Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar seems to be undecided whether to support or oppose the BJP-led Centre. When Modi announced notebandi in November last year, Nitish was the only non-BJP leader to have come out in open and unequivocal support of the decision. “I support demonetization as I am convinced that it will help in the fight against black money”, he said. Later, however, he retracted from his earlier stand and criticized the note ban as a step taken “without preparation”. He called it a “diversionary tactics” of the BJP for “changing the narrative.” He lent his support to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s criticism of the decision to demonetize high value notes. Again, during the UP assembly elections, Nitish did not support the SP-Congress alliance, much to the chagrin of those who expected him to take a stand against the BJP.
Now he has come out arguing for a Mahagathbandhan of the opposition parties at the national level “to take on the BJP” before the general election of 2019. Nitish Kumar is a seasoned politician who knows the BJP well, having run a coalition government with it for years. He is certainly not one to entertain any illusion about the BJP and the nature of its politics. That is why both his supporters and critics are puzzled by his dilly-dallying about the BJP. One plausible reason is that he is having an uneasy relationship with Lalu Yadav who has more legislators in the Bihar Assembly than the JD(U). Nitish is said to be trying to ward off the pressure from Lalu by his ambivalent attitude to the BJP.
But a seasoned politician like him is expected to look at national politics from the national rather than provincial angle. The opposition parties feel that the challenge posed by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar can be met only by a broad alliance of democratic and secular parties sinking their differences. Judging by his past record, many look upon Nitish as the ideal leader of such an alliance. He has the firmness and the flexibility needed to hold together such an alliance and lead it to victory as he did on a smaller scale in Bihar in November, 2015. He broke with the BJP, entered into an alliance with his arch-enemy Lalu Prasad, brokered by the Congress. The success of the alliance was beyond expectation. His ambivalence about the BJP may prove costly to him.