarrassment in the face of the complete ban on liquor which has been in force for close to seven years.
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Home to nearly 130 million people, a majority of them young, the state was also rocked by agitations against changes in railway recruitment test rules, which caused the Narendra Modi government at the Centre to make amends, as well as the “Agnipath” scheme of appointment of Army jawans which exposed the fault-lines between the JD(U) and the BJP before the two parties finally broke up.
Sons of the soil bring laurels
Although the state has, so far, little to offer to its youngsters in terms of sporting facilities, sons of the soil nonetheless brought laurels to their motherland. Cricketer Ishan Kishan entered the record books for scoring the fastest double hundred in a One-Day International while Sakibul Gani did the same for his triple ton on his debut in a Ranji trophy.
Those on the wrong side of the law also kept the state in news with their perverse skills, dismantling and stealing away railway engine parts and even an iron bridge.
Another highlight of the political scenario in the state was devouring of the small fry by the big fish. The BJP did away with its former protégé Mukesh Sahani, ousting him from the cabinet using the clout it enjoyed while it was in power, and weaned away all three MLAs of his Vikassheel Insaan Party.
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The AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi, which had made a splash in the 2020 assembly polls when it won five seats, helplessly saw all but one of its MLAs jumping ship and joining the RJD. The political whirlwind also made Congress realise that it was time to give up quarrels with the RJD and enjoy its share in power as a docile smaller ally in the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ government.
Chirag Paswan, too, seems to have 'chosen his poison', agreeing to become a yet-to-be-formally recognised ally of the BJP though not forgetting the humiliation he felt when the party gave legitimacy to his uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras who split the party founded by his father and also grabbed a berth in the Union cabinet.
Lurking on the horizon is Prashant Kishor, who has done business with most big players inside and outside the state and now seems to have developed political ambitions of his own. Having given up political consultancy for good, he has taken to activism and is hopeful of his ‘Jan Suraaj’ campaign evolving into a unique political alternative for his home state which he seeks to traverse on foot in about a year.
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The state remained remarkably unaffected by the communal passions that seem to be sweeping across the rest of the Hindi heartland though caste continued to define social and political consciousness, reflected in many bemusing episodes.
While they were still allies, the BJP found the JD(U) on its back over Sahitya Akademi award to a playwright from adjoining Uttar Pradesh, the reason being alleged uncharitable portrayal in his work of Emperor Asoka, who has surprisingly become a cultural icon of sorts for the OBCs.
The lack of a caste census also remained a stick both RJD and JD(U) keep beating the BJP with, notwithstanding protestations of the saffron party that it too has supported the same.