By calling for a united Opposition to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024, Nitish Kumar has sought to give an ideological flavour to his defection from the NDA. In effect, the act was one of pure political opportunism, and not informed by any grand strategy to upset the NDA applecart.
Nitish has done no more than turn his coat inside out, motivated by a perceived existential threat to his party. To make his realpolitik more digestible for voters, he has sought to position the BJP-JD(U) split in Bihar as batting for democratic values. And willy nilly, the increasingly desperate anti-Modi brigade has pitched him as the great white hope of the Opposition.
Can Nitish keep his mahagathbandhan together in Bihar itself? While he has managed to bring the RJD, a friend-turned-foe-turned-friend, the JD(U), Left and Congress under a common umbrella, maintaining the alliance will require adroit handling of his partners. Particularly in light of the fact that he has very little wiggle room, now that he has closed the doors to the BJP.
If he succeeds, it will certainly prove expensive for the BJP. Given the social geography of Bihar, the mahagathbandhan can easily triumph, because in terms of simple electoral math it commands some 50 per cent of the popular vote. Nitish has carefully cultivated the EBCs, who account for a quarter of the state’s population, while the RJD has maintained its hold on the M-Y vote.