As leadership face, posturings put Bihar BJP in a cleft stick, Nitish plays it cool

Even though the Janata Dal (United) has made it clear that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will not be shifting to the national capital for a top constitutional post, several senior BJP leaders in Bihar have continued to indulge in political posturings, albeit quietly.

The state political circles have been abuzz for some time about Union minister of state for home affairs and Ujiyarpur MP Nityanand Rai being the BJP’s potential chief ministerial face in the event of Nitish moving out of Bihar before the 2025 Assembly elections.

Rai was instrumental in organising the April 23 event to commemorate 1857 Rebellion hero Veer Kunwar Singh at Jagdishpur as part of the Centre’s “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav”, which displayed a grand show of nationalism with record-breaking feat of collective waving of over 78,000 national flags. While attending the event, Union home minister Amit Shah also mentioned Rai for inviting him there.

Rajya Sabha MP and former Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi has also sent out strong political signals in recent days, expressing concerns over the BJP’s defeat in the Bochahan bypoll for which he flagged factors like the split in EBC votes and the distancing of a section of upper caste voters from the party. A series of his tweets in this regard indicated that he was still not giving up on his claim over the state party leadership.

Firebrand Begusarai MP and Union minister Giriraj Singh, a Bhumihar leader, has been overtly displaying his Hindutva credentials by regularly issuing aggressive statements on population control and the need for a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the country.

The BJP leaders have been engaged in such posturings ahead of an expected state Cabinet expansion. If the BJP replaces one of its two deputy CMs or both, it would throw light on how the saffron party’s politics would play out in the near future.

Nityanand Rai, a Yadav leader, has been positioning himself as a high-profile BJP player for a possible leadership role in Bihar, but the party has been in a bind over projecting a Yadav as its possible CM face, given its upper castes-centred support base in the state.

Ever since the BJP became the single largest party in the Bihar Legislative Assembly last month, with all three MLAs of its erstwhile ally Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) joining its fold, the party has stepped up its pressure on junior ally, the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U). The BJP now has 77 MLAs as against the principal Opposition RJD’s 76, while the JD(U) has 45 MLAs.

Although state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal recently asserted that Nitish will remain the CM till the 2025 polls, it has not put an end to the raging race among BJP leaders for emerging as the party’s Bihar face.

The state BJP is caught between its core constituency, comprising of upper castes and segments of EBCs, Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs, and the question of projecting a Yadav as its leader. Though Rai is said to be close to Shah, a large chunk of the BJP’s OBC and upper caste leaders do not seem to be comfortable with the idea of projecting him as the party’s face.

On his part, Nitish has been keeping everyone guessing by not reacting to comments of leaders from the BJP and to counter-comments from his own party leaders. Recently, soon after JD (U) national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh said that Nitish had been the CM because of “people’s strength and not because of anyone’s blessings”, party spokesperson Arvind Singh said, ”Everyone knows the truth”.

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