BJP president Amit Shah’s surgical strike to lure Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold will go down in history as the shrewdest political operation undertaken with a clinical precision and twin objectives. It not only got the politically significant state of Bihar in his kitty, but also eliminated the most potent potential challenge to Prime Minister Modi in the 2019 general elections. With the JD(U)’s formal re-entry into the NDA, there is a possibility that its leaders will get two ministerial berths — one Cabinet and one Minister of State position — at the Centre.

This political operation is bound to cast a shadow on Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, which are due for elections in November and December, respectively. The move will also have a lasting effect on other states going to polls in 2018, namely Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan, and Tripura.

Many Opposition leaders now look at the 70-year-old socialist leader Sharad Yadav to lead the united opposition in the wake of their reservations to accord a leadership role to Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. But, in the absence of support from any caste combination or a hold on any region, it will be difficult for Yadav to step into the shoes of the CM. Leaders close to Yadav said they were determined to fight against Kumar’s decision to realign with the BJP on all fronts. “We may not have enough MPs and MLAs, but grassroots workers and the people of not only Bihar but across the country are with us. We will continue to fight,” Ali Anwar, a suspended MP, said.

The BJP-led NDA will now also focus on expanding its social base in Bihar on the lines of Uttar Pradesh, with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Nitish Kumar had successfully consolidated more than 100 castes under the political banner as extremely backward class during his previous tenure in the NDA camp.

The breaking up of the Grand Alliance has also questioned the credibility of efforts to bring together opposition parties. If Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad couldn’t stick together despite the glue of power, how will Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and Sitaram Yechury, and Adhir Ranjan Choudhury of Congress and Arvind Kejriwal and Sheila Dikshit come together to challenge Modi? Both Mamata and Sharad Pawar have been persuading Congress president Sonia Gandhi to provide the assurance that the Congress would not insist on making Rahul Gandhi the leader of the alliance. It is believed that the regional parties wishing to associate themselves with the Congress would only do so if no attempt is made to foist any leader on them.

The reluctance of Congress to spell out its terms of engagement is also coming in the way of forging a united challenge to Modi. Such an attitude of the main Opposition will make other leaders re-think their decision. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata, who, like Nitish, has been a part of NDA, took everyone by surprise on Friday when she said that she didn’t have any problem with Prime Minister Modi but blamed BJP President Amit Shah for what she called an “environment of dictatorship in the country”. She has driven home the point that in a proposed opposition alliance, no single party could set the agenda. It is evident that Mamata wanted the Congress in its weakened state to know that it could not dictate its wishes for others to follow and any decision had to be collective.

Many analysts say that Amit Shah’s Bihar operation has turned politics into a T-20 game. Within 15 minutes of the Bihar CM resigning, Modi lend his support over a tweet, not letting adversaries think of evolving a counter strategy. It is another matter that this brilliantly-choreographed and precisely-executed operation reduced a politician, who, just till few weeks ago was projected as a challenge to Modi harbouring prime ministerial ambitions, to a member of the PM’s coterie. Many believe he turned into a courtier from a challenger overnight.

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