Nitish Kumar: A Human Bomb?
The political discourse these days is dominated by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s continuous outbursts against the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over the latter’s possible projection as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance during the coming general elections. Nitish is clear that he cannot be a candidate for the most important political office of India in the South Block—that of the Prime Minister. He admits that his JD(U) is too small a party for getting enough seats in the Lok Sabha. Instead, he would like that anyone other than Modi in the BJP should lead the NDA during polls and be the Prime Minister in case the alliance wins. In fact, a couple of times, he has indicated his preference for L K Advani, arguably the oldest and tallest leader of the BJP.
There are two ways of looking at Nitish’s discomfiture over Modi. Given the fact that Modi has got many enemies within the BJP and the extended Sangh Parivar, by demonising Modi, Nitish is actually doing the job of those BJP leaders who will go to any extent of ensuring that the Gujarat Chief Minister does not dream of becoming India’s Prime Minister. But is Nitish such a small politician that he will do the dirty job of some disgruntled and anti-Modi BJP leaders indirectly? Personally, I cannot imagine so, though many political analysts say that exactly is the case.
The other way of looking at Nitish’s antipathy towards Modi is that a “secular” politician that he is, it will be against the grains of his ideology if he accepts Modi as the leader of the NDA. I think that it is a fair logic, particularly when Nitish thinks that Modi, given the background of communal riots in 2002, is anti-Muslim. Nitish also is not impressed with Modi’s Gujarat model of economic growth. According to him, the model cannot be replicated in poorer states of the country and that it is not “inclusive” enough.
Whether the Gujarat model is good enough for the rest of the country is a legitimate matter of debate. In fact, a democracy that we are, we should encourage more and more such debates. But unfortunately, the problem is that most of our politicians and intellectuals are wary of such debates. They go by the prevailing perceptions on the issue, without going to the factual situations on the ground. And in rare cases, if some social scientist or activist goes to the ground, talks to the people, finds out the truth and then write on that, such works are dismissed by the critics outright. If you like Modi, then you will close your eyes to whatever negatives such field studies have on Modi’s development model; and if you hate Modi, you will dismiss such reports as useless fascist propaganda. My friend, Professor Madhu Kishwar of the Delhi-based Centre for Developing Societies and editor of the classy Manushi magazine, who has done commendable field surveys in Gujarat recently, shares such bitter experience.
There are some hard facts about Gujarat today. The charges that his growth model is not inclusive enough for Muslims are blatantly unfair. Here I am going to quote extensively from Madhu’s reports. Let us take the “Zakat” factor in Gujarat into account. Zakat is the easiest indicator to judge a Muslim’s wealth profile because one pays zakat on one’s wealth for the needy and poor Muslims. Zakat has been continuously increasing in Gujarat year after year. In fact, one finds that 50 per cent of the zakat of madarasas across the country comes from Gujarat and 50 per cent from the rest of India. “If Modi had destroyed Muslims, their share of zakat should have fallen. But in the last 10 years, the wealth of Muslims has increased”, writes Madhu. She then gives the figures of the BMW cars that have been sold in recent years. the cheapest BMW is for Rs 30 lakhs; the highest goes up to 1.5 crores. In 2011, 11 per cent of the BMWs sold in Gujarat went to Muslims!.
It is well known that in Gujarat most Muslim businessmen are concentrated in small, medium and micro enterprises (SMES). While their share in the overall population is 9 per cent, their share in SMEs is proportionately far larger at about 22 per cent, says Madhu. And that is because, today Muslims in Gujarat don’t face any hassles or discrimination in getting government clearances when they want to set up enterprises in Gujarat. Otherwise Muslims could not have prospered as they have.
It is also a fact that more and more Muslims have been voting for Modi in recent elections. In the 2012 Gujarat Assembly elections, 31 per cent of Gujarati Muslims voted for Modi led BJP despite media and NGOs launching a high voltage campaign against Modi for being a “divisive” force in Indian politics. In the last Municipal elections in February, Muslims contributed towards Modi’s victory in 47 out 76 places, including the Muslim-majority Salaya in Jamnagar, where the BJP won all the 24 seats it contested, fielding Muslim candidates.
The fact remains that Gujarat has always been prone to communal riots, overwhelming majority of which took place under Congress regimes in the state. In that sense, it is in fact a record that after 2002, the state has not witnessed any riot; and the credit for that should go to Modi. As Madhu says, Modi has been systematically wooing Muslims. He gained Muslims’ confidence when he took firm measures for the protection of witnesses of 2002 riots. “It is only because those witnesses could testify even against ministers, that Gujarat has seen so many convictions of riot accused. Secondly, Modi gave new life to the hitherto corruption ridden, defunct Waqf Boards. Under the Congress regime they had been handed over to Muslim dons. Modi picked one of the most respected Muslims- Retired Additional Director General Police, A.I. Syed to head the Waqf Board in Gujarat. He is working hard to clean up the institution but it is not an easy task given the state of affairs it was in”, writes Madhu. Besides, the fact remains that Modi has employed more Muslims in Police forces (about 11 per cent of the total police strength when the Muslim population as a whole is 9 per cent of the state’s population) than Nitish (not to speak of other “secular” leaders) and there are lesser Muslims undertrials in Gujarat jails than in the jails of Bihar (not to speak of, again, other states under “secular” leaders).
Given this background, I am wondering whether Nitish’s diatribes against Modi have to do with personal predilection rather than ideological conviction. But what is he going to gain in the process if his ties with the BJP are snapped? As I had written once, in the 2010 Assembly elections, the JD (U) BJP alliance polled about 39 per cent of the votes. Laloo’s RJD in alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP polled about 27 per cent of the votes. In terms of seats, the BJP JD(U) alliance walked away with over 80 per cent. The Congress, which contested alone, managed about 8 per cent of the votes. Of course, even if the Congress had contested along with Laloo and Paswan, the “secular” alliance, with 35 per cent votes, would have still lost, though the fight would have been much closer.
Now, if Nitish leaves the BJP, will Laloo, still formidable with more than 25 per cent votes, accept him as the leader of the “secular alliance”? No way. Suppose, Nitish only joins the Congress, a party seemingly associated with corruption, inflation and poor governance and perceived to be a sinking ship in the 2014 elections. It will then become a triangular election, involving Nitish, Laloo and Modi. Nitish will do badly unless Modi, or for that matter the BJP, in Bihar gets less than 10 per cent of votes. But that is not the case. The BJP, on its own, has a formidable presence in Bihar, with the bulk of the so-called upper castes’ support
As it is, under the present alliance between the BJP and JD (U) in Bihar, the BJP contests in 15 parliamentary seats, leaving the rest 25 to the JD (U). Suppose, as the Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi does emerge as a highly polarising figure. Then the BJP could easily take away 20 seats in Bihar where it has a strong base. In fact, BJP’s tally in Bihar could be more if the so-called secular votes get split between Laloo and Nitish. And, there is every possibility of Laloo doing much better than Nitish, given his consistent and principled opposition to the BJP.
Viewed thus, it is Nitish who is going to lose much more than the BJP if the alliance is terminated in Bihar. And here, I would like to end with a quote of a senior JD(U) leader from Bihar, appearing in the Economic Times, dated April 18. “ Nitishji has turned into a human bomb. He is ready to bulldoze the Prime Ministerial ambitions of Modi, even at the cost of self destruction”.
It is a pity to see Nitish becoming a human bomb. All told, he, otherwise, is one of our most-talented and performing leaders. One wishes him a long political life.
By Prakash Nanda