Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has dealt a huge blow to Opposition unity by switching sides for a record fifth time in about a decade. The possibility that the Opposition INDIA constituents can present a collective alternative to the BJP behemoth in the general elections seems rather bleak now. Meanwhile, Nitish has been quixotic as ever. For someone who nursed ambitions of emerging as the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate, Nitish has chosen to play the BJP’s script to a perfection. For one, he has contributed significantly to the perception that the ruling party’s victory is inevitable. Second, he has bolstered the BJP’s prospects in Bihar by dumping the alliance of Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress and Left parties, altering the ‘caste arithmetic’ in the BJP’s favour.

Right since its inception, the INDIA bloc has never really had a coherent political programme or leadership to offer against the BJP’s purposeful rath steered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yet arithmetically, the idea of a joint Opposition candidate in each Lok Sabha constituency to fight the BJP did offer some promise. With Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab and Haryana deserting the alliance and now Nitish switching sides in Bihar, even that arithmetic is coming apart.

If this is what the national picture looks like, Kumar’s desertion could have a tangible impact in Bihar as well, where the Opposition alliance had nursed hopes of denting the BJP’s overall tally. The BJP had secured 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar in 2019 elections in alliance with Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) which secured 16 seats. Internal surveys of the BJP after Kumar’s desertion to the RJD camp were disappointing, suggesting that the saffron party would not cross 25 seats. The State needed some attention. A Bharat Ratna for socialist icon Karpoori Thakur could help consolidate the BJP’s position. Nitish’s addition to the NDA camp not only brings his Kurmi support base, but also the extremely backward castes and the most backward classes.

The other politically critical States where the Opposition alliance was looking to contain the BJP were Maharashtra and West Bengal. In Maharashtra, the BJP and Shiv Sena combine had won 41 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 elections; a split in the Sena caused a significant dent in this equation. However, ED raids and property seizures have triggered confusion in the INDIA alliance. The desertion of Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar to the BJP camp is seen in this context. Kumar’s exit has raised concerns over the future actions of INDIA constituents in Maharashtra, specifically the NCP. In West Bengal, which sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the BJP is looking to retain its 18-seat tally in the 2019 elections. Mamata Banerjee going solo creates a split in the opposition votes which had helped the BJP win at least six seats in the 2019 elections. So, for now it is advantage BJP.