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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1919

Nitish Sailing In Two Boats

By Tushar Charan - Syndicate Features

The art of sailing in two boats perhaps comes easily to politicians. The secret is that they do it mostly covertly that leaves scope for speculation but not confirmation of their duality. The Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has managed to perform this delicate balancing task quite successfully though a fellow politician from his state, Ram Vilas Paswan, has a ‘better’ record, having been a union minister in nearly all the governments of the last 30 years or so during which the country has been ruled by the Janata Dal, Congress and the BJP-led coalitions.

When on the winning side Kumar has tasted power, both at the Centre and in his state, in the company of diverse and adversarial political forces. He was a union minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee (BJP) and now as chief minister he enjoys support of the Congress despite his anti-Congress DNA and his long-time political rival Lalu Prasad Yadav without having to answer questions about his allegiance.

But suddenly his loyalty is coming under scrutiny. By hurrying with his support for the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential poll he has apparently broken rank with his allies in Bihar. After declaring that he will support an Opposition candidate for the presidential poll, Nitish Kumar switched his stand on specious ground that the Opposition should have announced its candidate ahead of the ruling party.

Nitish Kumar did another summersault to declare support for the Opposition candidate for the post of Vice President. It will be a strange phenomenon when his party members vote for a BJP candidate in the presidential candidate even though the JD(U) is not formally aligned with it, but in the vice presidential poll the JD(U) vote for a candidate put up by the constituent of the Bihar ‘maha gathbandhan’ and other Opposition parties.
In refusing to change his mind about supporting Kovind for President, Nitish Kumar accused the Congress of choosing a ‘Bihar ki Beti’ Meir Kumar who is bound to be defeated. If winning was an important consideration for him, how does he explain deciding to vote Gopal Gandhi for Vice President who is as sure to lose as Meira Kumar.

Was it his way of telling one and all that he has an ‘independent’ mind of his own and will not bow before anyone else? That can also be interpreted as an expression of his obduracy or a streak of authoritarianism. For someone who is said to nurse higher political ambitions—never mind what he said about it—failure to go along with others can be an obstruction in the path to further progress.

The allegedly ‘vendetta’ politics of the Centre which is targeting the family of Lalu Prasad Yadav has put him in a dilemma. As Lalu’s family faces the heat from the CBI and the tax authorities, he has to decide whether to sack his two sons in his cabinet—one is the deputy chief minister and the other is a cabinet minister. Sacking of the sons of Lalu will surely man the end of the ‘maha gathbandhan’ (grand alliance) in Bihar. For his survival he will have to turn, rather return, to BJP.

He could also dissolve the state assembly and order fresh polls, after sacking the Lalu sons. But dissolution option will appeal to him if he is sure that he can win the polls—by himself or in company with the BJP. He has to be sure that the politically sharp people of Bihar will not mind his embracing the BJP after a bitter parting only a few years ago.

From the statements made by BJP leaders in Patna and Delhi it is clear that the saffron party is more than willing to offer support to Kumar. Both sides—Kumar’s JD (U) and BJP—will have to swallow their pride in joining hands again after all the mud they had thrown at each other. Kumar has to weigh the fallout of his off and on romance with the saffron party. The BJP may have a less painful experience because its overriding concern at the moment is to unfurl its flag all over India, not bothering about the past of political parties that join hands with it.

Lalu’s sons have been served an ultimatum to quit though it cannot be said that the deadline will be observed strictly. But if the two sons refuse to quit, as they have said, Nitish Kumar will have to sack them in order to save his ‘clean’ image. Continuing with status quo goes against Nitish Kumar. The dissolution of the assembly will be the end of ‘grand alliance’ in Bihar. It will adversely impact the efforts being made by the major Opposition parties to form a united bloc to contest the 2019 general election.

Nitish detaching himself from the allies in Bihar will pose problem for his party JD (U) at the national level and its hopes of having a profile outside Bihar. The senior-most JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav doesn’t seem to be keen to wreck the grand alliance in Bihar. If Nitish Kumar goes against him, a split in the party cannot be ruled out, thus ending whatever little chance JD (U) has of being an ‘all-India’ party.

Nitish Kumar joining hands with the BJP will, on the other hand, not leave his reputation as a staunch ‘secularist’ intact. His avowed pluralism will wobble. He had cleverly managed alliance with the BJP previously. But since then the whole political scenario in the country has changed. The country is under the firm grip of Narendra Modi, the undisputed and unchallenged leader of the ‘Hindutva’, majoritarian forces. It might have been easier for Nitish Kumar to resist pressure from the BJP earlier; in today’s milieu it will not be easy when his survival will be underwritten by the saffron party.

The media may have done its best to sink the fortunes of Lalu Prasad Yadav but perhaps Nitish Kumar knows that the former cannot be written off; not yet, at least. The so-called corruption allegations have been haunting Lalu Prasad for many years. He is a convicted politician and yet he showed in the last state assembly polls, which brought Nitish Kumar to power, that he is not finished.

- Asian Tribune -

 Nitish Kumar - Chief Minister Bihar
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