The land of Buddha, which has been the playground of lesser mortals, more materialistic than spiritual and more in pursuit of power and riches than for renunciation, witnessed a war of nerves between the JD(U) president and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav, the RJD chief, over latter’s son and former deputy chief minister Tejasawi Yadav’s continuance in the Cabinet following cases filed against him by the CBI and ED.
Lalu refused to budge from his stand that his son will not resign, come what may. He argued that the cases were politically motivated and Tejasawi had done no wrong. But Nitish refused to buy that argument. He met Rahul Gandhi, whose Congress Party was part of the Mahagathbandhan (see box) and requested him to get Lalu to withdraw Tejasawi, and, on his part, he assured that he would not break the grand alliance. But Rahul, himself facing serious criminal charges, did not consider charges against Tejasawi serious enough for him to resign.
Nitish returned disappointed but determined to have his way. The wheel came full circle and 10 minutes before going to the Governor, Nitish telephoned Lalu and told him, “Lalu-ji, I beg your forgiveness, but after running the government for 20 months, I cannot do it any longer. I am going to quit.”
He resigned in the evening on July 26. Almost immediately after, Narendra Modi tweeted commending him for fighting corruption. And the following day, he was sworn-in as chief minister for the sixth time, with the support of former alliance partner BJP. Finally breaking off with his constantly nagging and bullying ally, Lalu Prasad, Nitish is back, after four-year separation with the BJP and joined hands with it again.
The two did not need to negotiate any terms or draw up a minimum common programme, for they were together for 17 years. The break-off by Nitish was not due to any differences but because of a miscalculation by LK Advani. Narendra Modi was about to be appointed Chairman of the Election Committee, which in other words meant, he would, if BJP won, be prime minister. This was an utter anathema to Advani. He had been opposing his induction at the national level.
According to reliable sources, he persuaded Nitish, who, as it is, did not like him because of 2002 Gujarat riots, to threaten that he would snap ties with the BJP if Modi was chosen. Advani was reported to be confident that the RSS would not like to lose Bihar and give up Modi. But the gamble failed. Both hoped that with Modi out of the reckoning they had a good chance for the top job. So it was not because of ideological differences or any scandal that the government had fallen. One can perceive from the smooth manner in which the number of ministers from each party and division of portfolios was worked out that there never was any problem in their alliance.
It is amazing that in less than 24 hours a momentous political change has taken place that could have a bearing on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The development is a major setback for efforts to forge Opposition unity to stop the BJP juggernaut. The RJD’s last hope that Sharad Yadav, president of the JD(U), who is upset with the new arrangement, will engineer revolt and Nitish will lose the Trust vote was shattered. Nitish had claimed before the voting that he had the support of 131 legislators, and he got exactly that number to win the vote of confidence.
Tejasawi had attacked Nitish during the debate before the division for voting, ‘sharam nahi aiye’ while betraying the partners of Mahagathbandhan and the people who had the massive mandate to the grand alliance. He also accused Nitish of colluding with the BJP to use the corruption case–which they say is fake–as a cover to end an alliance that no longer suited him. Not because of the collateral damage of the taint of corruption, as Nitish Kumar alleged, but because he has calculated that the Opposition cannot defeat PM Modi in 2019.
But if reports, that the RJD leaders sent feelers to the BJP that it will support it if it forms government from the outside, on the condition that the cases against the Lalu ménage’ will be ‘modified’ so that they lose much of their sting, have any semblance of truth then the charge that Nitish’s breaking the grand alliance was an act of betrayal, is a case of sour grapes.
Rahul the dilligent destroyer
Rahul Gandhi never lets go any opportunity to damage his party. It is rightly said that along with his bete noire Narendra Modi, he is tirelessly working towards Congress-mukt Bharat. In fact, he is far ahead in this regard than Modi.
In his latest escapade, he has got Bihar rid of the ruling Mahagathbandhan of JD(U), RJD and his own Congress Party. So far Congress could claim that it was in power in the state, but it took about 40-minute meeting with Nitish Kumar for him to literally pull his party to Opposition benches.
With his obduracy and possibly with the misplaced idea about his own importance and ‘eminence’ in Indian politics, Rahul refused to even consider the proposal by Nitish Kumar to save the grand alliance. Reports are that he was quite curt with him leaving him no option but to pull out of the pact with Lalu Prasad, the bade bhai, and form a new government in alliance with the BJP, with which he had a 17-year- long alliance, until four year ago.
According to reports, Nitish Kumar came to Delhi and met Rahul Gandhi on July 22. In an effort to save the Mahagathbandhan, he proposed that Tejaswi Yadav, the deputy chief minister, against whom the CBI and the ED have filed reports accusing him of serious criminal charges, should be removed. Nitish Kumar argued that there should be no compromise on corruption.
But reports alleged that Rahul was rather abrupt and brusquely and curtly said no. ‘“When Nitish Kumar met Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi, he clearly told him that he would continue with the Grand Alliance in Bihar, but under the condition that Rahul helped him get rid Tejaswi Yadav as his deputy and also ensure that no other Lalu Yadav kin, in particular Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti, took over as Tejaswi’s replacement,” according to Sunday Guardian.
But, Rahul, who clearly appeared to support Lalu, was adamant that Tejaswi would continue. Rahul’s rigid stand, despite knowing that Nitish was in touch with the BJP, with which he had very good relations, appears bizarre. Did it not matter to him that if Nitish pulled out, his party, which had just four seats in the earlier Assembly, got 27 riding on the back of JD(U) and RJD in the present one, and became one of the three-party grand alliance which had been ruling for the last two years, will once again be in wilderness Rahul seemed to be unconcerned that once on its own, with almost no party organisation in the state nor having any state leader who could lead in any electoral battle, his party’s future is very bleak in the state.
One ungodly in his party wryly said, please don’t credit our leader with power of thinking. He avoids going to crisis areas. He has been touring in chattisgarh, advising Dr Raman Singh to emulate Nawaz Sharif and resign. What on earth is the similarity between the two. No Panama Papers showed any account of Raman Singh nor the Supreme Court has asked him to step down. Sonia Gandhi has given us a mahakal, to devour the 132-year-old party.
What made Rahul side with the Rashtriya Janata Dal in the political impasse that eventually saw the Bihar Chief Minister exiting the Grand Alliance forming a new government with his erstwhile ally, the BJP? Just because Lalu Prasad has been flattering the mother and son, whereas Nitish Kumar has maintained distance from Rahul and is known to hold that Sonia Gandhi should continue to be president of the party. Such ‘insolence’ of the head of a ‘mere’ regional outfit must have rankled Rahul, a national leader, to no end.
But surprise of surprises Rahul must be privy to his mother’s advice to Lalu Prasad, at a meeting possibly on July 16, that if need be he should let his son resign, but at no way let Nitish walk over to the BJP. Yet Rahul took a stand contrary to his mother’s. Has he self-arrogated the presidency and so he took a stand in utter contradiction to his mother’s advice. Any palace coup?
There are rumours in the party that Nitish tried for a meeting with Sonia Gandhi but he was given the impression that Rahul’s decisions were final.
The end result is that the Congress Party is back to square one—no hope to even hold on its 27 legislators. The Congress legislators are jumping the sinking ship en masse in Gujarat. Restiveness in the party MLAs have been reported from other states. What is Rahul doing about it. He seems to be unconcerned of the crises in Gujarat and Bihar. He has been busy assuring Adivasis that he will continue to fight for the poor.
But from what platform? His party platform had been creaking for quite a while. Vagehla leaving the Party in Gujarat and Bhaiya’s ego alienating Nitish in Bihar, the platform could flatten out once the party’s 27 MLAs start moving to some other outfit.
The way Rahul handled the Bihar problem, turning an easily resolvable issue as a catalyst to lose power, proved beyond doubt that no one can challenge his credentials as destroyer of the 132-year-old party.
Both Lalu and Nitish have made several U-turns in pursuit of power so neither can claim to be moralistic or principled. Nitish Kumar has not disguised his sentiments. When he chose to support the BJP in the election for President of India last month, he said the Opposition, anchored by the Congress, “was in a mess” with no narrative to offer the country other than one that pitches it as “not the BJP”. As far back as November, he singled himself out in the Opposition by supporting, not attacking, the PM’s shock ban on high-denomination notes.
Critics say he has abandoned ideology for opportunism–anything to stay in power. He says, “secularism is being cited to deflect from corruption” and is unapologetic about rearranging the political landscape.
It is true that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had a very bumpy and uncomfortable two years in the government formed under the grand alliance. Lalu’s repeated reminder to him that his RJD, with 80 MLAs, was the senior partner in the Mahagathbandhan did not amuse Nitish, it eroded his authority. But that was exactly what Lalu aimed for. And the huge number of cars with red beacon lights parked outside his residence and the hordes of legislators, businessmen flocked his residence was indication of where the real power lay. He reportedly effected some transfers on his own.
The extra constitutional authority Lalu wielded without ever giving any thought to what Nitish must be feeling rankled him, sources say, so much that he had been on the look-out for some opportunity for a new arrangement to form a government which would engage in development rather than use public office for personal gratification. The serious criminal charges against Tejasawi presented the opportunity to re-establish his authority, bring down Lalu from his self-arrogated super chief ministership and at the same time cleanse the government from the taint of corruption. Nitish Kumar could simply not let go of such an opportunity. He must have been thankful to Rahul Gandhi for sticking with Tejashawi and telling him that status quo will not be disturbed.
The Opposition is appalled as if Nitish committed adultery by bonding with his former partner–the BJP. But the charge of his now estranged colleagues in the Opposition that he has lost his secular credentials by aligning with communal forces is facile. He was with BJP as partner for 17 long years but no one accused him of being ‘communal’. He refused the aid given for flood relief by Modi when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. He did not allow posters with Modi’s picture.
Now to assume when he resigned breaking the grand alliance he stopped being secular and will now support lynching and communalism is utter rubbish. In fact, those who predict he will give up his secular credentials, their claims of being secular need re-appraisal. Only moral goalposts have shifted.
The reality is that Nitish was anti-Modi Opposition’s best candidate amongst all leaders to lead campaign against Modi in 2019. But he is a cool, calculating pragmatic politician—rather rare in Indian politics—he had been telling them it is futile to fight Modi in the next election, the tide is flowing along with him. But Mayawati, her newly won nephew Akhilesh and Mamta charge Nitish with betrayal.
Is he a betrayer?
Loyalty in politics is unheard of. One may make as many promises as are needed in a set of circumstances but they are bound to be broken as circumstances dictate or demand. Politics is, after all, not just the not-so-pure pursuit of power, but the supremely pragmatic art of the possible. So, why should the Opposition shout itself hoarse crying “betrayal” when Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Bihar?
By adjusting according to situations, Nitish has shown he is pragmatic, malleable and has immense political acumen. He has not compromised on his agenda for development and zero tolerance for corruption. Nitish won a decisive vote of confidence on the floor of the House with 131 MLAs supporting him. In politics, as in Darwinian evolution, the ones who survive are the fittest.
The wailing of the erstwhile Mahagathbandhan-wallas is surely a case of sour grapes. An analyst rightly said: “Nitish had made a calculated — in retrospect miscalculated — break with the NDA in 2013. Modi had been announced as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Nitish wasn’t sure Modi would win; moreover, the latter’s appeal, based on development, good governance, and freedom from corruption, was similar to his own.”
Moreover, Modi’s brand of Hindutva politics might prove a liability in Bihar, eroding his own vote base. But after Modi swept the Bihar Lok Sabha polls, Nitish had to eat humble pie. He resigned, taking moral responsibility for the JD(U) defeat, installing his protégé, Jitan Ram Manjhi, on Bihar’s simhasan. But Manjhi fell out with his mentor, lasing only 276 days in office. Nitish’s political prowess was once again displayed in joining forces with his arch-rival Lalu Prasad Yadav to forge the Mahagathbandhan. He returned to power in November 2015 with his coalition bagging 178 out of 243 seats in the Bihar Assembly.
But this alliance was proving to be too costly for Nitish’s image and reputation. It was akin to the kiss of death. He felt compromised and curtailed. The Yadavs ran a parallel government; Bihar was once again sinking into the corrupt and criminal Lalu Raj. After BJP’s decisive win in UP in April this year, the writing on the wall was clear. Nitish began to move back towards the BJP, supporting not only Modi’s surgical strikes, but also demonetisation and Kovind’s nomination to the Presidency.
Mayawati’s resignation from the Rajya Sabha was the last straw. In the Mahagathbandhan’s projected rejig for 2019, Behenji, not Nitish, would be the face of the combined Opposition. Was it worth sticking around with a motley bunch of losers heading for what looked like another nose-in-the-mud drubbing?
A pragmatic Nitish walked back to the BJP. He has shown the greatest mettle of a politician—patience, resilience and ability to survive. Giving up national ambitions, he has settled for Bihar. What choice did he have? The other option would have been political oblivion.
This by no means should be termed betrayal. One has to be alive to achieve anything. Above all, the people have hailed the change as dynamic. The slogan these days in Bihar is: Kamal khila Bihar mein, Bahar aayi Bihar mein.
By Vijay Dutt