Nitish did support Shekhawat though he was ‘set to lose’
Decoding Nitish Kumar: In 2007 BJP’s ally Shiv Sena voted for Pratibha Patil because she was from Maharashtra. And Nitish Kumar, also in the NDA, supported Bhairon Singh Shekhawat
A leader who aspires to be the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition cannot afford to repeatedly let down his own camp––the last time during demonetisation.
Since there is no vacancy for the top job in the NDA, as Narendra Modi is already there, Janata Dal (United) national president Nitish Kumar can only cherish his ambition of being the candidate of the UPA. Whether his dream would ever be fulfilled or not is a different matter. But the way he is playing his cards do not augur well for neither him nor anyone else.
Nitish Kumar can hardly wash his hands off by asking: “Why push ‘Bihar ki Beti’ into a contest which she is set to lose?” The issue is not whether Meira Kumar––or anyone else––is ‘set to lose’ or not. Nitish Kumar has always been championing the cause of ‘opposition unity’ and wanted the UPA to put up its Presidential candidate. When he skipped Sonia Gandhi’s lunch on May 26, but attended Prime Minister Modi’s similar party for the visiting Mauritius prime minister a day later, he defended his action by stating that it was an official invitation from the Prime Minister. Besides, he had already met the Congress president only a few days earlier, so there was no pressing need to attend the luncheon given by her.
A week later he flew to Chennai to attend the 94th birthday celebration of DMK leader Karunanidhi, where he announced that Laluji could not come because of high fever. Almost all the opposition leaders attended it and clearly the get-together had little but the Presidential poll on its agenda.
Talking to the media after the Iftar party hosted by RJD chief Lalu Prasad on June 23 night, Nitish asked why ‘Dalit ki beti’ was not put up in 2012 or 2007 and went on to say: “Had they been really serious about getting Meira Kumar anointed as President, they should have focused on doing well in the 2019 polls so that they could ensure her election in 2022. I am afraid, they have started on a wrong note.” While one cannot predict what political equation would emerge in 2022, what Nitish failed to recall is his own position in 2007 and 2012. In 2007 Janata Dal (United) was in NDA and thus it supported Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, an independent candidate supported by the BJP, though he was ‘set to lose’.
In contrast the Shiv Sena, the oldest ally of the BJP, voted for Pratibha Patil, the first woman candidate, merely because she was a Maratha from Maharashtra. But Nitish, who would always champion the cause of Bihari ‘asmita’ (identity) is not doing so.
In 2012, though still in the NDA, Nitish embarrassed the BJP––as he has done to the UPA this time––by voting for Pranab Mukherjee and not NDA’s P A Sangma, the first Scheduled Tribe candidate.
Not only that, early the same year he campaigned vociferously for Janata Dal (United) candidates in the Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh harming the prospect of the alliance partner BJP in several constituencies.
On June 12, 2010 he had cancelled the dinner hosted for top BJP leaders when the national executive of the saffron party met in Patna, simply because the then Gujarat CM was attending it. Actually, he was upset over an old photograph published by the BJP showing both the Gujarat and Bihar CMs hand-in-hand. The biggest irony was that Narendra Modi and Lal Krishna Advani were put up at the state guesthouse in Patna while rest of the saffron party bigwigs were staying in the hotel where the national executive was going on.
A week later on June 19, he returned ₹5 crore to Gujarat government donated by it after the Kosi deluge of August 2008. Then in 2011 Nitish poked his nose in the Modi-Advani tussle by flagging off the latter’s Jan Seva Yatra from Sitab Diara, the birthplace of Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan on his birthday on October 11, 2011.
At the height of his movement for the special category status in 2012-13 he launched a state-wide Adhikar Yatra and organised two big rallies in Patna and Delhi. Incidentally, he invited none of the leaders of the alliance partner, the BJP.
The most hilarious situation arose in November last year when he immediately after demonetisation announced his support for it. In contrast, his party’s former president Sharad Yadav strongly opposed it and attended all the opposition meetings in Delhi held to condemn the manner in which demonetisation was executed.
In the Rajya Sabha, Sharad Yadav and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley had a verbal duel on the issue with the latter teasing the former by reminding him of the stand of Nitish.
It seems that Nitish is in the habit of doing something different. But there is no dearth of critics––both within his party and outside––who dub it as arm-twisting tactics.
After his support for ‘Notebandi’, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee––with whom he had a cordial relationship––went on to call him a betrayer. There are many in the BJP, especially in Bihar, who hold the same view.
The above examples suggest that Nitish’s flip-flop has less to do with the RJD, as many in the media like people to believe, but more a part of a permanent political strategy.
But this posture can be adopted by anyone who, one way or the other, wants to survive politically, and not by someone of a man who wishes to be the Prime Minister.